When tracing the steps that led to Georgetown junior Emily Infeld’s runner-up performance at the NCAA national cross country championships last week, one could start at any number of places.
A good pick would be the Halloween when she was in fourth grade and her love for running pushed her to go trick-or-treating as an Olympic sprinter.
Maybe it was when she decided to come run at the Hilltop under first year Women’s Coach Chris Miltenberg, even though she initially did not see herself following in older sister and four-time All-American Maggie Infeld’s footsteps at Georgetown.
Then there is her sophomore breakout performance at the 2009 national championships where she finished eighth after finishing 60th as a freshman.
But perhaps the most important step in a journey filled with thousands of miles of training took place just nine months ago. Infeld had just notched her fourth and fifth All-American awards at the NCAA national indoor track championships in March, taking home eighth place in the 3000 meter and anchoring Georgetown’s third place distance medley relay team. But while she was undoubtedly proud of her accomplishments, she left the meet wanting more, wanting to reach the next level – the level where winning becomes a serious part of the discussion.
“We left Arkansas, and she just said `How do I win one? I want to win. What do I have to do to win one of these [races]? I don’t want to keep being eighth,'” Miltenberg recalled.
iltenberg’s response was that to reach the next level, they would have to take her training up a notch. In order to do that, both player and coach agreed it would be best for the then-sophomore Infeld to redshirt the outdoor track season so that she could focus on training and race unattached in only a few key meets in the spring and summer. While Infeld had planned for a while to redshirt at some point to guarantee her a fifth year of eligibility, her desire to make that leap to the next level was a deciding factor.
“Emily’s a patient person and she sees through to the future,” redshirt senior Renee Tomlin said. “And even though she won’t say it right away, she sets really high goals for herself so she knows how to be patient and what to wait for.”
Infeld increased her mileage and focused more on strength-based workouts, working closely with some of her current and former teammates. Close friend and mid-distance standout Tomlin, who was also redshirting that spring, gave Infeld a teammate to train and race with. Georgetown graduates Liz Maloy and sister Maggie, who both still train under Miltenberg while competing in the elite circuit, helped guide and push Infeld in training also.
Despite her primarily strength-based work, Infeld managed to clock a personal record in the 1500m at Stanford’s Payton Jordan Invitational in May of this year. Being bumped into the fast heat of the race at the last minute, she ran with a time of 4:13.61 to take fourth place in a race filled with professional runners. That time qualified Infeld for the USA outdoor track and field championships in June, where she made the finals and finished an impressive 10th as the youngest competitor.
Racing well against some of the country’s and the world’s best milers gave Infeld an extra boost of confidence going into this fall.
“[USAs] made me more confident and not scared to go after things,” Infeld said of the race. “It gave me the confidence to kind of just be able to go out there and give it a shot.”
Being able to concentrate on training at such an elite level set the stage for Infeld’s historic cross country season this fall. She opened the season at the Paul Short Invitational looking very controlled in a convincing win where she pulled away from the field over the last third of the 6K race.
“I think if you look at what she did this fall, a lot of it starts with what she did last spring,” Miltenberg said.
However, there were bumps in the road, as Infeld finished a disappointing 11th at the Pre-National Invitational in Terre Haute, Ind. Infeld came into the race having missed some training time with a sore foot and admittedly let that affect her mindset, pushing too hard during the race.
Rather than let the performance derail her season, however, Infeld talked it over extensively with Miltenberg and learned to focus on staying more relaxed while running with the lead pack.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I wasn’t talking to him,” Infeld said. “This season could have went a completely opposite way if I had a different coach.”
Following Miltenberg’s advice, Infeld worked on running loose and finishing well at both the Big East and Mid-Atlantic regional championships. Infeld finished third at the conference race, coming in behind only Villanova standouts Shelia Reid, a red-shirt junior, and senior Amanda Marino – a duo who have together won 10 All-American awards. She finished second at Regionals, further closing the gap on Reid, who won.
Then at the national championships, Infeld executed her race plan to near perfection and closed hard when it mattered most to finish second, 2.3 seconds behind Reid with a time of 20:09.2. Her finish marked the highest women’s finish ever by a Hoya in cross country and earned her a nomination for the 2010-2011 Cross Country Honda Sports Award, given to the sport’s top athlete.
Even though the cross country season has ended, Infeld’s year is just beginning, as she awaits the indoor and outdoor track seasons. Now that she’s reached that next level of collegiate running, she looks to be a threat in every event she runs, whether it’s the distance medley relay, 3000m in indoor track or 1500m in outdoor track.
“I think it’s good to have a goal set in mind and something to work towards, and that’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Infeld said. “I would love . to win an NCAA championship.”
No matter where you start the story, for Infeld, that next step may not be too far off.”