How U.S. Olympic steeplechaser Emma Coburn got that body

Reigning USA Track and Field steeplechase outdoor champion Emma Coburn wants people to know one thing: Runners are strong too.

"I think a lot of long distance runners look lean and they look fragile, but I think a lot of runners are much stronger than people give them credit for -- and are much better athletes than they are given credit for," said Coburn. "We do functional movement testing -- and that's not strength, but again, how you move. The score is out of 21, and I scored a 20 on it. That's just all-around movement and all-around strength and flexibility."

The two-time NCAA 3,000-meter steeplechase outdoor champion and 2016 Rio Olympian sat down with ESPN The Magazine for the 2016 Body Issue to talk about how running one of the longest track and field events helps her stay fit and to remember her roots.

Lifelong preparation

Coburn credits growing up in the mountainous town of Crested Butte, Colorado, for making her into the athlete she is today.

"I think physically having a diverse athletic background has helped me become a stronger runner, in terms of muscular development and coordination.

"People write all the time about the physical and mental benefits of not specializing in a sport too young because you don't burn out. I was happy to not really take running too seriously as my No. 1 sport until my junior year of high school -- and even then, I still competed in other sports."

An all-around healthy body

The steeplechase is a 3,000-meter run that involves four barrier jumps over 4x4 blocks of wood and seven water jumps over a 10-foot water pit.

Unlike some sports, where leg or arm strength is necessary for success, total body strength is the key to success in the steeplechase.

"I'm happy that my sport and event encourages a well-rounded, healthy body. We have to be strong to be able to go over the barriers, but we also have to be lean."


Coburn's training is filled with variety, but there are a few things she does almost every day.

Daily runs

Not a day goes by that Coburn is not running. She runs seven days a week -- some days she runs twice -- totaling 80 miles each week.

Hitting the weights

Lifting weights has become one of her favorite training activities. She does not lift heavy weights, but she enjoys the TRX and BOSU ball workouts.

Coordination drills

Coburn does plyometric drills and other body-movement exercises to prepare for the array of movements required during a race. She has to be very coordinated to be able to run and jump on cue in a race.

This summer, espnW is running stories, essays and letters on body image as part of a series called "Love, My Body." Read more from the series ยป