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With major marathons canceled, Emily Sisson chose a virtual one

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When Emily Sisson stepped off the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials course on Feb. 29, she would not have predicted the wait would be eight months until her next race.

Even more unusual: Sisson will contest her next marathon as a solo runner.

She’s a headliner among the elites signed up for the Virtual New York City Marathon, where runners can cover a distance of their choice any time and any place between Oct. 17 and Nov. 1. The in-person five-borough event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sisson, a 28-year-old based in Arizona, plans to run exactly 26.2 miles for the virtual competition with no prize money (Sisson is sponsored by New Balance, which is a New York Road Runners partner). She said last week that she was still deciding on her route.

“It’s hard to find somewhere where I can get 26.2 miles without having to stop for traffic,” she said.

Sisson originally planned to race the in-person New York City Marathon. When it was canceled in June, she was left in a foreign state — training without any competitions on the horizon. She was eager once told about the virtual option.

“Obviously, a virtual race can’t completely replace the New York City Marathon,” she said. “But it’s something to put on my schedule, to work towards and train for right now.

“That’s the reward for working really hard.”

Sisson, after her marathon debut in London in April 2019, spent last fall and winter with Leap Day circled. She flew to Atlanta among the contenders to make the three-woman U.S. Olympic marathon team. Many tapped her the overall favorite.

But her legs felt off early on the hilly course, Sisson shared on the Ali on the Run podcast in April. Tightness crept up around mile 11. She looked at the elites around her. Laura Thweatt was bounding. Des Linden was floating.

Sisson’s quads were taking a beating. She was dropped around mile 20 and, by mile 22, stepped off the course and into the arms of her husband, Shane Quinn.

“It sounds dramatic, but that was probably the most disappointing race I’ve had in my career,” she said last week. “I’ve never had to drop out of a race before. I’ve also never blown up like that in a race before. Take that back, I fainted once. I’ve never had a race where I performed so far off where my fitness level was.”

Sisson implemented the plan B that coach Ray Treacy discussed the night before. If your chances of finishing top three are done, pull the rip cord and save your legs for the 10,000m at the track trials in June.

Sisson’s legs were “destroyed.” She took three weeks off from running, consulting with a chiropractor while weighing the risk of that long of a rest. She also knew that the Olympics were under threat of postponement, which eventually was announced on March 24, three and a half weeks after the marathon trials.

The U.S. Olympic marathon team of Aliphine TuliamukMolly Seidel and Sally Kipyego is expected to remain in place for next year. The track trials are now in June 2021. Sisson will race this virtual 26.2 miles, then will probably focus on the 10,000m. Her unfinished business in the marathon — the in-person variety — will be on the agenda after the Tokyo Games.

Sisson will set at least one personal best this year. Her virtual marathon will be her longest-ever solo run, though Quinn will likely ride a bike alongside her. She will put on headphones and probably listen to music.

“It’s hard hitting pause on a low,” Sisson said, reflecting on the Atlanta trials. “It’s nice to have something else right now.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Sisson ran her first marathon in London in 2018. Her first marathon was in London in 2019.

MORE: Kipchoge, Bekele headline London Marathon elite fields

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2020 London Marathon TV, live stream schedule

London Marathon
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The 40th London Marathon airs live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Sunday morning.

World record holders Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei of Kenya headline the fields for the elite-only races without spectator access on a different, looped course at St. James’s Park. The London Marathon was postponed from its traditional April date due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBCSN coverage starts at 2 a.m. ET.

Unlike traditional major marathons, the women will finish their race before the men start.

Race start times (ET)
Elite women — 2:15 a.m.
Elite men — 5:15
Elite wheelchair — 8:10

Unlike previous London Marathons, athletes will cover 19 laps of the park, then move to the Mall for the traditional finish.

In the men’s race, the two fastest marathoners in history go head-to-head.

Kipchoge, who set the world record of 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon, and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, who clocked 2:01:41 at the 2019 Berlin Marathon, are the only men to ever break 2:02 in a marathon.

It marks the 35-year-old Kipchoge’s first race since he clocked 1:59:40 at a non-record-eligible event in Vienna last Oct. 12.

Kipchoge has won 11 of 12 marathons since moving to road racing after failing to make Kenya’s 2012 Olympic track team.

Bekele, the more accomplished track athlete with Olympic golds and world records at 5000m (recently broken by Joshua Cheptegei) and 10,000m, has bounced between fast marathons and disappointments. He is now 38.

Kosgei, 26, leads the women’s field in a title defense. A day after Kipchoge’s sub-two-hour marathon, she took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record, clocking 2:14:04 in Chicago.

Her top competition comes in the form of fellow Kenyans: Ruth Chepngetich, the fourth-fastest female marathoner in history, and four-time Olympic track medalist Vivian Cheruiyot.

Molly Seidel, who made the Tokyo Olympic team by placing second at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Feb. 29, leads the American contingent.

MORE: With major marathons canceled, Emily Sisson chose a virtual one

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French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

Karolina Pliskova
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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko could face 2017 U.S. Open champion and 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens in the third round.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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