Behind the scenes of Emily Setlack’s killer comeback

While Setlack's name has not been one of the most heard in the running scene in recent years, she's certainly not new. Recently the elite runner opened up to us about why she took time off and how she plotted her return.

June 8th, 2016 by | Posted in Runs & Races |

At the Canadian Half-Marathon Championships in Calgary late last month, Alberta runner Emily Setlack gave the Canadian running scene something to get really excited about. The 36-year-old runner (originally from Kingston, Ont.) was the surprise winner in the women’s half, running a 1:15:44 and beating Rio-bound runner Krista DuChene.

While Setlack’s name has not been one of the most heard in the running scene in recent years, she’s certainly not new. The lifelong runner used to be coached by prominent Ontario coach Steve Boyd (head coach at Queen’s University) and won the half-marathon championships in 2010 when she was running as Emily Tallen.

In 2011, she moved to England and took a two-year break from the sport. It was a really wise move in her running and allowed her to naturally make her way back and build for what we’re seeing now: a killer comeback.

“I felt like I wasn’t doing as well in races,” says Setlack when explaining her reasoning for her break. “I think I just forced it too much. I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. Stepping away made me realize that I’m lucky to have a passion.”

During her time off, she was living in England and still running, but not at as intense of a level. She focused on other activities that made her happy– travelling and visiting museums being two examples. Setlack still ran most days but without a specific goal in mind. Since she has been a runner since the age of 12, running for the sake of it has always been one of her loves. Typically, a week would consist of 90 miles. “Just because I love it,” says the runner.

She didn’t exactly back all the way off mileage-wise but by removing the pressure of racing, she was able to bring back her desire to compete. Her husband, Matt, is in the military and the couple moved to northern Alberta where Setlack found her coach– Matt Clout. With his encouragement, they planned to get her to the level of running which she demonstrated in Calgary.

“I guess it has all come as a bit of a shock to me,” says Setlack noting that she didn’t expect to do this well this season. Going in to the championships, she thought she could maybe land in the top three spots but wasn’t overly concerned about emphasizing getting those kind of results. “I try not to focus too much on the outcome going into races,” she says. “I just want to get the most out of myself.”

This is definitely motivation going forward in her training– especially since running in Cold Lake can be monotonous at times. Matt Setlack is also a runner and so oftentimes they run together. But most of the time, Emily Setlack is running alone. “It’s pretty lonely running here. In a way I feel that’s a secret weapon. It can be challenging running here,” she says adding that when it gets too lonely, she’ll head to Edmonton to meet up with a club.

In a week, she runs every day (usually on trails). She does an interval track workout, a two-hour long run, a tempo run, and training runs with easier runs done anywhere from a 4:20 to 5:30 pace. Her routes consist of farmer’s fields and ATB trails since she enjoys running in nature. Actually, enjoying being outside is a big reason why she’s a runner in the first place. “That’s a big part of it for me. I don’t necessarily train to compete. It’s a form of meditation,” she says.

Her time off has certainly helped her reset and get a new perspective on racing and her running in general. It’s this down to earth attitude that is sure to win her admirers in the running community. To others who are going through a similar time as Setlack did in 2011, she has words of advice: “It’s important to get back to why you started running and appreciate the fact that you can do it,” she says. “Not everyone is fortunate enough to find their passion,”

Going forward, Setlack will be competing. She is likely to bring the same wow factor to races in the future, though she doesn’t have a specific target as of now. “I want to continue to take it one step at a time,” she says.