Chasing Dreams and Making History with Erika Kemp

Erika Kemp runs along a snowy river.

On February 3rd, 173 of the fastest women in the country will toe the line of the 2024 Marathon Trials in Orlando, Florida. Among them will be Brooks pro Erika Kemp, competing at the Marathon Trials for the first time.

Keeping it Fresh

After seasons of seeking out new challenges on the professional running scene, the marathon is the inevitable next step for Kemp. In fact, she credits being open to trying new events for contributing to her success.

“You can get very stuck because running is inherently a very monotonous thing. I think, throughout my career, we have done a really good job of focusing on different events every six months because it keeps it fresh,” says Kemp.

Success is nothing new for Kemp. She graduated from North Carolina State University as an eight time All-ACC performer, ACC Champion and six-time NCAA All-American. As a collegiate athlete under the guidance of legendary coach Laurie Henes, Kemp learned that keeping running fun helped push her to new accomplishments.

“What worked really well for me in college was constantly having fun, and I had this great team around me. When you’re a pro, it’s a little lonelier out there. Your races are bigger and you don’t get quite the same experience.”

Since turning pro in 2018, Kemp has racked up numerous accomplishments across a wide range of events. She’s competed at the USA Track and Field Trials in both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, taken home the bronze medal at the U.S. Road 5K Championships, and has been crowned the U. S. National Champion in both the 15K and 20K.

For Kemp, setting goals keeps her motivated.

“I think having different goals throughout the years keeps it fresh for me. Even though your training doesn’t change too much, that really helps me stay motivated because I don’t feel like I’m just doing the same thing with the same goal in mind.”

New Year, New Challenge

Erika Kemp smiles for a photo on a windy day.

2023 was a year of change for Kemp. With a new city, coach, training group, and sponsor, she set her sights on her next challenge - the marathon.

“It (the marathon) for sure was the next thing. We dabbled in a couple halves and had some success there. It just felt like the right time.

The time was indeed right for Kemp, who kicked off her 2023 season by running a half marathon personal record of 1:10.14 in Houston. Not only was this time 24 seconds faster than her previous best, it was also fast enough to qualify her for the 2024 Marathon Trials. Building off that momentum, she clocked a 53:42 at the U.S. 15K Championships in March and even managed to run another half marathon in 1:13.18 less than three weeks later.

After calling Boston home for four years, debuting at the Boston Marathon just made sense.

“Living in Boston after college, being so close to the behind the scenes, getting to know the event really intimately, getting to see the behind the scenes with the athletes, and really more so for me getting to see the masses running, I think that being in close proximity to that for a few years, you kind of get the bug a little bit.”

Making Marathon History

At the 2023 Boston Marathon, Kemp crossed the line in an outstanding time of 2:33.57. Not only was this performance strong enough to carry her to the trials four minutes under the qualifying standard of 2:37.00, it’s the fastest marathon debut by an American woman at Boston and makes her the fastest U.S.-born Black female marathoner of all time.

In the moment, Kemp didn’t realize she was on the way to making history. She did, however, take advantage of the incredible energy of the Boston crowd.

“Boston is such a bear of an event to take on, so during it I was not super aware of how fast I was running or what my finish time would be. I had so much crowd support just being a Bostonian for the last four years and I just really leaned into that, all the personal love I was getting.”

Even after seeing her time, it took a few hours for the success to sink in. The running world, however, knew that it had just witnessed something special. Prior to her Boston performance, only 28 American-born Black women have ever run a sub-three-hour marathon, and only eight have toed the line at the USA Marathon Trials. On February 3rd, at least two more names will be added to that list, Kemp being one of them.

“The DM’s and the tags started coming in over the next few days, and as publications started calling I realized ‘Oh, this is significant, this isn’t just like being on my school’s all-time list, this is huge’.”

Kemp uses her platform to speak about the importance of increasing diversity in the sport and, since Boston, has had the opportunity to speak with publications like the New York Times to spread her message further. Amongst the interviews and podcasts however, one moment stands out that helped her truly understand her impact as Black distance runner.

A couple months after Boston, Brooks gave Kemp the opportunity to volunteer at a camp hosted by Students Run Philly Style. Students Run Philly Style is a Philadelphia-based organization that uses running and mentorship to change student’s lives. Through the work of volunteers, Students Run Philly Style helps 1,500 students work towards their goal of completing a marathon or half marathon.

While volunteering at the camp, Kemp met a young girl who had asked her for a picture early on in the day. They sat together at lunch, chatting about school, life, and of course, running.

“She was a sophomore and had really not been into running that much,” laughs Kemp.

“After lunch she came up to me and was literally tearing up. She told me ‘I sent my mom the photo that we took earlier today and she is so happy for me and told me that she is so proud of me and excited that I got to meet you because we watched you run the Boston Marathon together. And now I want to run the Boston Marathon some day.”

Reflecting on that moment, Kemp emphasizes its impact on her.

“That’s you know, that’s the dream. You’re out there and you’re in the pro-field, and you have this platform and you have these young Black girls watching you back home that want to get into the sport now.”

Erika Kemp smiles in a yellow Brooks top.

2024 Goals

Looking towards the Trials, Kemp is feeling motivated and ready to roll.

“I feel like we’re in a really good spot right now and I’m super stoked for a second crack at the marathon. Despite how hot it may be, I’m still shooting for a massive PR and I think I’m capable of it; we’ll see what happens on the day.”

Of course, a PR isn’t the only thing she’ll be chasing that day. The results of the Trials will determine which three athletes get to compete this summer for the USA. Kemp is ready to make the most of that opportunity.

“Everyone’s going to Orlando with the same goal of trying to make that team.”

If all goes well for Kemp, the marathon won’t be her only opportunity to compete at the world’s biggest athletic event this year. She still has her sights set on competing in the U.S. Track and Field Trials this summer, most likely in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter events.

“The thing with the marathon is you can’t really rush the recovery, so I think we’ll just have to see how it feels when March rolls around.”

As Kemp continues to chase her dreams, she encourages others to do the same.

“It’s never too late,” says Kemp.

Want to Run Happy© Like Erika?

  • New goals keep Erika motivated. Check out Fleet Feet’s 7 New Year’s Resolutions for Runners to start setting your own goals.
  • Challenge yourself with one of Erika’s favorite ladder-style workouts. Learn more about ladders and other speed sessions here.
  • Try out Erika’s favorite Brooks trainer, the Glycerin 21.

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