Seeded second and third in the nation for the mile and 3000-meter races, respectively, senior Annika Urban competed at the 2023 NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championship on March 10-11.
On the second day of the meet, Urban ran toe-to-toe against Hope College (Mich.) senior Anastasia Tucker and Carleton College (Minn.) senior Clara Mayfield in the mile race. Urban trailed Mayfield, who had beaten her in the preliminary race the day prior, during the first part of the race, but she eventually broke away from the field and took the lead.
“I was able to fill out the race for the first little bit and stick with those girls [in the] the beginning and then eventually, when I felt like the time was right, I decided to make my move,” Urban said. “The goal was to continue with that momentum through the rest of the race. At that point, I decided it was the right time for me and just picked [the pace] up.”
Urban finished four seconds ahead of Tucker with a national championship record time of 4:43.17, besting her own Emory record of 4:50.74 that she set on Feb. 3. Later that day, Urban placed third in the 3000-meter race with a time of 9:32.05. The performances earned two All-American honors at the championship.
Before donning the blue and gold and running under Emory University’s Woodruff Physical Education Center track lights, Urban started running competitively in seventh grade. Dissuaded by the solitude and monotony of swimming, her passion for running was kindled by her love of the nature around her and connections she made with her teammates.
“I went out for a practice in the summer and just thought it was awesome that a group of people got together and ran on trails,” Urban said. “I really enjoyed the outdoors, the sense of running and getting to talk to people while you’re running.”
Urban said that running became a “huge part” of her life that also helped her improve her time management skills and become a better student, and she soon realized that she wanted to continue running at the collegiate level. Urban said she ultimately decided to commit to Emory because of the track and field team’s supportive culture.
“I looked at a bunch of places, but when I visited Emory, I just absolutely fell in love with Emory,” Urban said. “I met some of the women on the team and loved the team culture. Emory was definitely the place where I decided that I could definitely see myself thriving.”
Urban entered her freshman year with high expectations which were met with disappointment when the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the indoor season in March 2020, forcing her to reflect on her athletic future. Emory Track and Field Head Coach Linh Nguyen noted her potential to improve after an underwhelming and abrupt finish to her rookie season.
“Her freshman year, to be quite frank, she just wasn’t good,” Nguyen said. “In the 3000-meter her freshman year, she was last in [the University Athletic Association] by 20 seconds.”
Despite the setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Urban credited her younger brother, as giving her the motivation to continue running and become a better athlete.
“I was feeling pretty down about running,” Urban said. “But then, my younger brother was still running, and he told me I should run with him. Eventually, we started running together.”
Staying at home also allowed Urban to focus on the other factors that go into becoming a great athlete, including proper nutrition, stretching, seeing trainers and maximizing the effectiveness of her workouts. Urban also noted that running 70 miles a week and in 5-degree weather in her hometown of Pittsburgh during the winter made her a more resilient runner.
Urban’s hard work paid off when she started seeing tremendous progress her sophomore year as the track and field team returned to action for the 2021 outdoor season. Urban broke the Emory 5000-meter record with a time of 17:14.41 and qualified for the national outdoor championship. At nationals, she placed 11th out of 19 in that event, a result which Urban said increased her confidence in her abilities.
“It’s definitely been a process,” Urban said. “When I came back from COVID-19 my sophomore year and qualified for nationals, I was on top of the world. Then I go to nationals and I am like, ‘Oh wow, there are also really, really fast women here’ … It’s been a process of setting higher goals and figuring out how to reach those goals.”
Urban built a legacy for herself at Emory during her sophomore and junior years, breaking numerous records, winning three individual UAA titles and competing in national championships, but a national title eluded her until this year.
Nguyen noted how far Urban has come since her freshman year. Aside from the accolades and accomplishments, he said he sees Urban as more than an athlete.
“She’s just an example of exactly what a coach wants a student-athlete to be,” Nguyen said. “She does everything right in practice, outside of practice. She carries herself the right way. She represents the university in the right way, and she is a shining example of what a student athlete should be.
Even though Urban recently won a national title, she already has her sights on the upcoming outdoor track season, which will begin on March 17.
“I’m not entirely sure yet where my focus is going to be event wise, but I would love to win another national title,” Urban said.
Clement Lee (he/him) (24Ox) is from Virginia Beach, Virginia, majoring in economics. Outside the Wheel, Clement can be found perusing through agricultural data, reading English poetry or going on long runs in the woods.