Lee Emanuel, who won 3000m silver at the European Indoor Championships in Prague, is one of athletics’ running missionaries. The Albuquerque-based Brit tells SPIKES how his American adventure nearly pushed him away from the sport, but ultimately led him to success.

Moving to America was something of an impulsive decision for Lee Emanuel. During the first two years of his undergraduate degree at Sheffield Hallam University, Emanuel wound back his training following teenage years spent running for Hastings Athletics Club.

Yet when he entered his final year, the passionate fan of English football team Aston Villa began to look to life beyond the university campus and devised a plan, and track was to be a big part of it.

“One day I just decided I wanted to try go out to the States,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to train seriously again and was not quite ready to get a full time job. I started training my last year at Hallam with the main aim being to get a scholarship to an American University.”

That aim became reality. Once he was done in Sheffield he upped sticks to Albuquerque to study for a masters degree in sports administration at the University of New Mexico.

Though he concedes university in America “was not quite as American Pie as I thought it would be”, it was in Albuquerque that Emanuel began to find his groove on the track.

“I found a great coach [Joe Franklin] in one of the best cities in the world to train,” he says. “I was lucky that I came out to a big and friendly track and field team. We hung out a lot and had a lot of fun.

“Classes were later in the afternoon as I was doing a masters so that was nice. We had team practice five mornings a week so I had a good structure for training.

“I had never spent too much time with runners before moving out to Albuquerque so I think that helped me be more diligent and focussed.”

It's always sunny in Albuquerque

Emanuel thrived, and he was soon ruffling a few feathers by winning back-to-back NCAA Indoor Mile titles in 2009-10.

“I was the first person from my school to win [an NCAA indoor individual title] for 30 years so it was pretty special,” he says. “There were a few haters, mainly from me being older and English.

“I was 24 and 25 when I won. Maybe rightly some people thought it was unfair as most college kids are 18 to 23. But I was not breaking any rules and had only been training for a few years so I never thought too much of it.”

The accolades also led to a change of attitude.

“Winning the NCAA title changed my life,” he says. “All of a sudden I was looking at running as a potential profession, not a hobby – something I had never thought possible.”

After graduating the Brit headed to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to train in a group coached by Ronnie Warhurst. His sparring partners included Kiwi Olympic 1500m silver medallist Nick Willis and American stalwarts Will Leer and Brandon Bethke. But in spite of the elite company, Emanuel’s progress stalled.

“I went from running [1500m in] 3.37 to not being able to break 3.40 and at times running slower than 3.50,” he admits.

“I had no belief in myself during that time and no matter how hard I tried I could not break through. It was the hardest I had ever trained and I was training with world-class runners every day. I went there thinking it would take me to the next level and it just did not work out.”

Lee Emanuel ()

STRUGGLES: “There were times I thought about walking away”

This “major low point” came to a head in 2012 when he failed to make the team for the London Olympics. It was a big time blow for the Brit that pushed him close to the brink.

“It was hard and took a lot of mental will power [to get through]. There were times I thought about walking away but luckily I stayed at it. No matter how bad my races were I was always out there the next day training.”

After 2012 he went back to Albuquerque; back to the tracks, trails and tried methods that had served him so well a few years earlier. Vindication of this retreat has come with improved times.

“Since I returned to Coach Franklin I have improved season on season and ran well, especially indoors,” he says. He went into last year’s world indoors as British indoor 1500m champion and was hopeful of making an impression, but he was pushed off the track and failed to make it out of his heat.

That Sopot misfortune saw his intended international impact delayed until this year’s European Indoor Championships, where he wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass him by again. Running in the 3000m – the event in which he had won the British indoor title the previous month – he won silver in a 7:44.48 PB behind Turkey’s Ali Kaya (whose 7:38.42 stands as the third-fastest time this year).

“I am very proud. I went into the race thinking and hoping I was going to win [but] my disappointment was brief. I must admit I underestimated Kaya’s talent.

“I did everything I could and am pretty happy with my application of the race, I tried to win it. I was dying big time over the 600 but managed to hang on to second.”

At 30-years-old, Emanuel’s medal was a victory for persistence. Characteristically, he is already looking for ways to improve ahead of the summer programme.

Lee Emanuel ()

GLORY: Silver in Prague follows British indoor titles in 2014 (1500m) and 2015 (3000m)

“Beijing [world champs] is the main aim,” he says. “Last season I had a good indoor season [he won the British indoor 1500m title] and then fell apart outdoors [failed to make an impression at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games] so I need to put that right. I have the standard from indoors so will look to try and run another one in June and then get ready for the British Championships.

“I would love to run 3.33 to .34 this summer and feel like I am pretty close to those kind of times now.”

Whatever he goes on to achieve, Emanuel – who hasn’t ruled out staying in America long-term – is at least enjoying his running again.

“My main target is to maintain the roll I have been over the last few months and have some fun racing. There have been times where my racing has been far from fun.”