Posts Tagged ‘houston olympic marathon trials’

The leaders in the women's race, coming off Mile 5 along Memorial Drive.

For some reason, I didn’t get any photos of the men’s race. My friend @tejasrunnergirl took a fantastic one of their butts, which you can view here (along with her fantastic blog report of being my primary support crew at the Houston Half-Marathon.) Do click through and observe the wondrous spectacle that is the rear view of male marathoners.

The women, turning into their first out and back along Waugh Drive, about a quarter mile short of Mile 7.

The women pulling away from Mile 13 along Memorial Drive, you can pick out Kara and Janet Cherobon-Bawcom (5th place finisher)

Desiree Davila, Shalane Flanagan, and Kara Goucher crank into Mile 22 along Memorial Drive

Deena Kastor, heading up Waugh Drive with about 3.5 miles to go. She would finish 6th.

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The speed these women and men throw down is inconceivable to me. Intellectually, I understand the numerics behind a 4:55 or 5:33 pace, but I have absolutely no physical way to ever know what that feels like: how fast my legs would have to switch places, how brief a period my feet would touch the ground, how the wind would ruffle my hair, how hard my heart would beat.

For most of the competitors in the field at the Olympic marathon trials, getting to the trials will be the peak of their running career—no small feat, with “A” qualifying standards at 2:19 for men and 2:39 for women, times most humans take to run half the distance. Consider the fact that probably 95% of the qualifiers hold down full-time jobs while training for the trials, and it’s no wonder I saw so many runners on Memorial Drive (who clearly had no chance of winning) wearing some sort of smile on their faces, even up until Mile 23. Just getting to the game is the fulfillment of the dream. The equivalent for a runner like me is qualifying for the Boston Marathon enough under the required time that I actually came away with a bib during registration.

But there’s that top 5% of runners, the professional elite, who might even take it for granted that they are going to the trials. Men like Ryan, Meb, Dathan, Jason and Brett; women like Kara, Shalane, Desi, Deena, Tera and Magda—the prize in their eyes isn’t a bib for the trials, but a spot on the United States’ Olympic marathon team. That’s not to say the other 95% doesn’t hope for and train for a daring and stunning performance that will earn them a spot on the team as well. No doubt, many of them made tremendous sacrifices on the slight chance that January 14, 2012 would be their miracle day.

When we watch the Olympic trials, we are observing a rarified talent unleashed across a range of ambitions, and that is what makes the race so emotional, so thrilling, and so unforgettable.

The beauty of the circuit course is that as fans, the athletes could pass us as often as eight times. We not only get to monitor the progression of the battle between the elites with enough frequency to really feel the drama, but we also get to know the pack runners. Normally I give chicks who race in skirts a hard time, but at the trials, I gave the woman in the hot pink skirt with ruffles and a matching hair ribbon props—she dressed up for her debut on the national stage, and damn if I didn’t cheer for her each time she zipped by me.  Then there were the Storage twins, and the woman whose last name was Sunshine—you know I cheered my guts out for her, even though I was a little covetous of her name. And the men? Well, I admit that I was admiring their gorgeousness right along with their speed. Fernando Cabada? Hel-lo! And how awesome was it to see my old favorite Andrew Carlson up there in the mix of the top 10? It was very awesome. My heart gave a twinge each time Stephan Shay, who was racing the trials in his brother Ryan’s memory, sped by.

I knew who I wanted to come in first: Ryan Hall and Desiree Davila. Even though they both had the top qualifying times in their divisions, I still felt like they each had something to prove to the world—Ryan because he is self-coached, and Desi because she has toiled away in the shadows of Kara and Shalane for so long. (It was a terrible flashback to the natural laws that goverened my high school when the gorgeous blonde won the day over the girl-next-door brunette in this marathon). Ultimately, the men’s and the women’s races were very similar, in that the runner who led for the majority of the race came in second because they were overtaken in the last mile or so by the eventual champion. Even as I was watching these pros fiercely compete with each other, I knew that they have a deep respect for each other, and that many of them are friends and teammates. This is a beautiful thing, and is a way of relating with other humans that I greatly admire.

Later, after @tejasrunnergirl and I had cheered and tweeted from just past Miles 5/13/21 and Miles 7/15/23, we watched the televised coverage of the race. Even though I knew the outcome, I could not help myself from shouting out loud for Dathan to reel in Abdi and earn back the third place on the team, and for Desi to crank it up and overtake Shalane in the final half mile to win instead of place. I got all choked up when I saw the men’s leaders begin to overtake the trailing women racers, because these women were cheering Ryan, Meb, Abdi and Dathan. And also: imagine what a twisted pleasure it would be to say, afterwards, “Oh yeah, I was totally lapped by Ryan Hall!” Watching Ritz, the fourth men’s finisher, collapse into tears once he crossed the finish line was nearly too much to bear; I felt squirmy and bereft, his private grief was painfully honest. How does Amy Hastings reconcile the bitter disappointment of fourth place after leading several miles—will she be able to ever stop replaying the vision of Shalane, Desi and Kara hugging triumphantly, draped in American flags right in front of her eyes, as she trundled across the finish line in fourth place?

I’ve explained the Olympic marathon trials to my non-running-fan friends as “the SuperBowl of running.” But I’m not sure that’s adequate. The SuperBowl is every year. Football fans get to see their teams play a gameon TV every week throughout the entire 17-week long season. There are bragging rights, money, and Hall of Fame potential at stake—but nothing as theatrical and grand as representing your country in a field of competition that convenes once every four years.

As fans of the marathon, and as fans of individual distance racers, we get to see our favorite athletes unleash their training at most twice a year in the marathon, more only if they also compete in cross country, track, or shorter distances on the roads. More often than not, those races are not on TV. And the opportunities we have to see the best our nation has to offer compete directly against each other? Rarer still. I’m not complaining, I’m trying to explain to you just how unique, dramatic and inspiring the Olympic marathon trials are. I fear my words are not adequate.

My imagination is sparked by these men and women. I am grateful for the way they so thoroughly exploit their God-given talents. Being a fan of the sport has done nothing but enhance both my enjoyment of and my performances within it.

To Meb, Ryan, Abdi, Shalane, Desi and Kara: congratulations! I cannot wait to watch you take on the best of what the rest of the world has to offer in London this August. I’ve already raced those streets—now it’s your turn!

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Houston, TX is one of those cities I’ve never wanted to visit. If it weren’t for the OT’s, I’d have been more likely to avoid Houston, for fear of stumbling into someone else’s memories of their life there. I’d imagined a visit to Houston like walking through a spider web: you can’t see the strands until you’re already draped in its crepe-y, creepy weave.

The Olympic Marathon Trials forced my hand. As I’ve already explained, the Trials pack such a strong punch of motivation that I would have traveled to see this race no matter where it was being held–even New Jersey. Last summer, a couple of my relay teammates suggested I make the trip a two-fer and race while I was down there, and there it was: I had a game plan. Houstonians, I apologize in advance for my cluelessness. Please treat my New York City Girl routine with amusement.

So now here I am, actually looking forward to a weekend in a state that is as strange to me as Eastern Europe. Luckily, I have a trusty translator and guide, my Twitter buddy @tejasrunnergirl. (She also has a blog, you know. Go there as soon as you’re done reading here.)

The next few days are going to be the ultimate combination of inspiration and perspiration. I can’t fucking wait.

INSPIRATION. I want Ryan Hall to win again. And I want Desi Davila to live up to her end of the dare that she threw down in Boston last year. Predictions? I don’t have any, other than to say that I believe the women’s race is going to be much more exciting than the men’s. No matter what, it will be the best possible mental set-up for my race the next day. There isn’t anything else that could so effectively get me pumped to race the hell out of my own distance event. My only wish is that I had a better camera.* My crappy point and shoot takes terrible action shots, and I can only get in one click of the shutter before the runners have thundered past.

PERSPIRATION. I’m staring down 1:45 for this half-marathon. I. WILL. NOT. EXCEED. IT. Not only that, I will race for as big a gap as possible between my finishing time and 1:45. As in, minutes. Can I do it? The ever-faithful @tejasrunnergirl tells me I’ll finish in 1:40. That’s a 7:37 average pace–ain’t she a funny one. When I put my 15k PR, ran a month ago, into the McMillan Calculator, it gives me 1;45:01 for the half-marathon, which I think is funny for quite a different reason. I have tried to explain how my confidence begat my ambition. This is still true. I’ve been feeling strong and ready all week. Dropping five pounds doing Organic Avenue’s five-day *LOVE Fast  juice cleanse last week means that I’ll be racing on legs that were trained to run while carrying more weight than they will have to on Sunday.  The big difference between this taper and every other taper I’ve ever done is the subtle conviction I feel. That’s a new feeling, and I am grateful for it. No matter what happens on race day, I won’t have any regrets. I know I won’t, because I have had so much fun getting to Houston. I also know I’m more prepared for this race than I have been for any race prior.

If you know my name, you can track me on the Houston Marathon website. If you don’t, you can get my updates by following three of my friends on Twitter. @BklynRunner , stationed in Coney Island, NY, will be tweeting my splits as they come through the computer, and @tejasrunnergirl and @grapevinerunner will be live tweeting TK sightings from the curb in Houston.

*if this is my only wish, then life’s pretty darn good. Amen.

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Hi Matt,

it’s been a while since I’ve given you and your show a proper shout-out on my blog (actually, it’s been a while since I’ve done anything properly on my blog). Yesterday driving over to my house in Pocono Lake, PA, I listened to three back-to-back episodes of your Dump Runners Club podcast, and it brought me back when I first discovered your show, and how the DRC kept me engaged in my training and motivated for my race during my prep for the New York City Marathon in 2008. It was nice to remember back to that time, since that training cycle and race experience remains my best for the marathon to date.  I’m gearing up for what I hope will be a marathon to supplant NYC ’08 as the best, so I can use any kind of positive associations possible.

Your last three episodes were all really strong. Even though you were talking at me, I have some questions and comments. Humor me? So, episode #188… Which half-marathon are you running in May? I was nodding as you were talking about the Boston Marathon hill simulation workout. One of the things that helped me so much to have a positive experience in the New York City Marathon was being familiar with most of the course, and part of my reason for choosing the Empire State Marathon for this Fall (more on that in a separate post) is because Syracuse is close enough that I can get to the course for one of my long runs, to give myself that mental advantage. What you shared about having your gait analyzed by an expert was riveting and so helpful regarding my own efforts with about whole-body fitness and running form. The feedback you were given, about looking at the whole leg instead of just the injured area when treating a sports injury, is amazing and makes so much sense especially in the context of what I’ve learned in Pilates this winter. I thought Pilates class would be all about my core, an hour straight of all different sorts of ab workouts. And while those muscles are constantly engaged (meaning, consciously poised into a specific position), Pilates classes work every single muscle in my body. We do several exercises to strengthen the back and shoulders, and when we exercise the quads, sure as shit the next muscle group we work on are the glues and hammies. Now, no doubt my running form is a wreck compared to yours, but I was encouraged to hear that at least I was on the right track by augmenting my road training with Pilates class. It was interesting that your arm swing compensated for weakness in your glutes–I wonder if my own unsymmetrical arm swing is a result of Betty’s failings. PS thanks for sharing your foot strike video–and I wish your form a return to 2003.

Episode #189 was like candy, I really enjoy your recaps of pro racing. Even if it’s news I already knew about, I like to hear your take on the races and records. I love that many women from our 2008 Women’s Olympic team were all back together on the courses. Oh, and, you casually mention that you are seriously thinking about going to the Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston this January 2012. I will be there (I’m staying with @tejasrunnergirl), too! I’ve been planning on this trip for over a year to spectate the trials, since my experiences with the Men’s and Women’s Marathon Trials in 2007/2008 were so exciting and motivational. I haven’t thought about running the half-marathon while there, but I think it’s a great idea, and I just might do it! (Registration opens June 1, 2011.) I’m also going to Eugene, OR for the Track & Field Trials as well.

While you were talking about your training, you suggested that after Boston, you won’t run another marathon for a few years–but then in episode #190 you said that you want to one day run our New York City Marathon. What’s the deal? For purely selfish reasons (it would be so much fun to cheer you on as you run through Queens), I must insist you come run New York as soon as possible.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the new Boston Marathon qualifying standards, since I am hoping to run a qualifying time this year, even though I realize that a qualifying time no longer guarantees there will be a bib for me (is that the short story called The Loneliness of the Not Quite Fast Enough Long Distance Runner?). Mike’s comments in the “Dis and Dat” show about how the new registration process is bullshit made me feel a little validated. The new standards and process are what they are, and if I want to compete in the Boston Marathon by qualifying (which is what I want), then I have to fit into the new protocols. But Mike’s objections to the tiered registration process (especially that if the faster runners don’t register during their exclusive days, they still get priority over slower runners even if they register on the last day) makes complete sense to me. I think that the Boston Marathon brand was a little diluted even before this revamping process. It started the first year that registration closed months before race day–rather than keeping itself separate from the hoi polloi, the BAA was brought down into the muck with the rest of the mob-mentality races.

Other short notes on episode #190: 1) two-week taper, without a doubt. Love it. 2) race directors taking participants for granted, this is a huge reason why I maintain a loose boycott of New York Road Runner races, especially the ones in Central Park. Since I don’t need guaranteed entry to the New York City Marathon, why would I pay upwards of $20 (much more for a half-marathon) to run a loop of the park I can run any day of the year for free? No, thanks! I am the consumer, as you say, and I prefer to support smaller races run by smaller organizations. 3) Andrew Carlson! I’m a fan. 4) La maratona di Roma, I’ve always dreamed about running this marathon since it happens in my favorite country and it falls on my birthday every several years. Imagine the deliciousness of the carbo-loading I could do for that?!

One last thing, your closing comments keep getting drowned out by the exit music. Lower the volume on the tunes, dude.

Looking forward to seeing you when you’re on my coast for the Boston Marathon. I’ll be cheering you at the finish line on the runners’ left side. Will you be wearing all yellow again this year, like a dashing banana? Enjoy the taper, and the tempos.

Your friend,




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