Posts Tagged ‘men’s 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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Part of my reunion weekend with the Sacto 7 this weekend (more on that later) was a Secret-Santa-esque gift exchange, which we did to celebrate everyone’s birthday in one fell swoop on Saturday evening.  My gift was a very cute black V-neck technical tee with the word “Run” plain & simple (& small) on the chest.  I was gratified that these friends (who knew me before I started running) now consider me worthy and desiring of such a gift, and couldn’t wait to wear it on a run. Even though it’s only been three days since I unwrapped it, I have been single-mindedly watching the weather reports for temperatures warm enough.

Today was the day (60 degrees).  Normally, I put together my running outfits with one thought in mind: appropriate to the weather.  But this morning when I packed my gear, I wanted to coordinate, so as to show off my new tee to its best advantage.  So: black shorts.  Black watch.  Black gloves (unnecessary) and black ipod.  As I headed out into the 6:30 PM hubbub of my city’s streets, I felt like The Shadow, slipping in between pedestrians, bikers and automobiles.

The run wasn’t extraordinary (3.5 m; 33:37), but my new tee is unimpeachable.  Probably in the summer the black will make it too hot, but for now, it’s light as a feather, wicks brilliantly and doesn’t tug or pull anywhere. Thank you, TD!

I listened to two podcasts on my way home.  The first was the tail end of a great Running Times Radio interview with Nate Jenkins, who finished 7th in the Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials last year, is self-coached, and up until early 2007 shoehorned his training in around a job in a running shoe store and as a coach at U Mass-Lowell.  I find the RT Radio podcasts a bit pretentious at times, and Scott Douglas’ questions somewhat overweening, but Nate handily fielded Douglas’ questions with frank and interesting answers.  I was riveted.  He analyzed his own training, admitted he turned down the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, spoke about Italian coaching methods, and explained why he thought his acceptable half-marathon times makes the marathon his best event.  Download the podcast or read his training blog.  I’ll be cheering for him at Boston; this boy’s all right.

Then, I turned on Phedippidations Intervals #135B, in which Steve Runner answers the question that’s been kicking around the back of my head: how the heck did he get into Boston with his middle-of-the-pack times? (No offense, Steve.)  Turns out he received an invitational entry passed to him through the Massachussets Civil Air Patrol, one of the many municipal organizations along the race course that assists with security and logistics.  That’s cool–I think it’s important for marathons to have a contingent of runners of all levels from the local community. 

But the kicker, the part that had me laughing out loud (I don’t belive Steve was trying to be funny, though) was when he revealed his strategy on how he will one day race Boston with a qualifying entry.  He plans to hold his 4-hour marathon pace for the next 14 years, so that when he turns 60, his race pace and the qualifying time requirements for entry will intersect.  It’s true, then: I have been blogging about a hot idea (see Pigtails post “A Pint and a Fag” for starters).  This takes the mantra “train today for the runner you want to be tomorrow” about a thousand steps further.  Train yourself to the fitness you want to have when you’re 60, 65 or 70, and then simply mantain it so you can a) qualify for Boston and b) start winning your age group.

Personally, I think it’s got to be easier to win your age group by signing up for races in Bumblefuck, Idaho (no offense, Idaho) than to maintain the same level of fitness for over two decades (or for over four decades, if you’re my buddy EN). 

Steve Runner also casually mentioned that he will dedicate an entire episode to Kathrine Switzer!  This is awesome.  Ever since I read her book Marathon Woman last year, I have been telling others about her running career (she won NY!) and her contributions to the sport (instrumental in getting the women’s marathon as an Olympic event). I admire her, am thankful to her, and can’t wait to hear more about her.  I hope he scores an interview!

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