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The US Olympic Marathon Trials occur once every four years in preparation for the Olympic Games. The tradition of the Trials event dates back to 1968. In this race, the top three men and women are selected to compete at the upcoming Olympics. To become eligible to compete at the US Olympic Marathon Trials, athletes must have met a qualifying standard. Men must have run 2:19:00 (or 1:04:00 in the half-marathon) and women, 2:45:00 (or 1:13:00 in the half marathon) to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
This year, the race took place on leap day (February 29, 2020) in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta Track Club did an exceptional job putting on the event and paid all expenses for the 265 men and 513 women who qualified for the event. The race was part of the bigger event known as “America’s Marathon Weekend” in Atlanta, which featured other races from a 5k and relay race, to the Publix Marathon. Overall it was a weekend filled with excitement and celebrating runners!
After hitting the qualifying mark at the 2019 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (2:41:13) in October 2019, I took about a week off before beginning my training block leading up to the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials. While my training leading up to Chicago offered a great deal of consistency in training with a volume of about 70 miles per week, training for the Trials was a bit more inconsistent in part due to substantial life changes.
When my training block began in November, I was fully immersed in my second year of medical school. Much like my buildup to Chicago, each day began with a morning run followed by 10-14 hours of studying before repeating it all over again the following day. However, unlike before Chicago, this time it was temporary. In December, I made the decision to leave medical school and move back to St. Louis. This meant leaving behind my coach in Virginia, my favorite running routes, and my occasional running partner. However, training in St. Louis would offer better terrain to prepare for the hills to come at the Trials in Atlanta.
I returned to a state of turmoil at home as we struggled to find a caregiver to help my mom care for my quadriplegic father. Luckily, I was able to step in and assist her, but this also meant delaying my runs and missing opportunities to meet up with others for a little running company. Around this time, I was lucky to have a friend offer to write me training plans for my lead up to the Trials. Now, with a new coach and back home with my family, it was time to really put the work in.
With school out of the picture, for the first time, I was able to focus solely on my training (and of course time with my family!) My 70-mile weeks soon turned into 80-85 mile weeks. I still experienced the ups and downs that all runners know about. I could have a great workout on Monday only to miss all of my paces on Friday’s workout, but overall, I was feeling fit and excited for the coming race.
Race week, the week marathon runners dream about their entire training block. FINALLY, it is time to taper. After all of those long, grueling miles of marathon training, it is time to relax, read a book, and rest up for the big day!
Unfortunately, my race week did not exactly go as planned. On Sunday morning I woke up with what started as a scratchy throat. By Tuesday, merely keeping my eyes open all day felt like a task. That “easy” 4-mile run I had that afternoon? Yeah, that felt like a marathon in itself!
Rather than worry about how badly I was feeling, I chose to do everything I could to put myself in the best possible position on race day despite my sickness. Whether that meant eating right, sleeping, taking a day off running to recover, or using the health shield essential oils my boyfriend sent me, I was doing everything I could to fight this cold!
By Thursday, it seemed like I was on the tail-end of things, which was great as Thursday morning my mom and I made the flight out to Atlanta! Thursday evening, Atlanta Track Club organized a dinner for all of the athletes at the Georgia Aquarium with the sea-life as a nice backdrop for the event. This provided a great opportunity for the athletes to interact and see each other in person rather than just via social media. While the organized events that evening were incredible, the best part of my day occurred around 11:30 that night when my boyfriend (a fellow Olympic Trials qualifier) made it to Atlanta from Arizona! After a rough start to the week, things seemed to really be turning around for the better.
Friday morning marked the beginning of a very full, hectic day. Usually the day before a race I tend to like to relax and stay off of my feet, but in Atlanta there was so much going on and many required events to attend. After a short run in the morning with my boyfriend and his roommates, we were rushed around from table-to-table. We had to have every article of clothing and shoes checked that we would wear on race day, personal fluids had to be checked, and bibs had to be picked up. Then, we quickly headed over to the expo to pick up the Nike AlphaFly’s each Trials athlete received. Between the Expo, required events, and media obligations, the next thing I knew it was time for dinner! While a dinner was being held for the athletes, I chose to use this time to meet up with everyone who had traveled down that day to watch my race. All eleven of us ate at Ted Montana’s Grill, and it was nice to see all the familiar faces before my race. Around 10:30pm, it was time for one last night of sleep before my race.
Unlike most marathons, the Olympic Trials did not actually start until the afternoon. For most people, this meant the opportunity to sleep in, but as an early riser, it meant sitting around thinking nonstop about the 26.2-mile journey ahead.
At about 11:00am, I made my way down to the athlete tent to drop off my stuff before doing a quick warm-up. While the temperature was just about perfect (50 degrees and sunny!), the winds were 30mph with gusts over 40mph! The buildings of downtown Atlanta only seemed to funnel the winds even more harshly.
The men started their race about 15 minutes before the women, and before I knew it, they had begun, and it was time for the women to line up. The starting line was absolutely packed with people! Everyone was huddling together to try to escape the wind. When the gun went off, it was almost surreal, it seemed like we all stood still for what felt like minutes, but I am sure in reality was merely a few seconds.
The course was an 8-mile loop that repeated a total of 3 times with an additional short loop on the final time around to add the extra 2.2 miles. The thing I remember most from the race was just the crowds. There were people cheering everywhere you looked. I remember seeing people in trees, on top of shoulders, and on any ledge they could find! The atmosphere was truly incredible.
Unfortunately after my second loop of the race, after being on pace for a PR, I was forced to drop out at mile 16. The wind caused some lingering injuries sustained in college to flare up and I made the decision to call it while I still had good memories rather than struggle through another 10 miles in pain only to resent the experience. While I was disappointed to not be able to finish the race, having the opportunity to race alongside some of the best athletes in the country made me hungry for more, and I cannot wait until my next opportunity to race again!
Immediately after dropping out at mile 16, I headed straight for the finish line. I wanted to be there when my boyfriend finished his race and I was so excited to see the top females as well! So many people were out braving the windy conditions to cheer as the athletes made their way down the home stretch to the finish.
After reuniting with my family and lots of hugs, we decided to celebrate with some tacos and margaritas! It was so great having everyone there to support me and it made the experience even more meaningful to me.
The next morning, my family headed back to their respective homes and I began my week break from running. I decided to fly out to Arizona to celebrate all of the hard work that had gone into training for the race and enjoy my time off of running with a little sunshine and hiking. I spent the week after the trials with my boyfriend in Flagstaff hiking, enjoying local restaurants, and becoming fully acquainted with everything Flagstaff and Sedona have to offer. It was a time of relaxation and a much needed mental and physical break from the grind of marathon training.
Looking back on my experience at the US Olympic Marathon Trials, I would not really change much. While I was disappointed not being able to finish the race, I had made progress in my training and was set up to run a PR in Atlanta. The result may not have been there on paper, but that is ok, there will always be more opportunities and hopefully another slew of Trials appearances in my future! I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to run alongside the nation’s best and inspired to take the next step in my training. While I am not sure what my next race will be right now due to COVID19, I am continuing to train in the hope to get back on the roads this fall/late summer. Until then I will use the motivation from the Trials to fuel my training and passion for everything this sport has to offer!
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