Short Strides and Odd Thoughts: Going  for Gold

With the State Championships looming, it would be easy to lose sight that tomorrow is the Olympic Trials for the marathon in Orlando, Florida.  I will be watching my girls take on the 4×800 relay at UNH when the men start, and doing a post race analysis of that race when the ladies get started.  While I wish I was settled on my couch, coffee in hand, watching the race go down, or even better, be there in person, I’ll be track side instead, not all that bad a place to be though.  To be fair, I don’t have TV or the services necessary to watch at home anyway, so I’d have to convince someone else they wanted to invite me to watch the races with them.  

Both races are pretty wide open.  Of the six podium finishers from our 2020 Olympic team we only have three returning.  And while both of the top finishers, in Aliphine Tuliamuk and Galen Rupp, return, neither is at the level they were when they last toed the line.  Tuliamuk is working through injury after coming back from a maternity stint, and Rupp has had some chronic back issues which now and then affect his training and performance.

The other returning top three finisher is Abdi Abdirahman, with Jake Riley, Sally Kipyego not entered and Molly Seidel an unfortunate late scratch.  Abdi, entering his sixth Olympic cycle, at 47 years, could be considered a long shot at best.  

The front runners are Conner Mantz and Emily Sisson, both with the top times entering the trials.  However this will be Mantz first Olympic cycle and only his fourth marathon, and Sisson dropped out of the last Olympic trials, after falling off the pace in the latter half of the race.  So while they are the favorites on paper, which means little once the gun sounds.  As Seidel showed last time around, debuting in her first marathon at the trials, on paper only holds weight until the finish line is in sight.

Which brings me back to the 2008 women’s Olympic Marathon Trials, held in Boston in April.  I took a group of eight down to the trials, held the day before the Boston Marathon, on a criterium style course which allowed us to see the racers multiple times.  This was the debut of the Hanson’s Race Team, and we had heard of a contest Brooks was hosting which would reward high school programs with 50 uniforms (shorts, singlets, and warmups) by cheering for the Hanson group. While we weren’t the loudest or biggest group, we did win the most exuberant crew, with our faces painted in the red, yellow, black pattern which was the identifiable insignia of the training group.

On top of that, it was the first time I was able to witness Des Linden (then Desiree Davila) run, having a strong second half and finishing thirteenth.  Desi has now matured to Des, and has competed in two Olympics and finished second twice and fourth once.  And let us not forget her Boston Marathon win in desperate conditions of the 2018 Boston Marathon, one she had thought about dropping out before outlasting the field to win.

In 2008, the landscape in US women’s marathon running was dominated by Deena Kastor.  In the 2004 Olympics Kastor ran a smart race in tough conditions to finish third and earn the bronze medal.  In 2006, she set the American record in the London marathon, running 2:19 in the process.  However at the trials, Magda Lewy Boulet, not a known commodity, got out front early, building up a sizable lead before Kastor stormed over the second half to catch and pass Boulet at mile 23.  Kastor would go on to drop out of the London Olympic Marathon due to a foot fracture that happened three miles into the race, caused by low vitamin D levels. I wouldn’t have bet against her nor would I have expected the liberal use of sunscreen to take down such a giant.  Wild times.

And I wouldn’t bet against Mantz and Sisson.  There’s good reasons they are the ones to beat.  Both heavily pedigreed, both NCAA champions, both supposedly built for the marathon.  No reason to cheer against them.

But there will likely be some surprises like 2020.  No one, except maybe themselves and their inner circle would have seen Seidel or Jake Riley making the team.  Or Abdi making it at 43 years old.

These trials are bound to have some surprises, and I for one am happy for that.  Everyone reading this knows there is nothing guaranteed in running.  One misstep, a missed drink bottle on a warm day in Orlando could be the difference between making the podium and finishing the race.  The men’s race is expected to go out pretty quick as they will still be looking to unlock one of the usual three spots the men contend for.  And the 2:11:30 target time is well within the range of many of the top men.  Paul Chelimo and coach Scott Simmons say they intend to target 2:08 and the win in Chelimo’s debut marathon.

So while I won’t be watching live, I will be very interested in what’s playing out behind the scenes while I’m up in Durham.  I may even see if I can track the race, something barely within my skill set, and keep updates at what’s going on at the front of the races.  I do know when I get home, I’ll be on LetsRun, reading the recap, waiting for the race video to make its way to YouTube.  I might even sit down and watch the entire race over just because.

Because I like this stuff.

See you out there.

Editor’s Note: Exeter High School alum and NHXCTF all-time great, Jackie Gaughan is competing on Saturday as well. She is one of the athletes featured in a Runner’s World article highlighting those athletes who work full time and continue to compete at the elite level! Good luck Jackie!