|Photo credit: Johnny Zhang|
It's been two months now since the trials, and I've wanted to write about the event. But I haven't. First I needed a week to settle down. Then I needed a week to process. And then . . . a worldwide pandemic happened. Ever since, I've been paralyzed by the fear that it's too self-centered, or tone deaf, or downright irrelevant to write about a happy, once-in-a-lifetime occasion like the Olympic Marathon trials.
But then I heard Ali's podcast, and her enthusiasm for the event took me straight back to that weekend. So I figure if she didn't even run the race and is still that excited to talk about it, and if I enjoyed listening, maybe this blog post will offer a reprieve from the "will we survive?" mentality of the media we're consuming every single day.
If I'm going to recount the experience of running the Olympic Marathon Trials, I want to begin with the weeks leading up to the whole event. Obviously I was training, but unlike many of my competitors, my goal was not to build fitness. Qualifying in Philly had taken everything out of me, and as stoked as I was about the upcoming weekend's experience, I was not excited to actually run a marathon. So leading up, I just needed to stay fit enough to compete without breaking down.
Yet while the training may not have been exciting me, the ever-mounting hype was simply unavoidable. And it was infectious. For the first time in my life, I was being sought out for my opinions, my words, my likeness based on something I'd achieved. Usually I'm the one on the question-asking end of the conversation, but now people wanted to interview me for articles. They filmed me for a television segment. Put me on their Instagram feed. Included me in their podcast. (Okay, full disclosure, I was on the podcast earlier, but that's because the host is my friend, and he needed someone to help him practice.) I have never, ever felt this much like a celebrity. And, knowing that I will almost certainly never experience this again, I said yes. Yes, take my photo. Yes, ask my opinion. Yes yes yes!
|Photo credit: Ben Ko|
Initially I'd thought that I'd have a decent amount of downtime. However, there was just so much to do! Between eating meals and attending events the ATC was putting on for us athletes, I had to sort out what, exactly, I was going to wear for the race; go and get it approved by a race official (including my shoes, which were measured using what looked like some sort of laser); decorate and drop off my water bottles (where I ran into none other than professional runners Steph Bruce and Allie Kieffer, decorating their water bottles); and attend mandatory athlete briefings. Oh, and I'd also planned to meet up with a few friendly and professional contacts, see my teammates, and eat dinner with my parents. So yeah. There wasn't time for much else.*
As with everything else that weekend, the race was nothing like any other race I've ever run. Part of it was me.** At most marathons, I am dialed in. While I'm running, I see little and hear even less. At this race, I saw everything and heard everyone. The crowds were insane. They were louder than I've ever heard . . . and I've run the Chicago, Boston, and New York marathons. Plus, these crowds were so much closer. The out-and-back course meant that fans could line both sides of the street, and the onslaught began immediately at the start line and extended for two straight miles, maybe more. In that pack were family and friends. And sure, many of them were there to see the race, the spectacle, but they were also there to see me. I can't quite explain what that feels like. I guess it feels like love.
|Photo credit: Kelly Kilgour|
Then I saw current teammates–women who had poured their hearts out to hit the trials standard just a few months ago and come up short. These women weren't slower than me. On any given day, they'd be the ones running this race, and I'd be the one on the sidelines. These women (and their partners) had flown to Atlanta late the night before; they were going to cheer themselves hoarse at this marathon; and then they were going to get back on a plane, all so they could run a 5k the next day back in New York. Those are the kind of teammates I have. They're the kind of teammate I aspire to be.
Next up was my family. It's important to note that my parents haven't seen me run a marathon since my very first race back in 2009. I genuinely wasn't sure, if I qualified for this trials, whether they'd attend. But there they were: my dad with his goofy homemade sign, my mom bundled in her puffy bright red coat, hollering and smiling and just looking so happy. And right there next to them was the single-most steadfast guy who has been with me through my good races and my bad, who has cheered for me in the heat and the rain, who really truly has helped me get here, whether he acknowledges it or not.
I saw my neighbors–runners in their own right, and who have been amazingly supportive–cheering like crazy and snapping photos left and right. ("You're doing it!" one of them screamed when I passed them around mile 20-something, almost certainly looking like death. Has a truer cheer ever been cheered? It was exactly the right thing to say.)
There were my two high school friends, neither of whom has a particularly strong interest in running, but who came anyway, for no other reason other than to make signs and stand outside for a bunch of hours to show me they love me.
There was my coach, who was probably the happiest I've ever seen him, smiling and waving and cheering me on.
And then there was one last teammate. This is a woman I haven't known for very long, but who I will never forget. She had qualified for the trials at the New York City marathon, more than a year in advance, but right before the trials, she suffered a knee injury that required surgery. While at first she was hopeful that she'd still be able to race (and cross-trained accordingly–that is, more than any sane human would), as the day drew near, her hope was stripped away bit by bit. At first, her goal was just to finish the race, then just to make it halfway, then a mile. Finally, she settled for the start line, making it 2 minutes and 40 seconds into the race before bowing out. Maintaining hope and optimism throughout that ordeal is impressive enough, but it's what she did after that 2 minutes and 40 seconds that really shows you who M___ is and why I admire her so much: She took her disappointment and her swollen knee back out onto the course and cheered on her teammates for the rest of the race. I genuinely couldn't believe it on that final lap, when I was hurting so bad and in one of those "please just let me stop" phases, and I saw her standing in the road screaming her head off. Because I knew how she must feel–torn between devastating disappointment for herself and excitement and pride for the rest of us. Plus the exhaustion of standing and cheering for three-plus hours. Plus the pain of a swollen knee. And I was almost certainly pulling up the rear on her "cheer list" . . . yet there she was, cheering just as hard for me as for anyone who came before me. I can't quite express how much that meant to me.
I'll tell you what: I didn't stop running.
|Photo credit: Andrew Dearling|
** And part of it was the course and the conditions. 1,389 feet of elevation? 20mph gusts of wind? Nope, definitely never did that before.