Yesterday the U.S. Olympic marathon trials were held in Houston. For the first time ever, the trials for both men and women were run on the same course, in the same place, at nearly the same time (starts separated by 15 min).
To give those not in the running community an example of just how cool the opportunity is to watch the Olympic marathon trials, and all of the accumulated talent battle it out for a spot on the team...think about getting free front-row seats for the high-school gym where the top ten Americans in the NBA are scrimmaging 5-a-side to see who makes the Dream Team. If basketball is your sport, you'd drive three hours to see that, and running is (one of) my sport(s). Plus I have a bit of a rough history with U.S. Olympic marathon trials.
The men's trials in 2007 (for Beijing in 2008) were held in Central Park, NYC, the day before the New York City Marathon. The race was a spectator-friendly multi-lap course in a beautiful setting. I was in New York to run the NYC Marathon, with the bonus of watching the trials. Except that the previous Monday my right leg had buckled under me when I got out of bed. In no mood to find out just exactly how badly I was broken and determined to run the NYC Marathon (which is d*mn hard to get into), I had taken a few extra days off and boarded the bus to NYC still planning a full weekend of running and enjoying running.
Saturday morning in the Park was both dramatic - Ryan Hall won decisively; Meb, the silver medalist in '04 did not get a spot - and tragic - one race favorite, Ryan Shay, collapsed after less than six miles and died at the hospital - but I was worried about wearing my legs out for the marathon the next day with all the standing....well, and about the fact that it hurt to simply walk, let alone run. The worries distracted me and the mild physical incapacitation made it really hard to enjoy the experience because I could not be where on the course I wanted to be when I wanted to be there.
I spent the rest of the day going back and forth about whether to run the marathon or not. Ok, in hindsight the choice is about as obvious as the broadside of a barn, but at the time I spent the day in paroxysms of indecision. Finally MP talked me down off the ledge, some sense into me, and me into the bar. I said a sad farewell to the NYC Marathon, did a shot in its honor, and then did many more shots in Ryan Shay's honor at the ad hoc but very drunken post-race memorial service the trials runners had in a local pub. I went to bed after I would have set my alarm to run the marathon, and woke up after the marathon was entirely over.
A few days later I was diagnosed with a 50% stress fracture in my hip.
Success? Eh. Successful self-preservation? Definitely.
The women's trials for Beijing were the following spring in Boston, run in laps around the Charles River, the day before the Boston Marathon. Which initially was on my schedule, but ultimately removed. See: broken hip.
A quadrennium later I planned another weekend full of running and enjoying running and supporting friends.
To better understand the course and get my own pesky run workout out of the way, I drove downtown at 6 am with the goal of running a loop of the course - and not getting arrested while doing so. At that hour and in that darkness most course officials didn't question it.
|A map of the 3+ loop course|
|The beginning/end of each loop is run on long streets like this one (taken after the sun came up)|
|The first aid station pre-dawn|
|Running away from, but looking back at, the Houston skyline at mile 4.5|
|Aid station at the very west end (mile 6)|
|Running toward the Houston skyline at mile 7.5|
|Third aid station at mile 8.5|
|Each athlete is assigned a table for their bottles, which are packed the day before. Volunteers break them open like Christmas presents.|
|Back under all the freeways to downtown and the start/finish|
|Past a log cabin next to a skyscraper...I'm guessing Samuel Houston's home|
My work is down for the day, but some people's work is just about to start and they all know what's on the line.
And they are off! Here come the men (at about mile 1.5 or so)...
|That's how fast the leaders are moving...my camera can't even focus|
Spoiler Alert: the top four male finishers are in this picture of seven guys.
|The chase pack - literally a hundred people|
|There they go|
Down the road, one block over, and back they come.
|The packs at mile 1 have strung out by 5k|
Back over one street. Here come the women...
|There they go...|
Down the road, one block over, and back again.
|Like a bullet train of "glowing" humanity|
From downtown I ran back under the freeway to the park where the bulk of the next three laps would be run.
|The green between the two big roads of the course.|
The men's pace was cooking, so I saw them much earlier than I expected.
|Hall leading a couple others at 13k|
|Men being men in the second pack|
The women had a good group at 13k.
|Amy, Shalane, Desi, Kara, MacGregor, Deena, Paulet|
Spoiler Alert: six of the top seven female finishers are in this picture of seven people
By the time the men came around again (~8 more miles), the front pack was 4 (Ritz is hiding behind Abdi, the taller black man) and behind them was open road.
|Ryan, Ritz, Abdi, and Meb|
On the women's second lap, and then there were four...
|Shalane, Kara, Desi, Amy|
The indefatigable Deena Kastor and her mile 15.5 running form.
On the last lap for the men it came down to Meb, who won the Olympic silver in 2004 but didn't qualify in 2008, and Ryan, who won the trials in 2008.
|Abdi was increasingly far behind, trying to keep away from...|
|Ritz, who qualified in 2008, but wouldn't in 4th here.|
On and on they came.
One thing that my fellow spectators and I kept commenting all morning long was that although we know these runners are going fast, they don't look like they are moving fast. The men look like they are moving faster than the women, and pace-wise they are, but I think they look like they are because with, in most cases, significantly longer legs, their strides are literally eating up ground. And I would hope so considering they are covering miles in 4:55, on average. That's 105 400m repeats on 73 seconds.
Visually the women just don't seem to be going anywhere, but they seem to scoot along pretty darn fast just the same. 5:32 pace ain't nothing to sneeze at.
By mile 23 of the women's race, it was Desi (right) versus Shalane (left), one of the most consistently decorated long track event (5k/10k) female athletes America has recently (ever?) produced.
|Dude, Kara, head down and run, because here comes...|
|Amy Hastings in 4th.|
Further back, but definitely not that far back, Caroline, a friend from DC who like me no longer lives in DC, was running strong.
|Her day job is flying fighter jets. No, really.|
For some, the day did not go as planned, but they are still faster than me!
|The last handful of female competitors|
It was a whirlwind little trip - I was away from Austin less than 24 hours, seven of which were driving - but absolutely worth it: I met some great people, watched some great running, and finally had the Trials experience that I have been missing since 2007. And now, exhausted but exhilarated, I am back to my own relatively glacial running. Man, watching a marathon is hard work!
* For those of you who are wondering: Talaria
** I took hundreds of pictures, so if anyone is looking someone or something specific, post a comment and I'll see what I can find.