It has been an unbelievable weekend here in Atlanta. On leap day, February 29th, 2020, hundreds of really fast runners raced up and down my city street. Only the top 3 of men and top 3 women went on to earn a sacred spot on the Olympic Team. Exhilarating. Heartbreaking. Inspiring. Distance running, and marathons in particular, unite us all, showing the human spirit of putting oneself out there and taking a risk.
A risk it was, the women’s pack was tight with about 20 runners, step by step in stride for the first 18 miles. Intensity was high, and building, to test who could sustain such efforts in extreme hills and strong 20 mph winds. I saw them again at mile 20 and the pack had completely dissolved. Vanished from ever seeming to have existed, there were now individual women one by one climbing the hill of Peachtree Street, fighting their mind and bodies to push on for the last 6 miles.
And then, the victors prevailed. Galen Rupp, Jacob Riley, Abdi Abdiraham, Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel, and Sally Kpyego. A tremendous congratulations to each on our newest members of the US olympic team headed to Tokyo. You deserved it. And to each and every runner out there that put their heart on the line, thank you for inspiring us. The city of Atlanta, the country of the US, to the world-wide viewers, there is a part of each of us that looks on in awe at your strength and tenacity. I am grateful to you as a runner. To each that crossed the finish line, you show us how there is so much more to winning, there is the love of racing.
On Saturday, my friends and I took note of the woman racing. There was representation from a large variety of body types. Short, tall, long legs, thick muscles, there was every body shape and size out there running. I imagined that if some of these phenomenal athletes put on a sweatshirt and jeans, you wouldn’t be able to noticeably pick them out as an athlete. I am so so so glad that the culture and sport is capturing the mentality of strong not skinny. Because these women had muscle and strength and grit. I grew up in an era where us young girls were indoctrinated with mental images of skinny models, desiring to be thin at all costs. From what I saw this weekend, skinny doesn’t win the race. Strong does. And the young girls today need to see more of that. Also, there were many pregnant woman out there running. Yes, you read that correctly. Pregnant. In the words of Kimmy Schmidt, ‘Females are strong as hell’.
Now, let’s dive further into the events of the weekend as a whole. I was fortunate enough to have met many of the athletes in person and to have heard their thoughts through panels and group runs. A huge shoutout goes to the Atlanta Track Club who hosted the weekend and put on one of the greatest running events a local runner could ask for.
Thursday night before the race, I went for a group run hosted by our local running store, the Big Peach Running Company – Midtown. My friends and I were excited to meet Molly Huddle and Jared Ward, well known marathon runners. We were giddy over getting our picture taken with them, and to tell them small stories of how they were inspiring. If only I had known, the less well known woman with the great hair would go on to earn second place in the marathon. Molly Seidel, our newest Olympic runner, talked of looking up to Molly Huddle and how she was honored to get to run in a race with someone who had inspired her. Now that we all know the results of the race, looking back to Thursday night reminds me the importance of looking up to others, but still remaining confident in our own journeys. Molly Seidel ran her own race, and that took her straight to a victory.
As a local Atlanta runner, I was glad the professional athletes were asked about Atlanta hills. Jared Ward shared his perspective, “This is a cross country version of a marathon. In terms of wear and tear on our bodies, this is a 28 mile marathon.”
Other words of wisdom from the panel include:
- “At the starting line, remember you’re doing something special”
- “Confidence workouts are important”
- “Get out of bed and believe in yourself. It’s intense and a lot of fun. You just got to try it”
- “People who inspired me were regular runners from my home community. You’ve never heard of them. You don’t have to be on the world stage to be inspired”
Moving right along, Friday was jam packed with a morning group run with November Project Atlanta and a panel with Chris Chavez and the Hanson team. Then, it was onwards to the marathon expo where there were more panels, followed up by a few happy hours. It was a tiring and excitement filled day.
Chris Chavez is a journalist, writer for Sports Illustrated and founder of a really cool running podcast, Citius Magazine. Check it out! I was honored that he recognized who I was and that we were able to grab a picture. He was there to interview Kevin and Keith Hanson, who founded the Hansons – Brooks distance project. This is an Olympic development team for post-collegiate athletes. Famously, they work with Des Linden, winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon. Here’s some highlights of the wisdom from the interview:
- In the 90s, athletes right out of college weren’t sponsored by shoe companies. They had to prove themselves first. This has all changed in recent years, for the better!
- Years ago, they looked to the East African’s and the Japanese to understand why they were dominating in the distance running sports. What were they doing right? Group training. This is key and they now incorporate into how they operate
- About recruiting Des Linden: she had this quiet confidence that you could see was always there
- No American female has gotten into the Olympic marathon team 3 times (**they were anticipating that Des might break this record when they talked about it on Friday, unfortunately that did not happen and this fact remains true**)
Next up, my friend and I went to the Expo to check out the activities. There was a live podcast of Ali on the Run taking place with several different female runners sharing their insights. Featuring Sarah Cummings, Amanda Nurse, Kaitlin Goodman, Jenny Donnelly, Ladia Albertson-Junkans. Here’s some highlights:
- “If you’re confident in your game plan, you’re at the starting line better off than someone who doesn’t have a game plan. Have a game plan. Doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, who is there. Run your own game plan”
- “The most important thing at all levels of running is consistency. Creating consistency is the biggest thing. Stay healthy and continuing to build”
- From the woman ranked 29th in the trials – responding to what she wanted from the race, “To do my best and accept how I am today. The confidence to accept where I am and the fitness I have.”
These women were asked to speak on their ‘why’. Why do they run:
- “I’m here to be the best version of myself”
- “It brings me so much joy and feeds my competitive spirit”
- “Never give up on the things that make you feel alive. And that’s what running is to me”
The most intriguing panel, to me, was next. Moderated by Chris Chavez, he hosted “Meet the 9-5ers”. Each of the Olympic Trials qualifiers on stage also hold a full time job (outside of running). Personally, as someone who has a demanding full time job and loves to run, I wanted to know how they did it. How did they get there? Here are their self-described daily schedules:
- Matt McDonald – PhD engenering student at Georgia Tech: Get up before 6, then out the door by 6:15am. Be back an hour and a half later, foam roll a little. Then get to Georgia Tech by 9:30am. After work, go for a run instead of sitting in Atlanta traffic. Finish at the lab at 6:30pm, finish emails, home by 7:30pm and in bed by 9pm
- Ann Mazur – teacher at University of Virginia and founder of Runners Love Yoga: gets many of her workouts in while teaching yoga. Also does a lot of stacking workouts around yoga classes. She wakes up at 7:15am, eats breakfast, drives to work, teaches running for fitness at 8am. Then yoga class at 9, then her own run after the yoga class. Then she’ll go home, work on Runners Love Yoga. Most evenings she’s teaching another fitness class. She does all of her double days (when the athletes do 2 workouts separately in one day) in the pool. She loves swimming. Her insight – it’s really important, if you have a really busy job, to find the workouts you love. It’s a way to be more effieicnet. You can do more by doing what you lvoe
- Alysssa Bloomquist – Speech Language Pathologist: She is out of the house by 7am, drops off her daughter at daycare, and gets to work at 7:30am. Most days she runs after work. Some days she pushes her daughter on the stroller. When it’s more speed than typical miles, she leaves work at 3pm and does the workout on the track. Then finishes and comes home to family. She doesn’t run doubles ever. She runs 6 days a week with her long runs on the weekends. She self proclaims that she runs low mileage and 2/3 of the time she’s along on those long runs
- Duriel Hardy- Pediatric Neurologist: His day starts at 4am. He’s out and running by 4:30am. He’ll include some stretching after his run and then get to work by 7am. At work, he’s taking care of patients all day, usually done 5:30/6pm. Then comes home and does a double (aka another run). If he’s on call (a 30 hour shift for him), he’ll finish his shift at noon the next day (working overnight). He’ll go home and run, then sleep. It’s hard. but his body has gotten used to doing it after 5 years. After that 30 hour shift and run, he’ll take his nap, eat dinner, then go to bed at 8pm for the night and start it all over again the next morning at 4am. Why even do it? He says it’s about making time for the things he loves. And he really loves running
It was a whirlwind for sure. My friends and I met along Peachtree Street and 5th to watch the runners race by 6 times. Every few minutes, there were more runners coming in one direction or another. We kept cheering and letting out our excitement with so much force that I have now lost my voice and am sipping tea as I’m writing this.
Personal favorites – Matt McDonald is a local ATL runner who is my age, lives in my neighborhood, and trains under Amy Begley, whom I’ve trained with in 2018. I am grateful to have chatted with him on Friday before his race, as I’ve seen him many times training along the same paths that I’m running. At mile 20 he was holding 3rd place and it couldn’t have been more nerve-wracking. Yes, he knows these hills. With 6 more miles to go, he put his all into the race and finished up in 10th. Proud to call him an Atlanta local.
All time personal favorite connection – Lacey Krout! As I’ve proudly proclaimed all week, I’ve trained with her! In the summer of 2018, she helped coach me, alongside Amy Begley, for the Chicago Marathon. Lacey and I ran many speedy miles together and I cherish those times. She pushed me to be faster and on Saturday I had the opportunity to return the favor and cheer her on. I yelled her name loud enough for a smile of recognition to appear, as her eyes stayed on the road in front of her. It was a tough race for sure, but Lacey crossed that finish line and is more of an inspiration that she could know.
Thank you to several of my runners and friends that came out this weekend to spectate the Olympic Trials with me. Thank you for putting up with my endless banter and honoring me with the title of ‘personal commentator’ for the race. I am grateful that we were all able to have the experience. Check my instagram highlights for the ‘Olympic Trials’ circle for videos and more pictures. Cheers and well wishes to all! Go Team USA!