The Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon on Sunday will be the first and only race between Amy Cragg’s win and Shalane Flanagan’s third-place finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in February and the Olympic Games in August. Since then, Cragg has run with Michelle Obama on the White House lawn, thrown out the first pitch at a Red Sox game while attending the Boston Marathon, and flown to Rio de Janeiro with training partner Flanagan in April to scout out the Olympic marathon course.
Now they’re six weeks into high-mileage training in preparation for the Olympics, and the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll race happened to fit conveniently into their schedules.
“Jerry, our coach, pretty much dictates our schedule, but Amy and I both agreed that we wanted to get in a half marathon effort,” Flanagan said at the Rock ‘n’ Roll press conference. “We felt like a half marathon was a little more true to our training and a really good workout. It also fit really nicely with our schedule.”
This will be both Cragg’s and Flanagan’s first time running a race in San Diego, although between the two of them, they’ve run more than 10 Rock ‘n’ Roll races in the past—including Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio last December, a couple months before the Olympic Trials.
However, the two are still unsure whether or not they’ll run at race effort. “We wait for Jerry to tell us what to do,” Flanagan said when asked about her and Amy’s race strategy for Sunday. “We have talked about doing a progression run, but I don’t know until he gets here tomorrow.”
Whatever coach Jerry Schumacher decides, this will all fit into the two Olympians’ overarching race strategy for Rio. In about a month Cragg says they’ll start their high-altitude training.
“This is one of those races, where it will be the same amount of time at sea level as going from altitude to sea level in Rio,” Cragg said when asked how Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego fits into their Olympic training. “So it’s kind of a tester to see how we feel and no matter what, it’s really meant to boost our fitness.”
Aside from high mileage and altitude training, though, the biggest concern for the Rio Olympics will be the extreme heat and humidity. Flanagan’s memorable third place finish at the Trials, collapsing into Cragg’s arms from exhaustion and dehydration taught her she’ll need to drastically change her fueling strategy on the course.
“In L.A. I only drank 2 to 4 ounces of fluid and it’s been recommended for me to drink 10 to 14,” Flanagan said about her slowest marathon to date at 2:29:19. “So, I massively under-hydrated. But there are also some other techniques Amy and I can do to cool ourselves while we’re out there, like a towel with ice.”
“Shalane is an aggressive sweater,” Cragg jokingly added.
Flanagan also mentioned that to help prepare for Rio’s hot and humid climate, she and Amy ran for 90 minutes on a treadmill within a heat chamber that simulated running at sea level with temperatures in the 80s and humidity at more than 70 percent in the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. The physiological feedback from those tests will help determine Flanagan and Cragg’s hydration strategy. They’ll also spend the final two weeks before the Olympic Marathon in an environment similar to Rio’s.
Another concern that has been making headline news lately is the spreading of the Zika virus throughout Brazil and most of South America. When asked if they were worried about contracting the virus, Cragg said they’ll take precautions such as wearing mosquito repellant, but on their visit to Rio in April, felt it wasn’t a big enough threat to deter them from competing.
This will be Flanagan’s fourth Olympic Games, having won bronze in the 10,000m in 2008 despite experiencing food poisoning days before the race. It will be Cragg’s second time on Team USA, but first go at the Olympic Marathon.
“It’s an incredible honor representing the U.S., as always. That is the end goal of all runners who go out there and race. That is the highest level and that’s where you want to compete,” Cragg said. “And in order to represent this huge group of people that have supported you and stood by you while you’re trying to get there, there’s nothing better.”
The Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon and Half will take place on Sunday, June 5. Meb Keflezighi, a San Diego resident also competing in his fourth Olympic Games, is pacing the 7:30 group for the 5K on Saturday.