Atlanta or Bust: Chasing an Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier, Part III
After a summer of training, one of our heroes misses the qualifying time by 3 seconds. How she regroups in Part III of our series following regular runners on their quest to stand on the start line at the Olympic Trials Marathon in February.
This fall we’re following runners who train together in Boulder, Colorado, all aiming for the qualifying time for the Olympic trials marathon. Part One described their summer base miles setting them up for hard fall training—and took us on one of their early long, tough workouts. Part Two detailed a week of their training and a key workout in the heart of their marathon buildup. Here is Part Three, reporting on the first attempt—Simone Domingue’s race at the November 9 Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis—and introducing a new OTQ chaser from the group.
Simone raced a fantastic marathon in Indianapolis. She ran a monumental PR by over 5 minutes, finishing in 2:45:03.
The women’s time standard to qualify for the US Olympic Trials marathon is 2:45:00.
Simone missed the OTQ by 3 seconds in a 9,903-second race. That’s being 10 steps short of the finish when the clock turns over at 2:45:00… after running 29,650 steps to get there.
Finishing a marathon in her fastest time ever yet missing the goal of qualifying for the trials by oh-so-little is tremendously bittersweet. A few days after the race Simone remarked,
“It took a few minutes after the race for all the disappointed feelings to sink in. Qualifying for and competing in the Olympic Trials has been a dream of mine ever since college, and so I experienced a confusing swirl of emotions—excited by my fitness but dejected by missing the goal by so little.
For the first 19 miles I felt strong, by 21 miles I started to feel like my legs were locking up, but I kept telling myself to stay strong and that I was going to make it. With two miles to go I started to struggle against a strong headwind and felt like the wheels were coming off.
I still have a sinking feeling when I imagine those last seconds of the race, running down the straight away and seeing the numbers on the clock tick by. I keep asking myself why couldn’t I have dug just a little bit deeper?
But after the race I received such an outpouring of support and encouragement that I have been feeling uplifted and re-energized. I feel lucky to have such support from loved-ones, friends, and from Boulder Track Club folks, and so I suppose the only thing to do is to put one foot in front of the other and try again!”
Still, with a monumental PR by over 5 minutes, this was a phenomenal race for Simone. She ran about 12.5 seconds faster per mile than her previous marathon best. Ask any competitive marathoner—taking time like that off your PR is no easy task.
She also ran smart, going through the half in 1:21:36, a cool 54 seconds under pace for the standard, and kept the wheels turning through the second half, finishing as the 24th female and 135th overall.
Up next for her is a team event—the National Club Cross Country Championships in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In mid-December, the 6-kilometer race is likely to be muddy, challenging, and likely a bit snowy. With scoring for the team being the main goal, and with pace totally dependent upon the course and weather conditions, this cross-country race is also nearly the opposite of running to hit a time standard on the roads.
Cross country will be a good mental break from the long, repetitive road of marathon training, and the 20-something-minute race within a team-oriented travel weekend will feel practically like a running vacation. Maybe it’s just the type of weekend Simone needs to get recharged for one more, last-ditch short at the OTQ.
Meanwhile, with California International Marathon (CIM) about a month away, Clint Wells and Dan Feeney are logging their last few big-mileage weeks. Each of them just recently completed the hallmark “5-on-5-off” workout (5 miles at marathon pace, 5 miles easy, repeat). Clint reported feeling the most “like himself” during this workout, hitting solid paces at altitude and feeling his fitness coming together. Dan fit the long workout in as laps around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo while travelling for business, in the midst of two lower-mileage weeks.
Last week, Clint snuck in another week over 100 miles, with two workouts and a solid long run:
> Tuesday: 12 x 200 m fast/200 m easy at the track,
> Friday: 5 x 1 mile on dirt roads with 3.5 minutes rest,
> Sunday: 23 steady miles. All of the consistent training and patience will surely pay off.
With long travel days around eastern Asia and back to the US, Dan fit in what training he could on treadmills and during long layovers, logging modest 70-mile weeks. Adaptability is key, especially for the blue-collar marathoner, but getting back to a normal training rhythm in these last few weeks will be imperative to have a strong performance at CIM.
In an exciting turn, one more from the BTC gang will be making a late chase for the OTQ—meet Nicole Esplin. Originally planning to race CIM in December, Nicole will now be racing the Houston Marathon on the last possible day to qualify for the US Olympic Trials marathon (Jan. 19th).
Just before racing Grandma’s Marathon in June, a hip injury popped up, but Nicole raced through it. It lingered through some rest weeks post marathon but wasn’t severe enough to quell her summer running plans. Despite being cautious, Nicole got swept up in the rush of epic summer trail running in the Rockies and started rolling with the team as everyone was gaining late summer fitness.
Nicole recalls: “Training started going pretty well, and I was able to run through the injury. I ran the majority of the workouts, had a few good 80-mile weeks, and ran two 10-mile tempos that I was happy with.
This summer and fall there was this really great energy within the team. We’ve all run with each other for long enough now that we know everyone’s strengths. Simone, Bryn, Emily, Melissa, Kaitlyn and I were able to work together during workouts, and we got into a nice rhythm.
Melissa and Kaitlyn are the speediest… it’s impossible to keep up with them on mile repeats or 400’s. Simone is a metronome. Bryn is consistent and you can count on her finishing any long tempo strong. And Emily will outkick you in any workout – she makes sure no one sandbags the last rep.
I probably push the pace on the long runs the most. And then there are the guys—Stephen, Nick, Alec, and Dave—who keep us sane and aren’t afraid to tell me to “chill out” if I start worrying too much about the remainder of a workout or long run.
But, all together, we had this crazy energy with strengths in every area. We were working so well together every session, building ourselves up and pushing each other forward.”
Unfortunately, the pain in her hip resurfaced in September, and in early October she decided to pull the plug on racing CIM. Her primary goal became to rule out a sacral stress fracture, and MRI imaging and an immediate few weeks of rest were necessary before moving forward.
Fast forward a few weeks, and luckily, the MRI revealed no stress fracture. Her hip pain was attributed to a variety of other nagging issues, altogether contributing to an aggravated nerve. Nicole decided to get back into running conservatively, slowly bouncing back to normal mileage and workouts, and making sure to give herself a realistic amount of time to make it to a marathon start line fully healthy and fit.
Finding the silver lining to forced time off, Nicole embraced cross-training with other members of the squad. The injury provided an excuse to finally get her road bike tuned up, and to capitalize on the years she spent on the swim team while growing up. The BTC injured-runner gang keeps each other motivated by getting competitive in the pool and logging long bike rides in the mountains, making the most of their running hiatus. Challenging themselves in different sports and going on alternate athletic adventures is perhaps the best way to keep from dwelling on what they’re missing in the marathon training world.
Nicole has since worked her way back up to 70-75 mile weeks, while mixing in some days of cross-training here and there. A few early snows have allowed the cross-country ski season to begin in late October, which she has taken advantage of to help keep her running volume in check.
Rather than focusing on hitting higher weekly mileage for the buildup to Houston, Nicole is going to keep her training volume where she knows she has a better chance of staying healthy (around 75 miles per week). She wants to focus on nailing the marathon-specific workouts and progressing cautiously with her hip. It’s hard to avoid the “more, more, more” mentality when you are surrounded by other marathoners striving for improvement, but making it to the start line healthy is essential to running a marathon best.
In light of keeping a chill perspective towards this buildup, Nicole travelled to Malibu, CA to race what was supposed to be her tune-up half marathon before CIM. Running for the challenge and the strange exhilaration of racing with unknown fitness, Nicole ended up running her marathon-PR pace on average for the Malibu Half.
She knows that there is still a lot of work to do before Houston, but embraced the weekend on the beach and hard 13.1-mile effort early on in her marathon prep. Back in Boulder, as a product marketing manager at Oracle, Nicole is grateful for the chance to go after the OTQ while surrounded by other athletes in her work community, and with the support of her BTC team mates. And to her, the years of effort for a shot at achieving this goal are totally worth it.
“The thing I love the most about the marathon is that you can get into a rhythm, and you have time to smile and take everything in—the spectators, the course, the other runners. I’ve heard that Houston is really flat and easy to find that rhythm. So, my plan is to go into the race as healthy and fit as possible, and just start clicking off 6:16-6:17’s for as long as possible—hopefully “as long as possible” is exactly 26.2 miles!”
Simone will join Nicole, and take a last-chance crack at the qualifying standard at Houston Marathon as well, 10 weeks after her Indianapolis attempt. With four years until the next Olympic Trials, and the possibility of the time standards becoming faster, the rationale for going all in on the marathon this winter is clear.
You can’t help but root for as many as possible of these hard-working men and women to make the cut. Unlike selections for the actual US Olympic team, there aren’t a limited number of spots available in the “I ran in the Olympic trials marathon” club.
Whereas the 4th place runner at the trials may be devastated to not become an Olympian, the 204th place athlete is likely beyond stoked just to be in the race. Here’s to hoping that, in the next 3 months, a heck of a lot of runners cross the tape in 2:18:59 and 2:44:59—or faster.