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Atlanta or Bust: Chasing an Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier, Part II

In the heart of marathon training, runners tackle big weeks and tough workouts. Part II 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 the hard training, and took us on one of their early long, tough workouts. Here is Part Two, detailing a week in each of their training, and a key workout in the heart of their marathon buildup.  

On a crisp Tuesday morning, October 22, the Boulder Track Club (BTC) training group meets at a community park in a residential neighborhood 10 minutes south of downtown. A small pond with steam rising off the top sits nested in a bowl of grass and trees, with forked-tongue geese guarding the banks. There’s a fresh layer of frost on the foliage and much of the grass has dried out to its characteristic autumn gold.

A high school flanks the south edge of the park, and their state-ranked cross country team can be seen running fartlek workouts through the trees on some weekday afternoons. Many of Boulder’s running groups come here to tackle a relatively infamous group of hills. The Strava leaderboards for these segments are competitive: they boast names that can be seen in the elite fields at major road marathons, legendary long-distance trail races, and even the obstacle course racing world championships.

Morning Hills

The main feature is a quarter-mile stretch of consistent 5% grade pavement that curves up and around the lake and its park, with its partner in crime being a shorter, punch-in-the-gut 14.7 % grade hill straight up into the neighborhood. In combination with the concrete and cinder 1k loop around the pond and options for longer road loops around the park and school campus, myriad leg-splitting workouts can be strung together at this suburban venue. This morning, the crew is completing eight hard repetitions up the longer hill, followed by four 30-second sprints up the steep one.

Clint Wells pre BTC workout
photo: 101 Degrees West

As the group congregates at the stop sign that marks the start, coach Clint Wells announces that one team member found out she will finally be given the chance to run for the University of Colorado Buffaloes, the podium-ranked NCAA team, after trying to walk on for years. The group dynamic instantly shifts from still-waking-up to totally jazzed about the great news. Most of the team is aware of her incredible progress as a runner since she started training with the Boulder Track Club more than two years ago, always with the dream of joining the collegiate team.

Everyone is now especially motivated to get to work this morning. Some final workout instructions are given for individuals training for various events, and the first glint of sun begins to slide down the peak of Green Mountain to the west.

Quick Recovery After Tune-Up Race

Bouncing back from the Denver Rock n’ Roll half marathon on Sunday, Simone Domingue, Wells and Dan Feeney are ready to get back to the grindstone. This hill workout is perfect for getting some hard running in with a focus on effort rather than pace and maintaining good form.

Simone was not too pleased with her race, but she knows that it doesn’t necessarily define her level of fitness at this moment. When her shoelace come untied early in the race, she had to make the choice between leaving it as-is to stay with her current race pack or stopping to tie it and likely running most of the race alone. She chose the former, but the nagging shoelace and windy conditions made for a distracting day of racing (although she still finished in a solid 1:24:17). Determined to set her next race up for success, she is eagle-eyed and ready for the grind on Tuesday.

BTC Hill Workout Boulder
photo: 101 Degrees West

Clint clocked 1:11 on a tough course at altitude on Sunday, and added on 8 miles for 21 miles on the day, and he’s happy to not be feeling too fatigued two short days later. Dan busted out a 1:08:44 for 3rd place, which is an altitude-adjusted personal best for the distance, despite windy conditions. Both charge up the hill with purpose and a bit of caution; glad to be healthy and racing consistently in this buildup, and very aware of how easy it is to overdo it on tired legs with many weeks of training left.

Grinding It Out

The 400-m hill circles around the southwestern edge of the park and ends right at the entrance to the high school parking lot—with its panorama of mountain peaks, easily one of the best high school parking lot views in the country. Although the warm-up jog had to be completed in the dark by headlamp light, the runners are now rewarded with sunrise-alpenglow views of the Flatirons at the top of each of these reps.

The group churns out repeats, a conveyor belt of suffering and recovering. As the runners spread out by ability, the folks with gravity on their side encouraging the others on their way up. The road here is lined by bourgeoise houses with walls of windows and a million-dollar vista of Boulder valley and its western spine. About 300m up the hill, the cruel scent of frying bacon greets everyone for a few minutes until the slight morning breeze shifts. This house seems to always be cooking bacon on hill workout mornings.

Boulder steep hill workout
photo: 101 Degrees West

Transitioning to the short hills, it becomes more evident than usual that it’s the heart of marathon season. These near-vertical all-out runs are especially tough when mileage is high, and the training specializes in helping you run quickly and steadily for over two hours.

By the end of this week, Simone will rack up about 70 miles, and Clint and Dan will log 108 and 105 miles respectively. With a half foot of snow forecast for Sunday, October 27th, most runners in Boulder opted for a Saturday long run, which means two long runs within 7 days and an extra boost in total mileage for the week.

The Week of Training

Sunday through Saturday, October 20–26

Boulder Track Club hill workout women
Simone (right) mid-workout / photo: 101 Degrees West


Total: ~70 miles

  • Sunday – Denver Rn’R Half (1:24:17)
  • Monday – 50 minutes easy
  • Tuesday – AM: 8 x 400m gradual hills + 4 x 30s steep hills / PM: strength
  • Wednesday – 90 minutes south boulder creek trail
  • Thursday – 70 minutes easy in a few inches of fresh snow
  • Friday – AM: 35 minutes easy / PM Solo workout: 1600 / 2 x 3200 / 1600 (5:41, 12:04, 11:57, 5:52)
  • Saturday – 60 minutes easy and strength (resting for snowy long run Sunday)

While Simone was not completely happy with her time at Rock n’ Roll Denver, she is in the bewitching final-prep but pre-taper period of marathon training as she’s running the Indianapolis Marathon on November 9, only two weeks away. These are the last few weeks of full training where pressure is high and runners tend to question nearly every step of every run. But Simone bounced back from the race quickly to run a strong set of hills on Tuesday, which bodes well for her imminent marathon.

Clint Wells Boulder
Clint mid-workout / photo: 101 Degrees West


Total: 108 miles

  • Sunday – Denver Rn’R Half 1:11:51 (plus 8 miles warm-up and cool-down for 21 miles total)
  • Monday – 10 easy
  • Tuesday – AM: 8 x 400m gradual hills + 4 x 30s steep hills / PM 5 miles easy (14.7 miles total)
  • Wednesday – 13.1 miles medium long
  • Thursday – 10 miles easy
  • Friday – AM: Solo workout: 1600 / 2 x 3200 / 1600 workout / PM: 5 miles easy (16.5 miles total)
  • Saturday – 23.2 mi (snow in the forecast for Sunday)

Reflecting on this week, Clint says, “My workouts weren’t quite what I hope for at this point, but I still feel like it was a successful week and a step forward.” Many in the group know that Clint makes quick jumps in fitness towards the end of a training block, which means he may be setting himself up perfectly, with six weeks remaining until the California International Marathon.

Dan Feeney Boulder Hills
Dan (right) mid-workout / photo: 101 Degrees West


Total: 105 miles

  • Sunday – Denver RnR Half 1:08:44 (plus 8 miles warm-up and cool-down for a 22 mile day)
  • Monday – AM: 75 minutes easy with dog and wife / PM: 30 min easy (12 miles total)
  • Tuesday – AM: 8 x 400m gradual hills + 4 x 30s steep hills (10 miles)
  • Wednesday – AM: 90 min. with dog on trails / PM: 3 miles easy + strength (15.5 miles total)
  • Thursday – 45 min. easy
  • Friday – Solo workout: 1600 / 2 x 3200 / 1600 workout (4:56, 10:08, 10:08, 5:00) (13.5 miles)
  • Saturday – 21 miles long run before flying to Tokyo

Dan is thrilled with his half marathon performance from the previous weekend as he went into the race with the goal of running sea-level marathon pace. A two-week work trip to Japan and China will pose a challenge for him to maintain his mileage and workout quality after this training block.

Ready or Not

At the beginning of a typical marathon training block (16 weeks or so), race day always seems impossibly far away. But once the heart of training begins, time seems to zoom by until the 26.2-mile all-out effort is but weeks away. Runners are left wondering if they have really done enough to be optimally prepared.

With six weeks remaining for Clint and Dan, they are all still in the midst of hard training—the “trials of miles” as John L. Parker wrote in Once a Runner. But with only three weeks until the Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis, Simone has stacked her hay in the barn and will begin her taper soon. Everyone in the group is excited to see how Simone races, and a good result would, of course, buoy the spirits of the rest of the marathoners. On November 17, Dan and Clint will race at the Rock n’ Roll Las Vegas half marathon as a final tune up prior to judgement day at CIM.