As of today, there are 200 qualifiers for the Men’s 2016 US Olympic Marathon Team Trials. Combined, the number of miles run, workouts completed, and races raced is astounding. If you take a step back, there is common ground for every runner, of any level – the framework is all the same. Dedication, desire, passion. But when it comes down to it, each individual has their own journey. Here is a snippet of my journey to the Olympic Trials.
I write this from a hotel room in Wujin, Changzhou, Jiangsu, China. Yes, China. Some might say this is unconventional preparation for arguably the biggest race up to this point in my running career. I would agree. Many runners are preparing by living the life of a running monk; hiding away in the mountains, focusing on recovery, and covering every minute detail in the hopes of excellence on February 13th in the streets of Los Angeles. But convention doesn’t always take precedence, nor should it.
I, like many other qualifiers, choose to strike a balance between competitive running and pursuing a career outside of running. I work full time as a mechanical design engineer, designing power equipment such as log splitter, trimmers, tillers, and such. That’s what brings me to China. I’m on the factory floor developing solutions for a safe, reliable, and cost effective piece of outdoor power equipment. And, oh yeah, I will run about 120 miles and complete 2 hard workouts, capitalizing on my 8 days at sea level. (My workouts are 8xmile with 1/4mi rest and 10x1k with 3 minutes rest, for those curious folk out there.) It all comes down to what I call being “flexibly rigid,” meaning that I’m dedicated to get my workouts in and keep my mileage up, but not at the continuous expense of recovery. I’ll take an extra recovery day if I need it. I emphasize running as a priority on my hard days. Most times I follow the theme well. Other times I cross the line and go into the well.
I wasn’t a superstar runner when I was younger. I ended high school with a 3200m personal best of only 10:02. One thing I did have at Rampart was a coach, Greg Mitchell, who believed in me and, more importantly, instilled in me the passion for success. He helped develop me into a lifetime runner, focused not only on end results, but on the journey to get there.
After high school, Art Siemers, gave me an opportunity to compete at the Colorado School of Mines while I focused on my engineering degree. With an increase in training volume and a little physical maturity, I flourished at Mines, by the end of my first year, I had placed top 20 at USA Cross Country Junior Nationals, owned a 5k pr of 14:56, and placed 8th at the USATF Junior Track Nationals in the 5k. When college was all said and done, I had accumulated 8 NCAA D2 All-American honors, including a National Championship in the Distance Medley Relay and PRs of 3:48(1500), 14:10(5,000), and 29:50(10,000).
Eager for more success after graduation, I jumped into Grandma’s Marathon in June 2011 hoping to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials. I failed miserably, stumbling home in a 2:33 after a 1:09:30 half. I attempted one more time that fall in the RnR Las Vegas Half Marathon running a 1:10, five minutes short of the half standard.
My running struggled immensely during the time period between graduation and spring of 2014. It took me a long time to adjust to the rigors of everyday work life after college. My support system had been removed and all my training partners were suddenly gone. That coupled with a few moves and new jobs brought me to a point where I was running well, but no longer at a high level.
On August 1st, 2013 the window opened for the US Olympic Marathon Trials with 3 men’s standards: 2:15:00 marathon “A” standard (all expenses paid), 2:18:00 marathon “B” standard, and 1:05:00 half marathon “B” standard. I began my pursuit at Twin Cities running 2:24:23, over fueled and got sick at mile 21. I tried again 6 weeks later in Richmond, placing 3rd in 2:20:47. In the spring I moved to Norway (long story) and unexpectedly blitzed a 1:05:57 in Egersund 10 days after arriving. Excitedly, I ran the Berlin Half Marathon 2 weeks later and faded badly to a 1:07:xx. Six weeks after that, in May, I competed in the Hamburg Marathon. I went through the half in 1:07:50 and walked my way to a 2:23:XX finish. I shortly moved back home to Louisville and decided to refocus my efforts toward the Richmond Marathon again. I increased my mileage in excess of 130 mi/week for 12 weeks straight. On a blustery and cold day, I won my first marathon in 2:18:35 taking the lead less than half, just 35 seconds short of the standard, or so I thought.
With my new found success, I was motivated to achieve the standard and attempted again in January 2015 at the Houston Half Marathon. Unfortunately, I slipped on the ice and busted my hip just 3 days before but still managed a 1:06:12 on a beautiful day, just short of the standard. I tried again 6 weeks later at the Woodlands Marathon running 2:20:XX, on another blustery and cold day, good for third place. I laced up my flats one more time that spring in Boston, placing 22nd in a time of 2:21:10, on yet another blustery and cold day. I regrouped for the fall in pursuit of the half standard. I ran a 1:06:XX on a wickedly hilly course in Tacoma and 2 weeks later came back for the RnR San Jose Half to run a miserable 1:07:XX. Becoming desperate, I hopped in the Des Moines Marathon only to pack it in after 18 and run 2:29. My body was toast. I had over done it. 150+ mile weeks. 20+ mile biweekly workouts. For the first time in my running career I had to take time off. My groin hurt. My hamstring hurt. I had pulled my psoas. Extreme fatigue. Mentally I was a wreck.
I essentially took 6 weeks off with little to no running. I started building up again in hopes of one last shot cat the standard this month, but deep down I knew it wasn’t happening. My goal to make the 2016 US Olympic Trials was a failure. BUT this December 10th the IAAF readjusted the Olympic Marathon standard to 2:19:00 and the USATF swiftly followed suit for the trials, granting me a spot at the race.
The euphoria has been amazing. I have an invigorated spirit for training and can’t wait to be ready to run my best on February 13th. Many people say the Olympic trials are the Olympics for those that don’t make the team. I disagree. The Olympic trials, for me, are a platform to reflect on the things that are important in my life and to be grateful for the people that have helped me cultivate such a strong, positive, and loving environment in which to exist.
I hope you all have enjoyed a sneak peek into my running journey. Please follow me and all of the Olympic Trials Qualifiers in LA on February 13th. Television details and other information can be found at www.latrials2016.com.