Story of the Day, Part III

Camera Car driving ahead of women runners
The NBC Camera Car driving ahead of the leaders at the 2 mile mark

In Part I, I told you what happened prerace and in Part II, Salty explained what happened from the frustrated home viewers perspective. In Part III, I’m going to tell you what happened in the race to all the women who finished behind Kara Goucher.

To understand the race, it will help to first get a sense of the race course, which was one 2.2 mile loop, followed by four six-mile loops. The first miles take the athletes several blocks north of the Staples Center before looping around through the start chute again. At the 2.2 mark the course crosses the finish line before sending them out four times around a six mile out-and-back to the south. The men stayed in a tight pack for the first half, it seemed, whereas by the time the women came through this 2.2 mile mark, they were already spread thin into six distinct packs; the first led by 29 year old Kellyn Taylor, a mother of 1 from Arizona.

The second and largest pack was headed up by Wendy Thomas and Esther Atkins, who smiled and gave the press a thumbs up as they blew by us at a 6:04 pace with Salty writer Teal Burrell just behind. Beth Herndon and Nicole DiMercurio were hanging on to the tail end of this little second pack. The third pack was more of a spread, runners were not nearly as tight through this section. The fourth pack was chasing on the heels of Jacksonville OTQ Ashley Brasovan and included 51 year old Colleen DeReuck. Further still, Jeannette Faber led a crew of about 8, including Karen Roa and Keely Maguire. And taking things even more conservative were Katie Schiemann and Emma Polley, running with Amy Robillard. Susie Duke, Laura Kaulen, and Joanna Zeiger who would go on to finish last, had already fallen to the rear.

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Ginger and I headed out to Figueroa Street, where runners followed four laps of a six mile loop. First they turned south, ran to the 1984 Olympic Stadium where Joanie (Benoit Samuelson) won her gold, then spun around and came straight back up before running through the chute a third, fourth and fifth time and finally finishing just a few hundred meters past the starting line.

There, we ran into Glenn Andrews, coach of CED, whose athletes were out en force: Beth Herndon, Ellie Hess, Jessica Odorcic and Becki Spellman. Kelsi Nutter was unable to compete due to injury. He was also cheering for former CED athlete Nicole Camp, currently with Hudson Elite in Colorado.

Things were in a hot, still lull here, just past the 7 mile mark. And then ROAR went the crowd and the motorbike escort and the camera car and Kellyn was still in the lead position with Amy and Shalane off her right shoulder. Kara was cruising in the middle, Des and Janet conservatively rode along toward the back of the pack and Brianne Nelson and Stephanie Dicamillo matching strides at the tail end. Behind them Annie Bersagel ran alone, floating along like an angel in her white singlet, with Becky Wade and Laurie Knowles hot on her heels.

After another lull, brand-new American Misiker Demissie ran by herself just ahead of the next wave, where Lauren Jimison, Hilary Dionne and Clara Santucci had pulled ahead of Wendy Thomas. Not long afterward came Dylan Hassett, cooking for her first marathon. And sure enough, her teammate Nicole DiMercurio wasn’t far behind. The next pack was loose and long, with Ellie Hess in the back, working next to her former teammate Nicole Camp and current teammate Jessica Odorcic just paces behind them.

Soon came Colleen in a tight pack, followed loosely by Keely and Karen, still together, using the Power of the Pack they’d employed to qualify in Jacksonville..

Then I saw Ruth Perkins out there, looking taxed, the heat clearly taking its toll on her and on Becki, who inhaled a gel and grimaced. Neither looked particularly happy and I worried they were suffering in the unforgiving sun. Not far behind them, 19 year old Alana Hadley looked strong in spite of dropping out just minutes later at the 9 mile mark.

Andrea Duke, runner, walking and quitting the race with arms raised.
Andrea Duke of San Antonio drops out of the race at mile 14 with flourish and with a smile on her face.

To be clear, it was 77 degrees out. The sun burned me to a crisp. There is no shame in having dropped out of this race. At the previous night’s athlete technical meeting, USATF officials encouraged athletes to drop at the first hint of trouble. One runner said, “At the [athlete technical] meeting they mentioned the heat and extra precautions and I was happy they were going to do something, but it was only a sponge station.” The added sponge station for athletes was located near the sole water stop, which they passed about every three miles. For normal conditions this might have been enough fluid, but for midday at almost 80 degrees, it’s easy to see why so many overheated.

49 of 199 women dropped, the first before the 5k and the last two after mile 21. Among them were Sara Hall, Annie Bersagel, Laurie Knowles, Yihunlish Bikele, Clara Santucci, Rachel Ward … women at the top of this most elite field, and also women who barely squeaked in. These women knew it wasn’t their day and chose to save themselves to fight again. As many of us know, sometimes the right thing to do is to be brave and tough, and often it’s more difficult to choose the right path when that means doing what is simple and smart.

But for many women, the race went on, and like those who chose to drop, many of them had a grueling experience.

As for our best gals, all the women we’ve been following over the last months, here’s what some of them had to say.

Emily Potter: “I don’t know if it was the heat, or just an off day, or combination, but early on I felt horrible. I ended up tossing my watch to my Dad when I saw him around the 10k point, because I no longer wanted to know what time I was running. My whole race mentality shifted to survival, and my only goal became to just finish the race. So I just plugged along as best I could, without an ounce of competitiveness, and tried to just enjoy the experience on a miserable day. I actually ended up feeling my best on the fourth lap and was able to finish with a smile on my face(really just glad to be done!).”

Olivia Mickle: “I felt good through about the half marathon. I was side by side with my teammate, Carrie Dimoff for the first half, but felt like I was pressing a bit and knew it was early. After we hit the half marathon mark, I held back a little and she carried on. Then three miles later I noticed my body beginning to shut down on me. I have collapsed at the finish line at the Gate River 15k road race and I was aware of what dehydration symptoms feel like. Unfortunately, I was forced to walk, reroup, and chug some water. My legs had chills and I was thirsty! I absolutely understand how over 25% of the women dropped out. I will be honest, I definitely considered it. However, with huge encouragement from the crowd I was able to finish the last 10 miles with a pattern of run until you can’t anymore, stop, walk and regroup, and then run until you can’t anymore.”

Stephanie Dinius: “I felt really good through the half, then I fell off my goal pace for a couple miles and started to realize just how LONG and humbling the marathon can be. Still, I tried to have grace with myself and keep the hope alive that I would get back on pace and I started to do just that over the third 6-mile loop. I was sitting at about 27th-30th place and was moving up in the field toward top-20. I planned to close hard over the final 6 miles, however, at mile 20 I took a bad step going around the hairpin turn and tweaked my hip. I had a moment of panic where I considered dropping out. I couldn’t lift my knee up high enough to keep my pace going, so I slowed down significantly. I decided to realign my goal from top-20 to just finishing the race. The next 6 miles were mentally, emotionally and physically some of the toughest I’ve ever run in my life.”

Keely Maguire: “Knowing the temperatures, even as a decent heat runner, I decided to make that approach even more conservative. I’ve always had a good engine on me that can go for awhile but I still was going into the unknown. My first mile was 6:30 for the first couple miles I was around 160th … I ran about half the race with Karen Roa which was very helpful. I remember saying to her “we are fine they’ll all come back the to us”. I might have been reassuring myself but that’s exactly how it happened … The only thing that made it a little tough is in the third loop from dumping water on myself my socks were wet and making blisters on the bottom of my feet. At one point I felt the skin literally peel up off the pad of my foot. So I just had to make myself focus on something other than my feet.”

Ellie Hess: “Going into the race, I found out my qualifying time was the 135th fastest, so I thought top 75-100 would be a good goal. My plan was to start out conservatively in 6:20-25. Considering the heat, I did not want to find myself at the halfway mark totally wasted.  Once the initial race congestion spread out, I was in a nice little group with Nicole Camp and Jessica Odorcic. However, it seemed that every time I looked at my watch I saw 6:07. I felt great, but definitely worried that I was shooting myself in the foot. I didn’t want to let up though, so I just kept going and figured if I lost steam and slowed down, then so be it. I hit the half way mark in about 1:20:30, feeling pretty strong so I kept pushing. When I hit mile 16-18 still feeling relatively strong, especially compared with how I felt in Columbus (though I do think my pace was faltering), I was confident that I would be able to finish OK. With about 5(?) miles to go I could hear other people telling the ladies in front me that they were top 40. The thought that I could finish top 40 made me so pumped. I told myself not to let anyone pass me and to try to pass as many others as possible. I put my head down and gave it all I could and finished 29th in 2:43:53. Despite the heat, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience!”

***

The drama didn’t end with the heat or the 25% of the field who dropped, though. Not having been granted a spot in the ‘red zone,’ directly ahead of the finish line, I snapped some shots of the top men, then quickly wriggled into the front spot of the media corral once the other photographers had dispatched to photograph Galen, Meb and Jared. It seemed like ages and I put my camera down to rest for a moment, looking jealously at the red zone media, when a grey and white dot appeared, reflected in their lenses. I knew it was Amy.

I was as happy for Amy as I had been for Meb: she worked hard for this moment and deserved it completely. She personifies joyful running. She lifted her visor as if tipping her hat to all of us and beamed as she dashed into the tape, taking only a brief moment to breathe and gather herself. When officials tried to descend for interviews she turned around and went back to the finish line to wait.

She turned and looked back. “Where is she?” she asked. Then she was cheering for Des, who was cruising in and making it look easy; she knew it was in the bag. Des lifted her arm in a fist bump to the crowd who roared their approval. She had punched her ticket to another shot and to rewriting her story. And just as she was crossing the line she beamed at her friend Amy, who welcomed her to the team with a congratulatory hug. For one brief moment, she hid her face in her flag-draped hands, breathing relief before turning around to face the media, all smiles and ever the professional.

But then Amy turned around again, because she saw Shalane. She screamed encouragment. She slapped her knees. “COME ON!” She turned and grimaced, worried for her teammate, who did not look good at all. Determined to get Shalane onto the team, she held the flag out to the side and waved it like a matador baiting a bull to charge. And it worked.

Somehow, Shalane pushed that last 200 meters. Somehow she managed to keep pushing forward and kicking back. Amy opened her arms as she staggered over the line into them. The celebration was only momentary though, before she slid down to her knees and people started dashing over to scoop her up and relieve Amy’s own tired limbs from supporting her.

Des was parading around like a beauty queen in her flag and Amy was waving to Shalane who was being pushed away in a wheelchair when Kara Goucher came flying over the line looking upset and taxed, for obvious reasons. She had worked so hard to fight it out with Des, hoped to catch Shalane, but it was done. As she bent over to catch her breath, Des leaned over her with a hug and some words for her competitor. Amy placed a hand on the shoulder of her former teammate and they spoke very briefly before Kara moved forward, past the media circus.

Des couldn’t help herself, she spread her flag wide like wings and smiled broadly, and Amy did too before tackling her in a hug.

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***

And now, results!

Well first, we have to give mad credit to Colleen De Reuck, who’s not just a masters runner, she gets the Jedi Masters Runner Award. She came in 67th out of 150 finishers, with a 2:49:57. Someone’s using the Force.

Joanna Zeiger takes the I’m Not Last! award, having come in 149th with 3:23:28. That’s right, the LONG end of this hot, dry race on sun-hardened pavement was under 3:25. Think about that next time you don’t want to do a workout.

Our very own Teal Burrell powered through and takes the Fastest Snail on the Road award for coming in 72nd with 2:50:35. Not the PR she dreamed of, but it just wasn’t a PR day. In spite of the conditions she did fantastic, right smack in the middle of an incredible field. Great work, Tea! And special thanks to Mr. Tea and the whole clan for making those super Tea-Shirts!

The Whatta Badass awards go to:

  • Ellie Hess, who muscled into 29th place with a 2:43:46. Now she can get to work on that fifth baby!
  • Keely Maguire, who took it easy in the first half, then surged to 24th place with 2:43:06 in spite of looking absolutely terror-stricken by the distance the day before (I told you it wasn’t so bad!)
  • An impressive showing by JAX half qualifier Erin Osment, who placed 18th in her debut marathon with 2:40:42. DAMN, girl!
  • Jessica Odorcic (59th 2:48:46), who took home a PR when others were dropping like flies around her.

The Pure Muscle Award goes to Lauren Jimison, who pushed through to 36th place with a 2:44:30

The Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Bret Ely (51st 2:46:59) for completing her 4th and final Trials Marathon.

For impressing upon a group of debut marathoners how important it is to use the Power of the Pack and probably saving their skins from DNFs in the heat, The Big Inspiration Awards go to Jacksonville OTQ Project pace leaders

  • Esther Atkins, who threw up the love sign in 11th place with a 2:37:56
  • Wendy Thomas, who finished 17th, just a step ahead of Erin at 2:40:39
  • The inimitable Brianne Nelson, who came in 34th with a 2:44:19

And of course the Power of the Pack awards go to Nicole Dimercurio (81st 2:52:10) and Dylan Hassett (113th 2:57:46), teammies who stuck together for a huge chunk of the race.

The Hell Yeah I’m Elite award goes to Emma Polley, whose mom was so incredibly proud to be able to stick it to the LetsRun trolls when her daughter came in 39th with a 2:44:56

The Metronome Award goes to Ashley Brasovan (56th 2:48:32), who had incredibly even splits throughout the race. Stick to a plan and make it happen.

The Sweet Baby Jesus I Made It awards go to (well everyone) but especially:

  • Becki Spellman (141st, 3:11:32), who ran her slowest marathon ever by 10 minutes but still finished. That’s real love.
  • Karen Roa (119th 2:59:51), whose conservative approach brought her in with a sub-3 in her first marathon.
  • Olivia Mickle (93rd 2:53:49), who tanked at the end and had to walk/run her way in.
  • Stephanie Dinius (46th 2:46:20), who hobbled to 46th place on an injured hip.

There are two Ray of Sunshine awards. The first goes to to Ruth Perkins (120th, 2:59:52), its most likely candidate, for approaching the day with incredible positivity and excitement and hanging in there for a sub-3. The second goes to perhaps its most unlikely candidate, Emily Potter (102nd, 2:55:10), for overcoming the dread and disappointment she’d had all weekend about the race and finishing with a bigger smile than Amy Cragg’s.

***

Want more? You can find our entire Olympic Trials Marathon coverage here.

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Cinnamon made Salty Running, takes lots of pictures and drinks lots of coffee. By day she's a camera assistant for films and tv in New York, and by night she's on a quest for zen in the 10k. Her writing is a mix of satirical humor, finding wholeness as an average runner, cheering for runners at all paces and more.

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