Story of the Day, Part I

Moments before the Start of the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon
Okay, so we know how it went at the top of the field. Unless you’ve been sheltering yourself for two straight days, you know that we have to say Congratulations to Amy Cragg, Desi Linden and Shalane Flanagan. You know that, to Kara Goucher we have to say both congratulations on making team alternate and also, tough break, sorry girl!

And you probably know that it was a tough break for a lot of runners out there. Every one of them was wishing for the race of her life, or at least the race of this Olympic cycle, but just like you and me, the elites train for months on end and sometimes the day just isn’t theirs. As Amy said to me the day before the race, “Sometimes things just don’t go well… It’s frustrating when you work really really hard and it doesn’t go as planned. It’s just the nature of the sport. You think you’d get used to it, but it still can be pretty tough.”

It was hot. It was miserable. And Kara’s not the only one who had a tough break.

She’s also not the only alternate for whom congratulations are in order. Janet Bawcom had an incredible performance in spite of the heat:  2:31:20, just 50 seconds behind Kara. “Definitely not my fastest marathon, but easily my most satisfying,” She tweeted.

And while most news outlets stop there, we have the luxury of diving in deeper. Let’s start with some of the names we’ve made familiar to you.

The conference room hallway at the JW Mariott was packed with runners. To some extent you’ve seen the scene before, only with a different cast of characters. Again, I was struck by how just-like-us runners at the top of the sport are. Hiding in a quiet corner behind the escalator, I found first time marathoner Ashley Brasovan who qualified at the Jacksonville Half in January. She was sprawled out with a teammate and her coach, Matt Hensley. They seemed calm and ready, but with the buzz of potential energy you see in all runners before an important goal race.

Back in the crowd I bumped into Ruth Perkins, keyed up and bubbling over with energy. Her excitement at running the Trials for the first time was completely tangible. “I told them to leave me alone,” she said about her husband and kids, who were waiting to cheer her on. She wanted this time to immerse herself in the experience of being elite, something she once never thought she could be. She was like Cinderella at the ball, marveling at the greatness around her and completely struck with wonder that she is a part of that greatness.

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Someone said it was time to go, the glass doors slid open, and a huge wave of runners with family and coaches in tow spilled out into the beating California sun toward the corrals.

The corral for an event like this, as you might expect, is a bit different.  There is a secure zone that has a large open area,  VIP bleacher seating between the start and finish lines, VIP tents that served breakfast and coffee to top coaches, officials and other persons of importance, a media pen near the finish, and the runners’ corrals. There were two large changing tents, a men’s and a women’s, and folding chairs lined a pen, of sorts, where the runners could hang out before the race.  And yep-you guessed it, rows of port-a-potties, and an obnoxious line for the port-a-potties, just like any of us have to put up with before a race. Everyone except the very top-seeded runners were in this area milling about, chatting, peeling off layers and preparing. Unfortunately no one other than the runners and their immediate support were allowed past the gate, so I couldn’t see the finish chute.

Elsewhere, as the most elite athletes ventured out toward the corrals, they encountered lines of crowds blocking their path to the course who had no idea who they were and were not about to give up their spectating posts. Even with the security guards announcing, “Galen coming through!” no one moved until the guards forced an opening and the group of athletes who had backed-up waiting could finally parade through. The end result looked like a catwalk of elite runners sashaying to the street:

The best part about being present at the Trials is watching the runners warm up. It was as if they were parading up and down Figueroa Street just so the fans could say hello and wish them luck! Kara waved regally at fans who cheered her, followed by a group of runners who almost looked like an entourage behind her. Brianne Nelson and Wendy Thomas chatted together as they hugged the shady side of the street. Shalane and Amy warmed up together, of course, at a pace that was rather faster than my race paces. Teal had her headphones in and was focusing straight ahead, her face serious and determined.  Right behind her bouncedStephanie Dinius who, like Ashley Brasovan was set to race her first full marathon, her ponytail flying like a wild horse’s and her face all smiles as I cheered her on.

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Interestingly enough, when it was time for the mens’ start, they all just flowed out from the pen and through the open area toward the starting line. Much like at a Major League Baseball game, the announcer introduced the top seeds one by one by lauding his accomplishments and then naming the runner, and the crowd cheered like crazy for each one. “Niche” sport indeed!

The horn honked, the crowd went wild, and in moments the men were gone.

Soon though the women filtered out of the corral and into the open area in a parade of ponytails, neon buns and seed numbers splaying out from sport bras like wings. And after the men completed the first short loop and came flooding back through the chute, the gate opened, and the announcer introduced Shalane. Then Desi. Then Kara … Amy… and so on through all the top seeds. And after he was done, he said he had one more runner to introduce, and lauded the accomplishments of Deena Kastor in spite of her choice not to run, and wishing her and her daughter happy birthdays.

StartJogItOut

Then they were there all in a row. Waiting. There was a rumble of energy in the crowd. Then all at once, as if someone had flipped a switch, they all started high-knee jumps and through my lens it looked like the hot asphalt underfoot was too much to bear, or some kind of amazing ripple effect was coursing through all of them causing a frantic wave among their legs. And just as suddenly they were still again, Annie Bersagel calmly looking ahead, Desi casually resting hands on hips, Serena Burla shaking her feet out, Shalane turning back to Amy, Kara coolly staring ahead, shoulders back like a statue.  Someone in the second row stretched her arms overhead. Esther Atkins set her watch. And in the blink of an eye, the horn sounded and they began their journey. 

Image by Cinnamon (Kyle Gorjanc/SaltyRunning.com)
Image by Cinnamon (Kyle Gorjanc/SaltyRunning.com)

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Ready for the next Part to the story? If so, head here for Part II. Want to skip ahead to Part III? Then go here.

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Cinnamon made Salty Running, takes lots of pictures and drinks lots of coffee. She has 8 more minutes to knock off her marathon for a 3:40 BQ, and will get there or die trying. Her writing is an eclectic mix of finding wholeness as an average runner, news reporting, curious reactions, satirical humor and more.

Leave a Reply

5 comments

  1. I’m glad you mentioned Janet Bawcom! She was hardly mentioned in most predictions and hasn’t had many results recently so this was definitely a greay run for her!

    Your description and photos really make me NEED to get to the next major championship. Can’t wait for Part 2!

  2. I wish NBC would have given us at least a glimpse of this. I loved seeing the top runners, but was dying to see even just a smidgen of the rest of the athletes during the race. So glad you were there to capture this–can’t wait to hear more!