Hopefuls Employ the Power of the Pack for Last Chance at the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon


This weekend, Olympic Trials qualifiers and hopefuls will converge in Jacksonville, Florida for the JAX Bank Half Marathon. Noted race director and running super fan Richard Clark Fannin hatched up a plan to bring some of the country’s fastest runners, runners who have already secured their spot at February’s Olympic Trials Marathon, to pace those who have yet to qualify. On January 3, 2016, this crazy idea will come to fruition.

So, remember when I told you we had big news? Well, Cinnamon and I are traveling to Florida!

Why, do you ask, is it news that a Clevelander and a New Yorker are hopping on a plane for sunny Florida on January 1st? Because we are going there to cover women’s running history take place at the JAX Bank Half for you!

When others in sport, even our sport, are solely focused on their own achievements, some of the country’s best runners, like two-time Olympian Anthony Famiglietti for the men and 1:10:16 half marathoner Brianne Nelson for the women, offered to pace other runners to breakthrough performances in Jacksonville, we knew we had to be there.

If this is sounding familiar, don’t worry! You’re not going crazy. We first told you about this race back in October (see Richard Clark Fannin, Sisterhood and the Magic in Jacksonville). Richard knew that many Olympic Trials hopefuls would be searching for last-chance qualifiers and that those athletes who have already qualified would be looking for a tune-up half-marathon around the same time.

Richard realized the relatively tiny JAX Bank Half Marathon, scheduled for January 3, 2016, seven weeks before the Trials, with a flat, fast course and typically perfect weather, would be the perfect opportunity for these athletes to attempt a qualifier or to get in that tune-up. He contacted several elites capable of pacing Trials hopefuls to the half-marathon standard time, 1:15:00.

Brianne Nelson is one badass runner happy to give back to the sport she loves! Photos courtesy of Brianne Nelson.
Brianne Nelson is one badass runner happy to give back to the sport she loves! Photos courtesy of Brianne Nelson.

One of those athletes was Brianne Nelson. Brianne, runner-up at the 2015 U.S. Half Marathon Championships with a half PR of 1:10:16 is considered one of the contenders for a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon team, despite not beginning to train seriously until the age of 30! She’s also a busy mom of two girls, Riley (7) and Reese (5). Yet, she didn’t hesitate to agree to travel from her home in Colorado during the busy holidays to help other women achieve their dreams!

When I asked her about JAX, Brianne explained why the race is so much more than getting in that quality workout in preparation for the Olympic Trials.

It brings back many memories to me of when my goal was to qualify 4 years ago. I was a new mom with 2 daughters and the amount of dedication and all those tired early A.M. runs on no sleep paid off. I know how hard all these girls worked and can’t wait to see some dreams come true!

One runner who planned to make a last ditch attempt at qualifying is Becki Spellman, but when USATF loosened the B Standard marathon qualifying time from 2:43:00 to 2:45:00, Becki’s 2:44:44 changed from a near-miss to a qualifier! While she no longer needs Brianne and company to pace her to a qualifying time, she’s looking forward to pacing those who need to hit that mark for their own ticket to the Trials:

My PR is 1:16:05, so helping others chase a 1:15:00 will be pulling me to a PR as well. Being in the position I’m in [already qualified for the Trials] allows me to have fun and not worry during the race. I really hope to help someone along the way! The awesome thing about this race is we have an opportunity to compete together toward a collective goal!

Other qualifiers like former world-record beer miler and 2:39 marathoner, Beth Herndon, are heading to Jacksonville “to practice race logistics and to run hard in a race setting” in preparation for the Trials marathon, which will be in L.A. on February 13. Also toeing the line is Jessica Odorcic, who qualified for the Trials with a sub-1:15 half marathon in 2014, but was sidelined from major competition for months after a string of injuries. For her, JAX is the perfect opportunity to assess her physical and mental fitness going into the Trials, all while helping hopefuls nab their OTQs too!

Race Details

When: Sunday, January 3, 2016 at 7:00 A.M. EDT
Where: Jacksonville, Florida
Who: Below is the list of athletes who have already qualified who will be leading the 1:15:00 pace group and the list of women who are making their last attempt at a 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier!

Screen shot 2015-12-29 at 9.32.05 PM

Who to watch!

Alvina Begay is a past qualifier in both the 10,000 meters and the marathon. Track star, Sara Slattery is hoping to qualify for the 2016 Marathon Trials six months after giving birth to her second child in two years! Then there’s Zoila Gomez, who ran the race of her life, earning fourth place at the 2008 Trials and a spot as an alternate for the 2008 USA Olympic Marathon team!

Zoila Gomez on a training run
Zoila Gomez training hard for her third OTQ. Photo courtesy of Zoila Gomez.

Zoila took a three year break from competition after injuring her diaphragm, but by the beginning of 2015, she was determined to qualify for the 2016 Trials. When she heard about the plan for the JAX Half, she said, “It felt like an indirect call from the above. I needed an opportunity like this and it presented itself.” She’s excited to have pacers, despite never running with a pacer before:

In the running world pacers are a luxury not many athletes get to have. In many cases, if you want one you pay for your own. Most of the best races, times, world records have been set thanks to the help of a pacer … Knowing that all I have to do is follow and not worry about pace or splits is wonderful. Knowing pacers will be there tells me that great things will happen on race day.

Great things are all but guaranteed to happen! Zoila and the other hopefuls picked the perfect race to go for it; The course promises to be fast, the forecast is looking excellent, and there’s that power of the pack thing. As Brianne Nelson sums it up:

I think having races like this really brings the running community together and it’s an important part of future distance running. I think that it’s incredible what you can accomplish in a race with a good group, good weather and magic in the air.

And we’ll be there! We’ll be working with documentary filmmaker Wendy Shulik to shoot a mini-documentary about the race, interviewing athletes and bringing you live updates from the streets of Jacksonville! We can’t wait to witness Brianne as she steadily paces the pack to 5:43 mile splits, PR performances and, with luck, lots and lots of new Olympic Trials Qualifiers!

In the meantime, we’ll be posting updates from Jacksonville about the race and our Florida shenanigans here and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Can’t wait!

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. I’m so excited you two to go and be right there for this! Such a cool thing, and will certainly be following along with the coverage! I’d totally be fangirling the whole weekend.

    1. I’ve already talked to so many awesome people and I can’t wait to meet them in person and to watch this incredible race!!! I’m giddy with excitement!

  2. This is SO cool! Looking forward to your updates! And hopefully hearing about it in person on a run once things settle down 🙂

  3. I don’t know you personally but I loved to see women doing well in sport. I want you to know that I am praying for you and I will like to see you performing in the Olympic. But if I don’t, I will be in prayer for you.

  4. Great preview of the race. My running coach, Olivia Mickle, is running in this race so it’s great that you included her in your list of Olympic hopefuls. You should interview her after the race. I look forward to following your live updates of the race.

  5. I’m so thrilled for you and I know this weekend is going to most memorable!! I can’t wait to hear all about your experience!!

  6. So excited to hear about this weekend! I follow Sara Slattery on instagram and fb and have seen how hard she works — as a mom with 2 under 2, I give her so much credit and hope to makes it!