The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials: When, Why, Who cares, and What’s the point?

The 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials are less than a week away, which means that I’m finally ready to share my goals, with only minimal worry of an injury jinx. Those are the rules of the Running Gods, I think. In the wake of a late change in Olympic Marathon and U.S. Marathon Trials qualifying standards, there have been some rumblings about the purpose of the Trials for those with virtually no chance of making the Olympic team. I do count myself as one of those runners. Admittedly, my wife has already blogged aptly about the Goals of a Non-contender (see link at bottom). As I make the final preparations for my second Olympic Trials race, I’m hoping to verbalize a slightly different viewpoint, yet a common one: that of a blue-collar runner with a white-collar job wearing a plaid-collar shirt.

Somewhere around 160 men will race the 2016 Olympic Trials marathon in Los Angeles, but the three who actually make the U.S. Olympic team will almost certainly come from a select group of 15-20. So what’s the point for everyone else? Why should any hobby runners bother to pay attention to the Trials, rather than just wait for the actual Olympics? What’s it like to have such impeccable fashion taste? I am up to the task of fielding these questions, and even giving some exclusive insights into the life of a nonprofessional runner attempting to juggle high-level marathon training with a real-life job, marriage, and bottomless appetite.

It can be hard for non-runners to grasp the significance of earning a spot and competing in the Olympic Trials without a feasible chance of making the Olympic team. My boss has repeatedly referred to LA2016 as my “party,” after I explained that I had no realistic chance of becoming an Olympian. OK, he is half-right; there will be hard partying afterward. But there is also a lot more to it. Luckily I am #blessed with supportive family, in-laws, and friends who do understand and celebrate the importance of this race. With the strict qualifying standards and Olympic implications for the top finishers, the Trials are the most exclusive, hyped, and likely the most prestigious race for most of its competitors. It is basically our version of the Olympics. With its unparalleled competition, the race is also a great opportunity to summon our best performances, earn PR’s, and test them against all of our peers to quantify exactly where we stand in our sport. Furthermore, its significant exposure offers up-and-coming runners a chance to impress their sponsors, attract new ones, and maybe fund a few more years of pursuing their dreams on the roads.

I no longer count myself as one of those up-and-comers, as I did at the 2012 Trials. I’ve entered my fourth decade of life, eighth marathon, and am suffering from an acute case of employment. I’m not complaining; I’ve spent the last couple years working toward the career I now have, and it’s nice to have some funds. Plus, many other Trials participants have had to balance similar responsibilities with their training. With this new vantage point though, I’ve become more aware of complaints by the privileged few full-time professional runners who lament making “sacrifices” during the lead-up to big races. Running is consistently one of the highlights of my day. I do frequently make choices to best support my high-level training, but I no longer think of them as sacrifices. Then again, I can’t imagine enduring a hard training block without the comfort of frequent beers and doughnuts. Still, the propagated expectation of elite runners to lead spartanesque lifestyles has prompted me to consider some of my own sacrifices this training segment:

Drew’s Olympic Trials Training Sacrifices:

Vision. It’s Winter, and most of my runs have been in the dark before or after work

Biceps. To my wife’s horror, they’ve shriveled away during marathon training

Coffee. Well, for two weeks, but then I relapsed hard and haven’t looked back.

My Vanity. At work, I’m now the sweaty guy in unflattering tights who showers at the office

So, what motivates me to endure such an ascetic lifestyle in the hopes of running moderately fast for two and one-quarter hours? I suppose I should say that there is always the pipe dream of having that once-in-a-lifetime performance, while everyone else gets explosive food poisoning, and making the U.S. Olympic team. Sure, that is not untrue. More tangibly, though, I want to prove that I am still one of the better marathoners in the country. Even more, I aspire to be an example of life-balance in this demanding sport, and to capably represent the true “blue-collar” runner who wakes up early or goes out late to pursue their passion between work hours and domestic responsibilities with minimal complaints (I could use some work on that last part). Recently, I’ve met and befriended many dedicated individuals who fit that profile, and their online running logs have provided more inspiration to me this winter than those of any professional runner. Finally, I feel fortunate that my new marriage has only added support and motivation to my training, rather than compete with it. While Emma and I have not yet found a way to harmoniously run together, it is surprisingly helpful just to go through similar training regimens simultaneously. Driving to weekend workout venues, feasting on late-dinner vats of pasta, and passing out early together does help dissipate any potential feelings of that vulgar S-word, sacrifice.

One of my goals with this piece was to motivate casual running fans, if there is such a thing, to recognize the intrigue of the 2016 edition of the U.S. Olympic Trials. After all, they will be BROADCASTED LIVE ON NBC AT 10 AM PACIFIC TIME ON FEBRUARY 13th. This is actually unprecedented, but I assume it was motivated by all the captivating Polley storylines. But seriously, this is a chance to watch huge dreams, four years in the making, come true for a few, and be crushed for many others. It’s raw, high drama. All competitors will also sport skimpy outfits and endure deep, profound pain.

Speaking of skimpy outfits, you can look for me in the sweet new Brooks “Inspire Daily” Elite kit in LA. I am pumped for another of year of promoting my favorite brand. This would be a good place to post a preview of my racing attire, but it arrived after I’d already left for my current 2-week work trip to Marin County, CA (yes, I’m still running in the dark nearly every day here). But expect me to look something like this at the Trials:*

blogphoto.png

Ideally, I won’t be throwing up Gatorade, but let’s be realistic. I will even still be sporting an old pair of my beloved but defunct Green Silence eco-friendly racing flat, as shown above, and whose likeness is tattooed on my back. I’ll also be representing Club Northwest, a deep Seattle-area running club and my current support group. It feels like a perfect match long in the making, and being part of such a historically strong team provides yet another chunk of motivation.

To be honest, I had modest expectations upon starting this training segment, but it has gone as well as I could’ve hoped. I’ve stayed relatively healthy, run months of high mileage, and nailed many encouraging workouts. It would be deceitful to proclaim a personal record as my goal. However I can tell that I’m not too far from that level, seemingly in the neighborhood of 2:16:00-type fitness. If the course is tough and the weather warm, as I expect, I’m also happy to adapt my goal to simply placing as high as I can. It would awesome, and not unrealistic, to be a top-25 finisher in consecutive Olympic Trials. But first and foremost, there is the matter of achieving the most realistically prestigious title available to me at this race: a member of the fastest combined married marathoners in the U.S. I foresee a strong performance from Emma, which instills in me the duty of holding up my end of the bargain.

Thank you for making it through this, and special thanks to everyone who has voiced their support!

Sweet links:

Recent article by David Monti about the two married couples racing at the Trials:

Married At the Trials

My wife’s much more popular blog: https: emzmiles.wordpress.com

*Full disclosure; I wrote this over a week ago, and am now safely back in WA. I’ve tried on my gear but don’t feel like I can top this photo. Also, I will look approximately 6 years older than I did in the photo.

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