It's taken me a while to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?) to sum up my first Olympic Trials experience. Right after the Trials I jetted off to Belize for some much-needed R&R, where I tried not to think about running for a week (but inevitably stalked Letsrun and read other people's race recaps). Now almost 2 weeks post-race, I'm back to training and have had time to process the race experience. My biggest takeaway is that I'm hungry for more.
The race unfortunately didn't play out as I'd hoped. I finished 54th, right around my entry seed of 56th but far from the place goal that I'd set myself. I ran 2:48, 9 minutes slower than my PR and over 15 minutes slower than I'd trained to run. With the hot weather in LA (it was the warmest Olympic Trials Marathon on record), my time goals had long gone out the window, but I still hoped to run a smart race and compete for place.
I went out somewhat conservatively, in about 40th place, adjusting my goal pace from 5:50 to 6:00-6:10 and finding a group with a similar plan. I quickly found myself tucked in with experienced marathoners Esther Erb Atkins and Wendy Thomas, two women I've raced against frequently and admire greatly for their marathoning expertise - they know what they're doing out there, so I felt confident in my decision to join their pack and go along for the ride. Also by my side was my Strava Track Club teammate and training partner, Stephanie Dinius - I was so glad to fall into stride with a friend with whom I've shared this journey to the Trials.
Our big group rolled along averaging 6:00 minute miles and I felt good. I could see people in front of us starting to come back, and our pack moved up in the field with every lap down Figueroa. We were running smart in the heat, making sure to get in lots of fluids, and I drew confidence from that (and gave my family a wave and a smile as I went by!).
With the temperature rising, I was happy to successfully grab every one of my water bottles; I also made sure to snag extra water to douse myself. At every fluid station, I soaked my hat, arms and torso, and also took wet sponges at the additional aid station. Despite these efforts, I could feel myself overheating.
But I knew that everyone else was feeling the heat too, and so pressed on. At some point I was in 30th place and eyeing the top 20 - I continued to reel women in, and also moved up in the field as the weather took its toll and people started to drop out. By mile 15, Steph and I were alone together as the pack had broken up, and we forged ahead together.
And then, somehow, I wasn't pressing on anymore. I knew our pace was slowing, to 6:20, but so was everyone else's. I lost Steph as we headed south down Figueroa on the 3rd lap - it's a bit of a haze how it happened, and it all fell apart so fast. The pace never felt hard and I wasn't struggling in the way miles 15-17 were tough in my previous marathon. I was prepared for it to hurt - I'd trained for it, and was ready. I was waiting to hit "the wall," but it never came. Instead, the heat just became more and more overpowering, and I just slowed down. It was like a fire was engulfing me, the heat ever more intense, and instead of battling my way through the flames, I slowly succumbed.
6:31, 6:43, 6:53... I was running slower than my aerobic run pace, over a minute per mile slower than goal marathon pace. As I passed the start/finish line for my final 6-mile loop on Figueroa, I looked over at my brother Brendan, who was cheering from the grandstands, and put my hands up in the air, as if to ask, "What do I do?" My face conveyed my desire to drop out, to step off the course and make this nightmare of a race that was supposed to be a dream come true finally end. But he urged me onward, to not give up, to keep going. With tears, I continued.
7:12, 7:19, 7:22... I started dry-heaving as I entered the USC campus for the last time. I was gagging on my own spit, body rebelling, crying, suffering. Women were passing me right and left, everyone battling their own demons, leaving me alone with mine. I was so grateful when my friend Emma Polley urged me onward with some kind words, as did Teresa McWalters as she passed me.
The last two miles felt impossibly long. My blistered feet ached, my body yearned to stop, and I was far from joyful. This was not how things were supposed to go. Reminiscent of Kilimanjaro much? At least I wasn't puking.
I'd made it this far, I couldn't quit. So many people were there rooting for me, having made the long trek to LA to support me and my dreams. Family, friends, teammates from across the years, everyone invested in this goal of mine - I couldn't stop. With a grimace, I rounded the final U-turn to the finish and crossed that Olympic Trials Marathon finish line. 25% of the women who started the race did not - that's how challenging the conditions were. It wasn't pretty, it was far from what I'd hoped and trained for, but it was done.
Steph summed up the race the best:
"Didn't know it was possible to simultaneously feel so disappointed in a race outcome and yet so proud to have finished."
I was, and still am, so frustrated that I wasn't able to put together a race that demonstrated all the work I've done in the past 3.5 months, and over the past year. I know I have a MUCH faster marathon in me, in different conditions. I know I'm better than 54th place, but that was what I had on that day. I give so much credit to everyone who qualified for the Trials -- whether they finished or not, met their goals or struggled through challenges, made the team or simply crossed the finish line -- it was a great accomplishment to qualify for the Olympic Trials. To all my fellow qualifiers, I hope you celebrated this achievement.
The things I'll remember most about this 1st Trials experience are the people: the happy reunions with running friends, an embrace with Steph as we made our way to the start, the strong emotions I felt on the starting line, sharing this grand moment with so many strong, courageous women. The mid-race wave Brendan and I exchanged as we went our separate ways on Figueroa. Avi rooting me onward as I struggled. Loud cheers on the course from my family, my biggest fans. An enthusiastic post-race phone call with my sister, who watched the broadcast from Spain. Eating post-race dessert with my in-laws. So many wonderful texts, letters, emails, Facebook messages, comments - love was definitely all around. One often says that it's all about the journey. But for me, it was all about the people.
And so the journey continues, joyfully. The Track Trials await, and I am hungry for so much more. Onward, to Eugene!