Spectating the Olympic Marathon Trials (February 29, 2020) – Atlanta, GA

IMG_1545Sorry that this is over two months overdue in posting. My lack of motivation to sit at my computer at home…after working at home for 8 hours…is more than lacking these days. But I’m very behind on these blogs…so I need to start cracking on them.  Since then, the Olympics in Tokyo are postponed until 2021.  What crazy times we are living in.  I hope everyone is staying safe.

Back in April 2019, when USATF announced that the Olympic Marathon Trials were going to be held in Atlanta, Ga., I knew…RIGHT THEN…that I wanted to go and spectate.  I wanted to be on the course where it all happened.  Six people – 3 men and 3 women – would cross a finish line and achieve the dream of becoming an Olympian.

I had to go.

So, my roommate and I went ahead and booked a hotel room at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in downtown Atlanta.  Then we bought some non-stop flights to and from Atlanta from Louisville.  And then, because, why the hell not?…we each signed up for a race on the day following the Olympic Marathon Trials (Cathy did the Atlanta 5K and I did the Atlanta Half Marathon), since we’d be there.IMG_1547

And somewhere between when all that happened…my left hip started giving me problems again. I took most of February off from running or any real distance, and definitely not workouts.  I went back to my orthopedic doctor for X-rays…where I was told there was nothing structural happening.  I went back to physical therapy, where my physical therapist worked to help get me back on the road, even though it seemed where the pain was changed each day.  And she even could work with my coach as he is also a physical therapist (same company, different location)…and together they eased me back out onto the road, with only a few days with setbacks.

To say I felt 100% when I started packing for my quick trip to Atlanta at the end of March is a huge understatement.  I was questioning whether to drop to the 5K or just not do it at all. Since I was able to run, perhaps not fast or strong, I decided that I could fake my way through a race.  It would be rough and hard and probably would suck a lot more than usual, but I could do it.  So, after our friend Melissa dropped us off at the airport on a Friday morning, we boarded our flight to Atlanta and touched down without any delays or problems.  WINNING!

IMG_1551After a quick MARTA ride to get to our hotel, we checked in, dropped off stuff in our room, and took a moment to admire the fact that we could see Centennial Park from our window. How awesome!!

Then, we gathered our stuff and took a nice stroll past the park and the Olympic Marathon Trials finish line, to hit up the expo to pick up our own race stuff and see what kind of merchandise was around.

The answer…not much.  At least not at this point.  I managed to snag a Marathon Trials t-shirt for myself and my friend Natalie.  And I got a couple of pins to commemorate the event. But there was little else left.  Guess it got decimated on Thursday or earlier in the day on Friday.IMG_1564

Oh well.  The expo was much smaller than I anticipated.  For real.  And we breezed through it faster than the time we budgeted for it.  So, after we were done there, we hiked back to the hotel to drop off stuff, take a breather, and then figure out what we wanted to do next.  We ended up hiking around the Dragon*Con hotels just to kill time.  We snagged some water (we hit up CVS so many times for water on this trip) and a snack.  And then we had to figure out what we wanted to do for dinner.  The easiest option was the food court…but I needed to figure out where and what would be safe for me.  And one of our top options would have meant eating dinner around 3:30 or 4 pm, which was WAY too early for me.

IMG_1569Lots of google and Find Me Gluten Free searching guided me toward a place called BÊP Vietnamese Cuisine.  Cathy opted to go find something with meat and gluten in it for herself (since when we are eating out and on vacation, she can do this!), and ended up at Beni’s Cubano and opted for the Milagro Sandwich with Maduros (Sweet Plantains).  So, while she was hitting them up, I went up to get Curry Tofu Rice Bowl from BÊP…except they were all out of tofu as they had to cater a large party earlier.  BOO!  So, I ended up doing the Vegetarian Phở with the Gluten Free Vegetarian Spring Rolls.  It wasn’t my first choice…but, hey…it wasn’t a bad option to end up with. And, honestly, I just wanted the spring rolls, so that made me happy enough (but 2 spring rolls don’t make a meal).

We ate in the food court before heading back to the room for the rest of the night, enjoying some Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives on Food Network while we wound down and prepared for the following morning, which would involve having to find a good spot in which to view the trials.  And, man, did we have some options to think about.IMG_1582

We woke up the following morning with a mission.  Kara Goucher was leading a 3 mile shakeout run around Centennial Park.  I wasn’t running.  This was a rest day, and regardless, I was really hoping to give my hip an extra day off before the half marathon on Sunday morning.  Cathy safely tucked my 2015 Boston Marathon bib into her bag and we headed down toward the park.  We ended up making an entire lap before converging on the crowd by the Olympic rings.  And there, in the middle of it all, was Kara Goucher.  Kara Goucher was one of the first female runners that I took notice of.  Her book was one of the first ones I ever read (and applied a lot of it to shorter distances as I was not running marathons yet).  It was chaotic in that throng of people, but I somehow managed to get up to her, tell her something about Minnesota girls (I was born in Minnesota, remember?) and got my bib signed! YAY!  It wasn’t the way I envisioned talking to her or meeting her…but it happened, guys!!  We also made one last stop in at the expo…and glad we did because we both ended up getting some hoodies that had Atlanta to Tokyo on it (at that point, obviously, the Olympics were still happening in summer 2020).  The smallest size I could find was a large, but I figured I could just wear it around the apartment.

IMG_1592After that, we headed back to the hotel to grab a big breakfast (as this would be what would hold us through to after the marathon trials AND…a live Ali on the Run Podcast that I got free tickets to attend).  It was going to be a long day…but thankfully, we had snacks.

The breakfast at the hotel was mostly buffet.  And for someone like me with food allergies…that just doesn’t work well.  BUT, our waiter was kind enough to put in an order for me with the kitchen so everything would be safe for me to eat.  I got an egg white vegetable omelette with a bowl of fruit.  Cathy was able to go pick and choose what she wanted and was excited that there was a mini chicken and waffles option out there (it might have been on the kids table, but she loved it).  We ate.  We drank a lot of coffee.  We went back up to the room to prepare ourselves for all the intense wind, cold weather, and the fun of spectating the Olympic Marathon Trials.IMG_1602

I. COULD. NOT. WAIT.

Originally, we had planned on going right to a spot where we could see the athlete 6 times on the looped course.  But after we got down there, we decided that we really, really wanted to see the start of both the men’s and the women’s race.  Then we could go up to about Mile 8 and see the men twice and the women once, and then hopefully get back to the finish line area to see who would make the team from a decent enough s
It felt like the right plan for us.  So…we scouted out a spot for the start of the race.  It was VERY windy!  In case you hadn’t heard.  I felt bad for the athletes because when you’re in a metro downtown like that, there is no wind breaks.  There are only wind tunnels.  And that wind will hit you in all directions!  We were right near where the athletes would be walking out.  Shalane Flanagan passed us.  She, obviously, wasn’t competing, but there was no mistaking her in that Bowerman Track Club gear.

IMG_1654And…I got to hug and wish good luck to Ashley Paulson, who I know from Instagram.  She ended up coming in 44th in the women’s race.  HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!  Anyway, that was super fun.  Cathy gave the woman standing next to me her ear warmer because she had tried three times to find somewhere she could buy a hat and couldn’t find one anywhere.  One good deed…

The winds were whipping around 20+mph.  And it was COLD!!  Man, was it cold.  But the sun was out…and the athletes were lining up at the start line.  The men would go off first.  Then the women.  And who was sending each group off?  Meb Keflezighi!IMG_1636

He counted down the men’s race…and they were off.  As the group ran past, we cheered really loud and started pointing out the people we recognized.  It was exciting.  What a rush.  And 20 minutes later…with one almost false start…Meb sent the women off.  Now that…THAT was insane.   It was just flood of women, running down the road.  I spotted a few people I recognized.  I screamed really loud.  And we even saw the ones at the back who were starting, but dropping out due to injury, pregnancy, or whatever.  It was inspiring, regardless.

From there, we hopped over to a spot on the rail near the 8 mile mark.  This was at one of the turns on the course, so we would definitely get the chance to see everyone as they went past.  We would be here for a while, able to see the men twice and the women once, if we wanted to try to get to the finish line area.

IMG_1682We took this opportunity to snag a snack.  I brought oranges.  LOL!  Hey, I’m like Dustin in Stranger Things…so I always bring snacks with me everywhere.  I had no idea how long it would be before we’d get to eat.  We polished off our oranges (I brought Sumo’s…only the best for this occasion) and were settled in, wincing against the wind, and making friends with the people around us…as you do.

The guy who was on my left was spectating his daughter, who qualified at CIM with a squeaker time, just hitting it with maybe a second to spare.  The pride and excitement in his voice was just…awesome.  And then…we saw the pace car come down the hill and toward the turn.  Behind it…the wave of men.  And, there were two people out front that I didn’t recognize.  But then in the chase pack (just steps behind them) were all the big names and the like.  And I tried to shout out to as many as I could.IMG_1736

There were smaller waves behind them…and then it quieted down as we all awaited the arrival of the women.  And that was a wave that was just as amazing as the start.  And the crowd.  Wow…it was loud.  And you could just feel this electricity as the women continued to make the turn and head back up the hill into Mile 8.  It was insane and I loved being a part of the noise and seeing these woman lay it all out there on the challenging course.  Seriously…inspiring.  Not that I’ll ever get the chance to run the Olympic Trials…but man…I felt like I was part of something big…just by being there.

IMG_1796We waited around for the men to make their second loop and, by the time they came back around, there were more familiar faces at the front of the pack.  Mainly…Galen Rupp.  No shocker there.  And, apparently, that’s where he would stay.  But…it would be those remaining two spots that would be the surprises for us spectators.

Not wanting to miss any of the final finishes…because, honestly, I wanted to be at that finish line when the runners who would be representing the country crossed, we left to head back to the finish line area.  The general public could only get so close, but luckily we found a spot of the rail, next to a man who was cheering for his daughter (this was a theme, LOL), named Val Curtis.  So, he was tracking her and I was trying to catch bits of conversation about where some of the favorites out on the course were.IMG_2025

And you could tell when the finish was getting close because people who were able to get into the grassy parts of the park near the finish started climbing into the trees.  No joke.  Cathy even said, “Looks like the spectators are in full bloom.”  It made me laugh.  A lot.  Security, however, did make them all eventually get down, but that was just a testament to how big of a deal this was to the people in Atlanta to spectate.

IMG_2038I will never forget that feeling when I saw the lead vehicle come down over the hill and veer off as Galen Rupp came surging past.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Galen Rupp fan.  I don’t like him.  But he was going to go represent the United States at the Olympics, turning in an amazing time on what was a VERY challenging course.  The second and third place for the men came in over a minute behind Galen.  It felt like a HUGE gap of time, honestly.  But that battle for second and third was SPECTACULAR!!  No lie.  It came down to just one second that put Jacob Riley in second and Abdi Abdirahman in third.  Our alternate for the men…Leonard Korir…just seconds behind Abdi.  What a finish!!IMG_2105

We saw more men come streaming in.  A few were bloodied, which left us really confused until I started listening to podcasts after the fact and finding out that people fell down on the course, were almost trampled, and the like.  How scary is that.  To rally and get back up and finish…that’s gutsy.  I respect the hell out of it.  I saw Jared Ward finish, but he was way out of contention for a spot.  He was definitely a favorite going in.

IMG_2109Eventually, the volunteers began to route the men down a different path to finish, which could only mean one thing…the women were coming!  I had no idea who was leading at this point.  I was up on my tiptoes, leaning on the rail, just waiting to see the first woman blaze by.  It felt like forever, but then…graceful, swift, and steady…the first woman flew past.  It was Aliphine Tuliamuk…which wasn’t out of the conversation to make the team, but she was leading the way.  I was here for it!  Just behind her was Molly Seidel, who qualified using a half marathon time and this was her first marathon.  This also meant that she started behind the A standard qualifiers.  And there she was…carrying that flag all the way to the finish line.  And just over a minute behind her…our third woman came in…Sally Kipyego, who I had just heard an interview with on Lindsey Hein’s podcast, “I’ll Have Another.”  Both Aliphine and Sally had recently become citizens of the United States and here they were now…heading to the Olympics to represent the country.  Amazing.IMG_2118

Des Linden came in fourth, now officially becoming the alternate and missing out on the Olympic Team by 30 seconds.  Stephanie Bruce wasn’t too far behind, coming in 6th.

We stayed at the finish line, because now we felt like we needed to see Val Curtis come in.  We were basically adopted members of the Curtis cheer team.  In the process, I saw Jordan Hasay come by, finishing 26th, and considering she came in with the fastest time…that was a shock. Ashley Paulson finish 44th overall for the women!  That was super exciting.  She’s just so genuine and amazing.

IMG_2119I noted some names that weren’t coming in…Sarah Hall, Molly Huddle, Emily Sisson.

It was weird.

We were getting updates from Val’s father as to where she was on the course, so we knew exactly when to start cheering.  I held a sign for her while he waved a flag and shouted as she blazed past to her finish line.  Cathy snapped photos.  It was pretty exciting to be part of that.  I felt like I knew Val…even though I had just heard of her that day.

After a long day of spectating, we were heading to the Generation UCAN live podcast with Ali Feller and Carrie Tollefson and Meb Keflezighi.  We figured we would grab dinner afterwards…which in hindsight wasn’t our best plan…but we had a podcast to get to.  I am so glad we did.  A surprise to me was when Dathan Ritzenhein went up and talked for a brief moment.  If you know me, you know how he is one of my favorite male runners.  Hip issues caused him to drop out of the trials, but he listened to his body and did what he needed to do.IMG_2158

After he spoke, he left and I grabbed my 2015 Boston Marathon bib and went to see if I could catch him for an autograph.  He very graciously signed it for me…and I was able to tell him a little bit about my devastating race that morning…due to hip issues.  He listened and said that he hopes my next time running Boston (2021 with any luck), would be a much better experience.

IMG_2180The live podcast was a lot of fun, and very emotional.  We laughed.  We cried.  We had a good time.  I wanted to meet Ali after the show, but there was a rush of people, and we had to go find some food, as both Cathy and I were racing the following morning.  The problem is…so many things in big cities close early…and we really didn’t have many options.  We ended up ordering in room service at the hotel, and they took very good care of me with my food allergies.  So, we were definitely eating dinner at 8 pm, watching Guy’s Grocery Games, and trying not to fret too much over the hour and the fact that we had to be up early to get ready to get to our own start lines.  I ended up with a delicious quinoa dish.

As for me…my leg wasn’t feeling 100% despite weeks of physical therapy…but I was going to see what I could do on these Atlanta hills.  But that’s another blog.

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