The Olympic Marathon Trials Are for Everyday Heroes
At the U.S. Olympic Trials, amateur runners have nothing to lose
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
Say what you will about Pierre de Coubertin—the French aristocrat who founded the modern Olympics—but the guy had a talent for branding. He came up with those five interlocking rings back in 1913, creating one of the more ubiquitous logos of the 20th century. De Coubertin is also credited with the aspirational “Olympic Creed” which reminds us that: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
Of course, the taking-part-is-everything ethos extends beyond the Olympics itself. Just ask any of the hundreds of amateur athletes who are competing in this Saturday’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the marathon, which are being held in Atlanta. These men and women represent the cream of their local running communities, but have no realistic shot at contending for one of the six spots—three for men, three for women—on the Olympic team. While they may be grateful just to be in Atlanta, they are unlikely to treat the race as a 26.2-mile victory lap. Because to do so would be at odds with whatever it was that got them there in the first place.
How will these runners define success on the big day? I spoke to a few of them to find out.
Residence: Portland, Maine
Job: Research Manager at US News & World Report
Qualifying Time: 2:18:36
“This race definitely is different for me, in that I feel accomplished just making it to the start line. Making it there has been a goal for about four years; I’m one of many people who are just happy to be there. That’s not to say that I don’t have a goal for the race, but I’m defining success a lot more loosely than I would be for a marathon where I have a specific time goal in mind. That’s how I’ve been racing marathons for the last four years or so—I was deliberately picking fast, flat courses to try to run a PR and success was really defined by that finishing time. For this one, the time just doesn’t matter at all. Normally, leading up to a race, I can be a little bit anxious, uptight, and maybe not so pleasant to be around for the people close to me. It’s like you have a big weight on your shoulders. In this race, that’s not going to be the case—the weight’s already been lifted off. So I will be a little more relaxed and able to enjoy it. But, once the gun goes off, it’s still a 26.2-mile race where, if you’re not suffering, you’re not doing it right.”
Katie Casto Hynes
Residence: San Francisco, California
Job: Diabetes Educator at the Pediatric Diabetes Clinic at UCSF
Qualifying Time: 2:41:37
“I think that because I’ve lived in a lot of cities—New York, Louisville, Portland, and now San Francisco—I know a lot of the women who are going to be racing. That’s exciting and going to make it more fun, but also I’ll know, with a lot of the women, that I should be near them in the race. I run for the Impalas and we have nine women from our team going to the Trials. Having these fast women to train with, the depth and strength of having eight other fast women training for the same thing has really elevated my training overall. So I do think that part of defining success will be about how I am doing compared with women I know that have run similar times to me. I think a little bit of a personal fear is that I feel like I’m in really good shape and if it was a different type of course I think I would probably have more of a time goal. I think that that’s been a little difficult; I’m in the best shape of my life, but I can’t necessarily go out at the pace that I’ve trained at. It’s going to be a big mental race. I’m hoping, mostly, to not go out and die.”
Residence: Portland, Oregon
Job: SCI and Purpose Strategic Planning Director at Nike
Qualifying Time: 2:17:45
“When you’re a person like me—an amateur runner who works—once you qualify for the Trials, it would be easy to treat it like a victory lap of sorts. I’ve got some numbers in my head. I know where I’m seeded, relative to the field, and I’m pretty close to the middle. For me, top 100 would be a good day. Top 50 would be a great day! I have a chance to beat some people who are faster than me—so that will be really cool, too. The number of people I can pass during the race will be a good performance indicator—that’s the quantitative way of looking at it. The qualitative way of looking at it is how strong am I going to be feeling on that last leg. Am I fading? Can I accelerate to the finish? I’ll have spent a lot more of my life thinking about this race than I will actually running it. So I want to be able to look back on it and be able to say, I had my best day at the highest level of the sport. Not only did I have a great day, but I left it all out there. I don’t want to have any regrets, so I’m planning to race my ass off.”
Residence: Flower Mound, Texas
Job: Mother of nine children
Qualifying time: 2:40:21
“The only thing I really can base success on is a PR. My qualifying marathon was the first marathon I’ve ever run. I ran 2:40 on a flat course in Indiana and my last eight miles were really fast; I think I averaged a 5:51 mile. This one is going to be completely different because you’re either going uphill or downhill the entire time, at least from what I’ve heard. I mean, just going and knowing I did the best I could do—that’s success, but I would like to PR. I’m just going to try to replay exactly what I did in Indianapolis—looking at my splits in the first half and just try to stay on pace, and then the second half just race and not look at my watch. In Indiana that was a huge blessing because I ran way faster than I thought I could. I have to realize that there are 500 women running. I might be top 100, I might not be. I think I’m ranked 137th. So if all goes well, I have a possibility of being in the top 100. It’s hard to call though, because if you see 100 people running ahead of you, you have no idea if it’s 110 or 90. It’s going to be so awesome.”