Tuesday, 17 January 2012

USA Olympic Trials

Hello and welcome to Going Pro!

What is Going Pro you may ask? Well, that's an excellent question. First off: NO, I am not considering becoming a professional runner, as I think I have greater odds of landing a teaching position in St. John's! The main purpose behind this (hopefully) bi-weekly post is to introduce, interest, and engage runners of all backgrounds to the professional running scene - especially in North America. Whether you don't run, want to run, or are a complete beginner, recreational, competitive runner or even a marathon veteran (as we have many of those here hailing from NL!) there is something in this for you to learn.

I wish to attempt to bridge the gap from amateur to professional running. For example, in Canada, hockey is the paramount sport. Every single kid who laces up his/her skates initially has one goal - to play in the NHL. We are inundated with professional (AHL/NHL) games, news, highlights, biographies, NHL greats reaching celebrity status coming to town to sign autographs, etc, etc. For a sport such as hockey the professional game is almost as part of one's life as the current game the kids are playing. Conversely, in Soccer, why is that Canada, a country of 30+ million people, is ranked 72nd in the world whereas countries such as Netherlands with only 16 million people is ranked 2nd in the world!? One of the major reasons for this is that Netherlands has a well established professional league (analogous to our NHL) that all youth strive to be apart of when they pick up the sport!

When it comes to running it's bit of a different story. There is no dissemination of the news, sights, sounds, personalities, or highlights of the professional running 'scene' to the masses. People are aware of the local 'elites', 'age group aces', and what good local standards are (i.e. 'Hey buddy, what's your Tely 10 time?') but I feel there is much to learn and enjoy from getting immersed in the professional environment of the sport you put so much blood, sweat, and tears into 365 days a year (366 this year don't forget)!

Anyways, enough of that ranting. I'm going to do my best to tell you the who's who, the what's what, and put all the jargon into layman's terms. I am by no means some sort of running guru that has the stats of every runner as there are many other websites for that (I would suggest www.letsrun.com, www.flotrack.com, www.trackie.ca). However, I am a huge fan of the professional aspect of our sport and wish to disseminate some of the bigger and more interesting news in an easy to read way!

I figure the best way to get this ball rolling to mention some of the bigger names in the sport currently which were all apart of the most recent, and 2nd largest event this year next to the Olympics. Just this weekend past, on Jan 14 in Houston, Texas USA held their Olympic Marathon Trials - the next day was the Chevron Houston Marathon and Half Marathon where our very own Peter and Kate Bazeley had some remarkable perfomances.

To qualify for the mens race you needed to have one of the following credentials to your name on a certified course:
Marathon: 2:19:00 (5:18/mile or 3:18/km)
Half-Marathon: 1:05:00 (4:57.5/mile or 3:04/km)
10,000m: 28:30.00 (4:35/mile or 2:51/km)

The women were looking at qualifying standards of:
Marathon: 2:46:00 (6:20/mile or 3:56/km)
Half-Marathon: 1:15:00 (5:43/mile or 3:33/km)
10,000m: 33:00.00 (5:18/mile or 3:18/km)

*Note: incase you didn't know all of the above paces are FAST!

So, Saturday at 7:00am & 7:15am CST, the gun went off for the Men's & Women's Olympic trials, respectively. 161 men and 226 women toed their respective lines with a similar, simple goal in mind: be on the podium (top 3) and you'll get a trip to the London 2012 Olympics representing the USA for the Marathon. In reality there was only a handful of legitimate contenders, some pretenders who thought they could run with the true elites and then fizzled and DNF'd, and the realists who were happy to be a part of history.

On the men's side, the real battle was between the following gazelles:

1. Ryan Hall - Age 29, from California is America's poster boy for the Marathon. He is USA's half marathon (59:43) record holder and unofficial marathon record holder (2:04:58*) - *this was run in the 2011 heavily wind-aided Boston Marathon. Although he has never won a major marathon he is always in the mix and loves to set an early quick pace to make sure people earn their position. In 2011, Hall decided to become self-coached deciding to train VERY differently from the normal elite training mentality. Instead of double/triple days he only runs once per day and takes one day off each week!

2. Meb Kelfezighi - Age 36, Born in Eritrea, emigrated to USA in 1988. USA's most successful current marathoner as he was a silver medalist at the 2004 Olympic Marathon in Athens, Greece as well as the winner of the 2009 NYC Marathon (the first American to win the race in 27 years)! Only 69 days prior to the Olympic trials Meb ran the 2011 NYC marathon in a personal best time of 2:09:13 for 6th place. During that race he had such bad chafing/blisters on his foot that he was unable to run for 3 weeks afterward due to infection!  

3. Dathan Ritzenheim - or RITZ, is a 29 year old phenom from Michigan. Ritz burst on the scene a sensational high school runner winning the cross country national championships in consecutive years as well as running 13:44 for 5k! He was the second US athlete to break 13 minutes in 5k with 12:56 (2:35/km) and was 9th place overall in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Marathon in 2:11:59 with a convenient personal best of 2:10:00!

*Also note: if you Youtube the video “Why do you run?” there is a scene where a cross country guy wins a race and almost dies when he crosses the line…. That’s RITZ!

4. Abdi Abdirahman - or Abdi, age 35 from Somalia. He emigrated to USA during his high school years but oddly enough he didn't start running until Colleg (thus breaking the myth that all Africans are fast because they run to/from school/everywhere as children). Abdi has been to 3 consecutive olympics before this race for the 10,000m and has every intention of being in London.

On the women's front it was only really a 3 horse race from the gun:

1. Shalane Flanagan -  31 years old from Boulder, Colorado. Unquestionably USA's current top female distance runner. She would make the olympics from the 5k to the marathon if she wanted. She holds the current US 10k record with a 30:22 (3:02/km) and a pedestrian 5k time of 14:44 (2:57/km)... oh and in her marathon debut in NYC in 2010 she ran 2:28:40 for 2nd place (the best finish for an US female in 20 years)! She is the class of every US field and she is in a league of her own!

2. Desi Davila - age 29 from San Diego, CA literally came out of nowhere 3 years ago. In fact I remember reading a Running Times mini-biography of her talking about how she could be the next big thing and here I am about to tell you that his 5'3", 98lb woman went from a 2:37 in 2008 to 2:22:38 in 2011 at Boston (*wind-aided)! This girl is an absolute machine and WILL BE the next big thing.

3. Kara Goucher - America's running sweetheart. At age 33 she has quite the running resume. She's been 3rd at the NYC marathon (2008), 3rd at Boston (2009), 3rd place in the 10,000m 2009 World Championships and oh ya... ran a 2:24 marathon 7 months after having a child! Or perhaps you could be impressed by her taking 5 minutes off her half marathon time in 9 weeks (74 mins down to 69 mins). If you were a betting person, you'd want to put a few dollars on Kara to place top 3 in most races!

4. The one... the only... Deena Kastor - You've all probably seen the epic documentary 'Spirit of the Marathon' which cronicles the lead up to the 2008 Chicago Marathon of both professionals, Boston Marathon hopefuls, as well as those who want to test the limits of their bodies at whatever pace they can for 42.2km. In the movie, we all fell in love with the petit lady who not only won that Chicago Marathon but also won the 2004 Olympic Marathon Bronze medal in Athens. Although she is currently 38, after having her first child last March, she still ran 72 mins for a half marathon leading up to these trials. She is the current US half-marathon (1:07:34) and marathon (2:19:36) record holder. No matter what race she is competing, women are always looking over their shoulder for Deena. However, if she doesn't place top 3, it could be her last seriously competitive marathon.

Within a few hours the 26.2 miles was covered and the Olympic Trial record books were re-written. Both the men's and women's records were broken and the quality of the times was never better. In the men's race, as expected Ryan Hall separated the contenders from the pretenders almost immediately ensuring that if someone was going to take his Olympic berth they were going to have run be ready to run a 2:09 marathon. The lead pack of 5 (including the 4 names mentioned above) went through 13.1 mile mark in a blistering time of 63:25 (or 2:06:50 marathon pace)... However, as expected that pace began to slow and the winds began to pick up. When all was said and done it was MEB who pulled off an absolute phenomenal upset for the win just 150m over Ryan Hall in ANOTHER personal best time of 2:09:08... just 69 days after his last marathon PB!

1st - MEB - 2:09:08
2nd - Ryan Hall - 2:09:30
3rd - ABDI - 2:09:47
(4th 7 seconds back.... RITZ - 2:09:55)
*This was the first time more than one runner broke the 2:10 mark in the Olympic Trials!

The women's race went out much more conservative and there weren't any real battles! Things shook down as expected but the times were far faster than anyone had expected. A lead pack consisting of Shalane Flanagan, DESI, and Kara lead the entire way with hopeful Amy Hastings holding for as long as she could. However, Shalane Flanagan was the class of the field and pulled away from the other true contenders with about 2k to go, leading to her smashing the Olympic Trials record by 3 minutes!

1st -Shalane Flanagan - 2:25:38
2nd - DESI - 2:25:55
3rd - Kara Goucher - 2:26:06
(6th - Deena! - 2:30:40... A disappointing result for her in her own mind but hopefully not the end of her career!)

Finally, I’d like to touch on Peter and Kate. Peter recently ran the Chicago Marathon in 2011 and it didn’t turn out quite as well as he hoped. He ran a very impressive 2:49:38 but it was well off of his intended goal. So Houston became a ‘revenge/redemption run’ for him. Not only did he run like a metronome and hold a 5:55/mile pace for 22 miles before slowing only slightly, he took 13 minutes off of his old mark in only 3 months with a time of 2:36:33 (which translates to 5:58/mile or 3:42/km)! Peter was 33rd overall out of ~3800 runners and 14th in his age category. His better half, Kate Bazeley (Vaughan) is Newfoundland & Labrador’s running queen (no longer a princess I guess). She toed the line for the Half Marathon and placed 9th overall for females, 3rd for her age category, and was the 2nd non-professional runner (only 5 seconds back) in a time of 1:18:44 (6:00/mile or 3:43/km)! Congratulations to both of them for being superhuman!

So that's it for this installment. Next time I'll recap the Canadian Marathon Olympic contenders and any other news/names/results of note! Hope you enjoyed it!


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