The Houston Course
To say that I was annoyed or frustrated by this turn of events would be an understatement. But my desire to wring the neck of that giant, rainbow peacock and those of all the suits who pledged allegiance to it with their multi-billion dollar exclusionary TV rights contracts was superseded by my need to find out what was happening in the Trials. Immediately. I flipped open my laptop and turned (virtually) to the one person I knew would have been up hours before me, her twitter feed at the ready: SR. She didn't disappoint. Through SR, I learned quickly what I'd missed: in the men's race, the field had been whittled down to a tight knot of Meb, Ryan Hall, Abdi, and Ritz, at a pace of about 5:00/mile. In the women's race, Flanagan and Desi were ripping into one another in a fight-to-the-finish-duel, with Goucher steps behind and Hastings hanging on in fourth.
In contrast to NBC, Runner's World and Running Times had joined forces and were live-tweeting/commentating on their websites and twitter feeds, so between the three--SR, RW, and RT--I soon had some sense of the action unfolding down in Houston. While the runners raced the last six miles, I made a few tangential observations. First, I understand that Olympics organizers want to design marathon courses with maximum spectatorship in mind--in the case of London this summer, it will be a circuit beginning and finishing on theMall--and that Trials courses inevitably follow suit (e.g. Houston's 2.2 and 8 mile loops this year, the Central Park circuits in 2007). Frankly, I think this sounds like hell to run; anything but a point to point course for 26.2 miles would be psychological torture for me, and even the improvised out and back at Big Sur last year felt strange (and I was only a relay runner!). I may be in the minority on this one, but I think all the Trials runners should be given an extra hour of post-marathon massage just for being forced to race past the same cowbells over and over again.
Pretty soon it starts to sound like a death knell
Second, I love watching and reading about Desi Davila run. Her "breakout" performance at Boston last year; the phenomenal Runner's World profile from a couple of months ago; her quiet tenacity and incredible self-discipline; you name it, I'm a fan. I like Goucher and Flanagan, too (and Radcliffe, and Kastor, and Lewy-Boulet, and a host of other remarkably talented female runners), and I particularly like seeing them all push one another to new running heights. But I have a hunch this might be Desi's year, and Desi's Olympics. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the woman from Chula Vista!
Third, Hastings' Cinderalla story is a headliner in and of itself--as SR tweeted, "omg hastings!". Kudos to an extremely talented runner for making her first Olympic team (and perhaps, if either Goucher or Flanagan heads instead to the track, her first Olympic marathon?)!
Meb, in Central Park, two miles from winning the 2009 NYC Marathon
Plenty of other blogs and articles have detailed the finish and results of both races better than I would, so I'll just summarize. Meb won--at 36, the oldest man to win the U.S. Trials--and I'm thrilled for him. One of my favorite marathon memories remains watching him race through the 24th mile of the 2009 NYC marathon in Central Park, on his way to victory, the first American man to do so in over thirty years, and while sporting a USA singlet to boot. Meb's story really is that of the American Dream, from Eritrea to San Diego to the Olympic medal stand in Athens. His humility and genuine respect for his fellow competitors make him a man to root for under any circumstances.
Shalane also won (and while running her second marathon ever), with Desi hot on her heels and Goucher (sixteen months after giving birth) only twenty-eight seconds behind. All three women broke 2:30, making the Trials the fastest day in the history of American women's running. It's incredibly exciting, and they all deserve a whole-hearted congratulations.
If only I could have watched it.
On the day they made history:
Desiree Davila, Shalane Flanagan, and Kara Goucher