In February, I had the opportunity to toe the line with over 500 of the nation’s best female marathon runners in the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta, Georgia hosted by the Atlanta Track Club. To qualify for the Olympic Trials, you had to run a marathon (26.2 miles) in under 2 hours and 45 minutes during the qualifying window. I achieved my qualifier by winning the Novo Nordisk NJ Marathon in April of 2019 with a time of 2:42:17. This was a historic Trials race as more women than ever had met the qualifying time. It was an honor to compete with so many talented and accomplished women. I am happy to share with you my experience!
Thursday, February 27th
The week leading up to the Trials was a busy week for me clinically. I had two days in the operating room and had scheduled morning patients in our Manhattan office prior to my Thursday afternoon flight to Atlanta out of Newark. I realized I might have been a little ambitious with my scheduling, but found out on the way to the airport that our flight was delayed 2 hours due to windy conditions in Atlanta (an omen for the weekend). This delay put our arrival into Atlanta around 7:30 pm and our arrival to the Omni Hotel, where all of the athletes were provided rooms around 8:30 pm. Getting into the hotel so late made for a hectic evening, as there were a lot of USATF requirements for each athlete that had to be completed before the race Saturday afternoon.
After checking in and receiving my participating athlete badge, which was needed to freely travel throughout the hotel, I made my way over to the rumored Nike Alphafly shoe room. The rumor turned out to be true and Nike provided free Alphafly shoes, the shoe Eliud Kipchoge ran sub 2 hours for the marathon in, to all athletes racing in the Trials. Next I had to pick up my uniform provided by Tracksmith Running as a participant in their OTQ program. After a quick dinner, my husband and I found ourselves at Walmart at 10 pm trying to find 6 disposable water bottles to use at the personal fluid stations. These entailed six stations at different mile markers on the course where each athlete could have personal water bottles filled with their preferred fluids. I chose to make a diluted mixture of water and Skratch Labs sport hydration mix to provide some electrolyte replacement during the race.
Friday February 28th
My hectic evening carried over to the morning as I was assigned to the 8 am time slot for the remaining prerace requirements. I first dropped off all of my water bottles with gels attached to my assigned table. I then had to have my warm ups, uniforms, and shoes checked by an official. They actually checked the stack height (sole thickness) and carbon fiber plate of the shoes with laser technology, which was pretty cool. Athletes are no longer allowed to compete in shoes with a stack height of over 40mm, more than one carbon fiber plate, or prototype shoes that are not commercially available to the public, so they have made the requirements much more strict with the new shoe technologies available.
After completing all these tasks, I was then allowed to pick up my bib (202 – my qualifying time ranking), which was a relief and made everything very real. The remainder of the day I tried to make as normal as possible. I did a three mile pre-race run and strides with some other qualifiers from Philly and NYC. I wore the new Alphaflys to try them out and decided that that’s what I would go with for race day. This is normally a bad idea to try something as important as a shoe new on race day, but I had previously raced in similar Nike shoes and these propelled Kipchoge to sub two hours, so seemed worth the risk.
Atlanta Track Club provided meals, medical care, and massage to all of the athletes in the hotel. Getting to be amongst all of the other athletes including former Olympians definitely made the experience very special. I even rode the elevator a few times with the eventual women’s winner, Aliphine Tuliamuk from HOKA Naz Elite, as we shared the same floor. I had a bunch of family and friends come to Atlanta for the race, so I joined them for a pre-race pasta dinner. The remainder of the evening was spent reviewing the course again to try to mentally prepare myself for the hilly course—almost 1,400 feet elevation gain—and trying to relax as much as possible.
Saturday, February 29th
Race Day was finally here! Race morning is generally filled with as much routine as possible. I first usually check the final weather forecast. Today was going to be sunny, high 40s and strong winds. While high 40s is a great temperature for a marathon the winds were definitely going to play a factor. With the race not starting until 12:20 pm, this made appropriately prerace fueling a little more challenging. I got up early enough that I could eat two small meals (coffee, banana, Clif bar, half a sandwich, and Ucan starch drink). I spent a lot of the morning responding to the many people who reached out to wish me luck, which was great to have so much support. I headed over to the athlete pre-race tent around 11 am and shuffled a one mile jog warm up.
The men started first and the women were about 15 minutes after. By the time the gun went off, I was not nervous – just excited to race. With so many women having qualified, the start actually ended up being a little dangerous. There were too many people for the amount of space in the first half mile or so which led to falls and a slow start pace as there was no where to move. The race opened up a bit more by the first fluid station at mile three. At this point I just tried to find a pack to run with and not worry about split times on my watch given the undulating hills on the course. The race was three loops—two x eight mile loops and one x 10.2 mile loop. By the end of the first loop I found myself in a pack with a few other runners I knew from NYC, so I decided to settle in with the goal of hanging back to protect myself from the wind and to think as little as possible for at least the first half of the race.
The crowd support on the course was amazing with an estimated 200,000 people lining the course. This definitely made the experience incredibly memorable. Around 16 miles, we approached one of the bigger hills for the second time. This is where things started to get interesting. Packs started to break up and I found myself moving up and doing mostly solo running from 18 miles to the finish line. The combination of the wind and the hills made the last 10k—which was the hilliest part of the race—hard for everyone. All the Central Park hill training I did came in handy, but the last few miles my legs were running out of gas. I don’t think I was ever so relieved to reach the finish line. I was able to record a new personal best time of 2:40:43 and finish 50th in the nation. This was an experience that exceeded my expectations and made all of the hard work and sacrifice that went into preparation worth it.
After the race, I met up with my family, friends, and a few of the other athletes who competed for some celebratory food and drinks at a local brewery. My husband and I were fortunate to be able to head out the next day for a quick beach getaway that did not include any exercise except walking to and from the beach.
Upon return home, life changed pretty drastically. COVID-19 soon began to spread throughout the country and the world. New York City where I live and practice became the world epicenter of the virus. I am grateful that I was able to complete my goal race, though in the grand scheme of things, there are much more important things to be grateful for during these times. The future seems uncertain in many ways right now, but I’ve found that looking forward and continuing to put one front in front of the other will continue to propel us in the right direction as it has over the many miles run in the past.
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