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The time has come. On February 29th, 771 of the top runners in the United States will line up for what promises to be one of the deepest and fastest fields in US Olympic Marathon Trials history. To toe the line is no small feat. To gain entry, men had to run a 2:19 marathon or faster or a half marathon in 1:04 or faster. Women had to cover the marathon distance in 2:45 or the half in 1:13.
This race will decide who goes on to Tokyo later this year to represent the USA. The top three from each race will run in the Olympics, with the fourth place finisher named an alternate if another runner has to withdraw due to injury. While the front of the race will be fighting for top three, many runners are running to achieve a lifelong goal, to prove they belong with the elite, or using this as a barometer and stepping stone for the future.
Who’s representing Utah?
Since The Hive Sports is a blog based on Utah sports, we wanted to first highlight a few local athletes. With nine women and eight men qualifying while residing in the Beehive State, the area is well represented. While there are other athletes who ran in high school or college in the area, we’re focusing on the athletes who qualified for the trials while living and training in Utah. So, who are they?
We decided to talk to a few of these runners about their experience training for the trials, what they hope to accomplish, and their background in running.
Savannah is a Bakersfield, California native who has been running since the fourth grade. She found her way to Utah to attend college and run for Utah Valley University (UVU). While in college she focused on the 5k and 10k.
Post college she continued to train and run, eventually meeting her coach, John Starrett, and setting her sights on an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying time. In only her second marathon, and her first competitive marathon, she was able to qualify for the trials at the California International Marathon with a time of 2:44:13.
While proving a natural in the marathon, she’s nowhere near satisfied. Her buildup to both the CIM and the trials has come with injury setbacks, and she’s looking forward to finishing her next marathon training block healthy and with more experience to continue to lower her personal record (PR).
As far as her goals for the trials, she’s looking to first have fun and enjoy the opportunity to finish a race among such elite company. She’d like to get experience for the future and is shooting for a finish in the top half of the race.
Savannah is a talented young runner who is just getting started with marathons, and looks forward to many more half and full marathons. Her plans for the rest of the year include getting healthy and tentatively planning on running the St. George marathon in October. She’s looking to fill out her racing schedule after she gets past the trials. Follow her on Instagram.
After a very successful career at UVU, Jason has thrived in his short time as a professional runner. He has a great agent, Roger Twigg, whom he has worked with since graduating in 2017. After running a 1:04:38 half marathon in the Hobbler Half, Jason knew he wanted to find a race to qualify for the Olympic Trials. While working with his agent, Jason picked two races: the 2019 Sprouts Mesa Marathon and the 2019 Grandma’s Marathon.
Jason had never run a marathon before, so he wanted to use the Mesa Marathon as a test and tuneup to learn about the distance and be ready to qualify later in the year. He ran an excellent 2:19:02 and learned more about hydration and what it takes to get a trials qualifying time on a certified course.
Later that year, Jason ran the Grandma’s Marathon. He found a great pack to run with and was cruising on pace for a 2:16. As he reached for his bottle at the aid station he stumbled and fell, leaving a nasty road rash across his legs. However Jason wasn’t about to give up. He pushed through the pain, got back on pace, and finished strong in 2:17:31, nearly 90 seconds below the qualifying time.
After accomplishing his goal in such a short time, he has continued to train hard. He knows he is a relative novice in the marathon but is using the trials to both prove himself as an elite runner and as a springboard for the rest of the year. His goal is to finish above his ranking, at least a top 100 finish out of over 250 elite runners.
Jason is looking forward to a full year of racing. His spring and early summer will consist of some track races while looking to set some new PRs in shorter distances. He has some road 10ks on the schedule and is looking at some fall half and full marathons. Follow him on Instagram.
Merrilee grew up in Centerville, Utah, and has been running since she was 12 years old. After running in college at Southern Utah University, she took several years off competitive running while she raised three children. Several years ago she got the competitive itch and started training with Paul Pilkington, the current coach at Weber State University.
This isn’t Merrilee’s first time at the Olympic Trials. She qualified for the 2016 trials as well, with the Chicago Marathon being her qualifying race both times. This year she qualified with a 2:44:38, and her marathon PR is a 2:41:59. She is currently running professionally for Brooks and Utah running.
Though a lot of focus is on the top contenders at the trials, Merrilee is happy and honored to be among the elite.
There is a lot of excitement about the selection of the Olympic team which will certainly be a highlight of the weekend. But this race also represents the culmination of a lifetime of work and dreams that hundreds of athletes have put in just to be in this race. I ran at the 2016 trials in LA. I was in the best shape of my life and struggled in the extreme heat. It was disappointing and I’m anxious for a chance to try again.
Training in Utah during the winter has left Merrilee confident and ready for hilly Atlanta. She knows that PRs are harder to come by at the age of 42, but she is hoping to run a little faster and hit 2:40. Follow her on Instagram.
Who are the contenders?
With the media and TV attention likely to be on the front of the pack, it’s important to know who’s who among the top runners in the race. Utahn Jared Ward was third in the last trials and sixth in the Olympics in 2016. He knows that just because he qualified last time doesn’t mean anything is guaranteed. Jared told us what his mindset is.
Training has gone really well, and I’m excited to race for another Olympic team. Nothing’s guaranteed at the trials, but I really have embraced being excited to have the opportunity to race. I’m healthy and fit and couldn’t ask for a better opportunity.
Top 3 at the 2016 Marathon Trials
- Galen Rupp, 2:11:12
- Struggled with injuries over the past 1.5 years, but ran a 61:18 half on Feb. 8th and looks like the favorite again.
- Meb Keflezighi, 2:12:20
- Retired after a spectacular career.
- Jared Ward, 2:13:00
- Utah native and returning qualifier from 2016. Strong favorite for a top five finish finish.
Top Five Qualifying Times
- Galen Rupp, 2:06:07
- Leonard Korir, 2:07:56
- Scott Fauble, 2:09:09
- Jared Ward, 2:09:25
- Jacob Riley, 2:10:36
Top 3 at the 2016 Marathon Trials
- Amy Cragg, 2:28:20.
- Withdrew this year due to injury.
- Desiree Linden, 2:28:54
- Second in the last two trials and seventh in the 2016 Olympics.
- Shalane Flanagan, 2:29:19
Top Five Qualifying Times
- Jordan Hasay, 2:20:57
- Amy Cragg, 2:21:42
- Sara Hall, 2:22:16
- Emily Sisson, 2:23:08
- Kellyn Taylor, 2:24:28
This will be a very exciting race you won’t want to miss. The race will be broadcast live on NBC and the NBC app on February 29th starting at 12PM EST.
About The Author: Thatcher Olson is a former collegiate runner and current recreational runner who enjoys writing, traveling, and is a big Jazz fan. He recently started the Omada Running Club, a place for runners to inspire and motivate each other. Feel free to join the club here.