The 2008 Men’s Olympic Trials Marathon showed what many were thinking-that the American male marathoner is back. 134 marathoners lined up, and 104 finished the five loop, criterium style course in Central Park. The 20,000 fans who lined the course and,
in many cases, ran across the park to see the racers, were treated to a great race, and a superb team, here is the story of the race….
Micheal Wardian took a quick lead, and kept that lead through seven miles. At that time,
a lead pack of Ryan Hall, Abdi Abdirahman, Meb Keflizighi, Dan Browne, Dathan Ritzenhein went by Wardian, and the race was on. The lead pack clicked off miles of 4;56, 4;54 and 4:45, hitting ten miles in 51:04.
I was just past ten miles, and watched as the lead pack came by, with Ryan on the outside and Dathan, Dan, Abdi, Meb and Ryan all moving by like one big life force, feeting hitting the group very precisely, arms in unision. It was like they had formed this group to save as much energy as possible, as they took the course on, one hill after another.
Nearly a minute went by when Brian Sell, caught in the second group, behind Alan Culpepper, went by, and while Sell’s fans were all over the course, their man looked to be out of the picture-except for those who really knew his style and his modus operandi. I noted four young men, bare chested, who had SELL painted on their check, running around the course. Running has come to this, bare-chested running stalkers!
The pack continued to go by, for what seemed to be a minute, before one got a complete grasp of the race. Here was 134 of the best runners in America, trying to make the U.S. Olympic team. In my mind, the guys making the Olympic team were in either group one or group two, but no further back. I had seen Gilmore, Culpepper and Sell, they were in group two and far enough back to note their presense but also the chance they had of making the team. Khalid Khannouchi started to move on his own, after mile eleven, to go after the lead pack.
The miles 11 and 12 were run at 4:55 pace up front, and then at 20 kilometers, hit in 1:03:22, Ryan Hall dropped his hat and began to race. Hall’s next mile was 4:52, hitting the half way point in 1:06:17. Hall ran 4:44, 4:53 and 4:53, with Dathan Ritzenhein, Dan Browne, Abdi Abirahman all there, but straining. I saw the pack at 25 kilometers, just under 1:17, and Browne had moved into the lead, but only for an instant.
Ryan Hall took the race over, running 4:59, 4:56, then 4:32 for the 18th mile, the fastest EVER recorded in the park! Dathan had gone with him, and while he had fallen back from Hall, Ritzenhein looked good at 18.
Then, it got ugly. Ryan Hall let it all hang out, as he blased 4:41 for mile 19, 4:34 for mile 20, and 4:40 for mile 21! If anyone was going to get him, that 13;35 three mile just put them on notice. I was in a spot to watch Ryan flying along the downhills and on the large screen, he looked invincible with one lap to go.
Dathan Ritzenhein looked strong and was gutting it out at 21.5 miles when I saw him and then came Brian Sell, who had come back from eighth place, and caught Abdi, who dropped out at 30k, Meb Kelfizihgi, Khalid Khannouchi, and then, Dan Browne, to get into third place, the last coveted spot.
Brian Sell went by Dan Browne just after 1:42:05, when Browne had to stop for a leg cramp. Cramps slowed down Meb Keflizighi, who fought brilliantly throughout the race, doing all he could do, but a heart that wants to run faster, is sometimes slowed by the cramped leg muscles of a reality too real for the moment. Meb challenged himself to make the finish line.
Ryan Hall must have known he had it won, but he did not let up-miles of 4:51, 4:42, 4;52, 4:47 and then a arm pumping, arm waving 4:49 last mile as he crossed the finish line in 2:09:02, an amazing time for the course!
Hall’s rise from a 4:02 prep mile to a 13:16 5k runner, to an American record 59:43 has taken six whole years! Hall’s 2:08:24 at Flora London showed his talent and his win here cemented Ryan Hall as the next great American marathoner.
Dathan Ritzenhein held on for a personal best of 2:11:06 to take second. The young man who I first met winning the Midwestern FootLocker Regional at UW Parkside, has moved to the marathon and done it well.
Brian Sell, the hardest working man in the marathon, bid his time and took third in 2:11.40. His training teammates and community in two, Brian ran a strong race and made the Olympic team.
In fourth place, Khalid Khannouchi, after running a 1:05 half marathon last month at San Jose RNR, took fourth here in 2:12:33. Jason Lemkuhle ran a personal best of 2:12;54 for fifth, a big surprise and improvement! In sixth place, gutty Dan Browne held on for 2:13:23, while Nathanial Jenkins ran 2:14:56 for a personal best in seventh! In eighth, Meb Keflizighi showed what he was made of, and ran a tough 2:15:09 on cramped legs, with Josh Rohatinsky, in his debut, running 2:15:22 and Jason Hartman, Dathan’s high school classmate, in tenth, in his personal best of 2:15;27.
How deep was this race? This surpassed the top ten in th 1980 Olympic Trials and 39 men were under 2:20 on this truly difficult course.
Here is what Ryan, Dathan and Brian had to say after the race:
Ryan Hall (1st, 2:09:02, Olympic Trials record): Today was a dream come true for me. I’ve been dreaming about this moment for 10 years. But as great as the moment is, my heart and my thoughts are with Ryan Shay and his family. I’m just thrilled with the day the Lord gave me and thrilled to be part of this Olympic team. I was thinking about the Olympics when I was out there on that last lap and the fitness it will take. I thank all of you for celebrating this with us. I thought the weather was really good. I didn’t feel the wind too much out there, especially in the Park. It was much cooler than my experience at London. I thought it was a great day to run. Hopefully Dathan and I moving up to the marathon at an earlier age will encourage other people to move up. You respond better to nagging injuries and don’t get banged up as much. When you start out at 5:3 pace and then you get into the 4:30s, it’s harder than starting at that pace and holding. I was surprised at how easy some of those splits felt. It was kind of like Houston [USA Half-Marathon Championships, where he set the American record.] I was feeling really good, really fresh. Coach gave me phenomenal workouts to do. I was very well prepared out there. I didn’t expect to run this fast on this course, especially after previewing it. I didn’t care how fast we ran the first half, I wanted to close fast. It was a good run for me. I was trying not to get too excited too early, but I saw myself achieving my goal in the last lap. The last mile, I knew I was going to be OK. I know I can run considerably faster. There’s definitely more gears in there. I’ll get to test those in Beijing.
Dathan Ritzenhein (2nd, 2:11:06PR): What an amazing event today. It was incredible out there. I’ve never seen a crowd like that other than running the [ING New York City] marathon last year. It kept building and building every time we came around. Every lap, it just got crazy. I couldn’t even hear myself think at points. I’m just excited and happy. This was a training session full of obstacles. It was a lot harder than my training last time. I had a lot of interruptions. I’m just so happy how things came out. We have an amazing team. My hat’s off to Ryan. That time is amazing on that course. It’s a very emotional experience for me. I had a very difficult time at the Olympics [in Athens, when he dropped out of the 10,000m]. This is incredible for me. It was an emotional release, more than anything. We put in so much effort to this that it’s difficult to express how it feels after two hours-plus of that effort and seeing the fruits of that labor. It’s the first time my daughter has got to see me race, and it was an amazing experience for me.
Brian Sell (3rd, 2:11:40): It’s been 13 years in the making for me, so this is one of the greatest days of my life aside of the birth of my daughter. The future of distance running looks great with these guys. They’re tough in the marathon, and they’re young. The future looks bright. The original plan was to let the field determine the pace for the first couple of miles. When we were out in 11 flat for two miles, I knew I Had to keep it honest to have a chance at all. Honestly, I was trying to run around 5 flat [per mile]. I didn’t have too many miles above 5 flat. That tells you how fast these guys were up front. I was just fortunate to pick up the carnage from these two. I was just trying to keep relaxed until the last lap, then attack. When I saw them with a lap to go, I just didn’t want to go too hard. I’m just happy I timed it right.
In the end, 134 men started, 104 finished, and three made the team. There were two hours, and forty plus minutes of marathoning on this very special day.
And on this very special day, the running community, sad to say, lost one of their brightest, Ryan Shay, who collapsed on the course, just past 5.5 miles, was pronounced dead at 8:46 am that morning. The leaders had no idea about Ryan until about twenty minutes after the race.
Many times after the race, it was said, life is fragile. How true.
Men’s Trials, official results: http://www.usatf.org/events/2008/OlympicTrials-Marathon-Men/