In the second of two Olympic Trials contested today, the women’s race had the most drama. 2012 Fourth placer, Amy Cragg not only made the team, but moved up to the win. ” I had spent four years training to improve one place,” noted Amy after her hard won victory. She improved three places!
Defending champion Shalane Flanagan, who was about four weeks short on her training, had to battle not only the field, but heat issues, and went from looking like the unbeatable winner, to holding on for third and requireing an IV, her first after a marathon, to recover. “That was the hardest marathon that I have run over the last six miles.” noted Shalane.
And Desi Linden, who, like Amy Cragg, spent four years build to this day, took second, in a race that had her as much as a minute plus down at just past halfway. Desi noted that the race was “grueling”.
The field of 198 women started the race, and 139 finished.
Here is how I saw the race…
Training partners have a relationship that is hard to explain.
This past December, I was at the RNR San Antonio, watching the Half Marathon for women. Kara Gouche won the race, with Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg taking third and fourth. After the half marathon, Shalane and Amy ran eight more miles with coach Jerry Schumacher, making it a nice long day.
What I did not know at that time was that Shalane was only in her second week of training after an end of season, beginning of season injury.
This would play a major role in the Olympic Trials race.
The day, February 13, 2016, was a good day for sports viewing, but a hard day for racing marathons. The overwhelming comments from our team on the course was how hot it was, how there was no shade, how classy Amy Cragg was in caring for her ailing team mate, and then, with the finish nearly in site, kicking to the finish.
There were 198 women who actually started the race today, and 139 finished.
The pace, quite conservative for the conditions, started out, through ten miles in 2:33 pace. But, even with that, the contenders and pretenders were seperated pretty fast.
Kellyn Taylor, who had debuted over the marathon in Houston in 2:28:20 in 2015, was up near the front in the early miles, and it was Kellyn who broke open the race, just after seven miles. Taylor broke open the race, with Sara Hall, Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan in tow, at nine miles, then, Amy and Shalane took over, building up ten seconds by twelve miles and the race was on.
From mile 12 to mile 21, Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan lead, and the race looked in the bag.
What was quite strange was the distance (just over a minute) that Desi Linden had allowed to grow between the lead pack and her. Kara Goucher seemed to be struggling a bit.
But, Desi started to move, with Kara Goucher in tow and Desi, then, Kara went by Kellyn Taylor, whose early miles and nervous breaking up of the field cost her dearly.
As Desi and Kara battled for third, Shalane Flanagan was having some trouble with the heat. Amy Cragg, who had been training with Shalane for the past four months, did not want to leave her training partner.
As the lead dropped from over a minute, to just over thirty-two seconds at mile 24, Amy Cragg took over, rather reluctantly.
“I knew Shalane was having trouble. At mile 24 water stop, I had Shalane drop a whole bottle of water over her head.”
And then, Amy Cragg took off.
Amy Cragg took off at the perfect time to take the win. Cragg used that top end 10,000 meter speed to cement the win in 2:28:20. Three positions up from her fourth place in 2012.
Amy then waited for Desi Linden, who passed Shalane Flanagan just before 25 miles and went on to take second in 2:28:54.
And in third, Shalane Flanagan, who just barely held on, and did so with pure guts, ran 2:29.19.
In fourth, just over a minute behind, Kara Goucher, who had run herself into contention once again, ran 2:30:24 in these hot and humid conditions. Kara Goucher gave it all she had, and that is the most honorable result and athlete can have.
Janet Bawcom took fifth in 2:31:14, with Kellyn Taylor in sixth in 2:32:50.
In the top five, remarkably, the only thing that changed since 2012 was the positions. Amy Cragg was most improved.
When I asked Amy afterwards how she was feeling, there was much emotion. Her level of fitness is much higher than any time before, but most importantly, her level of confidence has increased ten fold. From mile 21 on, Amy Cragg could have won the race and run away by herself, winning two minutes faster.
She did not. Instead, she showed concern for her training partner, reluctantly leaving her with less than two miles to go!
Her finish was strong, and her victory was exciting. The team of Amy Cragg, Desi Linden and Shalane Flanagan is strong for us. Each marathoner in the three have strengths and the ability to battle into top ten positions in Rio.
And miles to go over the next twenty-five weeks.