Friday, December 16, 2011


As of tomorrow, the Olympic Trials Marathon will only be 4 weeks away. Yesterday Flotrack posted an article with quotes from the 2 favorites, Ryan Hall and Desiree Davila. Both runners think the races will be fast. Hall predicts the top-3 will have to run sub-2:10, while Davila thinks 2:24 will win it, with 2:28 getting you on the team. Given that the trials records are 2:09:02 (Hall in 2007) and 2:28:25 (Colleen De Reuck in 2004), I’m not sure I agree with those predictions. If I had to pick, I’d say the women are more likely to run those kinds of times.

Below is a preview I wrote for MDRA. If you’d rather read it online – with photos – you can check it out HERE. If you’re an MDRA member, this issue will be in the mail on Monday.

2012 Marathon Trials Preview
By: Chad Austin

With apologizes to The Clash, “London’s Calling,” as in the 2012 Olympic Games. But first, athletes must qualify. For the top marathoners in the U.S., this means finishing in the top three at the marathon trials in Houston, Texas, on January 14, 2012. For the first time ever, the men and women will run their trials in the same city on the same day.

Below is a break down the top runners, the favorites, the contender, the dark horses and the locals. Speaking of local runners, Minnesota will be very well represented in Houston, as we have 15 qualifiers for each of the races. That’s nearly 10 percent of the entire field.

Four years ago, I wrote that the women’s field was wide open, mainly due to the fact that two of the top five qualifiers chose to focus on the track instead. Not only is that not the case this time around, but many of the top track athletes, namely Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan, and Katie McGregor, have moved up to the marathon since the last trials and they all have top 10 qualifying times. They’ll have to contend with the “old guard”, which includes Olympians, Magdalena Lewy Boulet, Deena Kastor, Blake Russell and even 47-year-old Colleen De Reuck.

The favorites

Desiree Davila. Age: 28, PR: 2:22:38, Qualifier: 2:22:38, Boston (’11)

Davila’s marathon progression looks like this: 2:44, 2:37, 2:31, 2:26, 2:22. Like Ryan Hall on the men’s side, her leading qualifying time was run at this year’s Boston Marathon, with a 20 m.p.h. tailwind, as was Kara Goucher’s second leading time. Throw those times out and Davila’s 2:26:20 at the 2010 Chicago Marathon is the top seeded time. Plus, this year, she PR’d at the 5,000 meters (15:08), 10,000 meters (31:37) and half marathon (1:10:34).

Kara Goucher. Age: 33, PR: 2:24:52, Qualifier: 2:24:52, Boston (’11)

Primarily a track runner throughout her career, Goucher made the jump to the marathon in New York City in 2008. She ended up placing third in 2:25:53, becoming the first American on the podium in 14 years. Since then she’s had two top five finishes at Boston, as well as a tenth place showing at the 2009 World Championships. Recently, she lit up the running messages boards when she split with her longtime coach, Alberto Salazar, only 14 weeks before the marathon trials.

Shalane Flanagan. Age: 30, PR: 2:28:40, Qualifier: 2:28:40, New York City (’10)

Flanagan is no stranger to the world stage. At the 2008 Olympics, she won the bronze medal in the 10,000 meters when she ran an American record of 30:22.22. Then, earlier this year, she placed third in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. She moved up to the marathon in 2010 and finished second at New York City in 2:28:40.

Katie McGregor. Age: 34, PR: 2:31:01, Qualifier: 2:31:01, New York City (’10)

Team USA Minnesota’s Katie McGregor has had an outstanding career, including titles at the State, NCAA and National level. About the only thing missing is the title “Olympian,” which she barely missed out on when she finished fourth in the 10,000 meters at the last two trials. McGregor made her marathon debut in 2006 when she placed ninth in the New York City Marathon in 2:32:36. She returned to New York in 2008 and lowered her PR to 2:31:01. The flatter course in Houston may suit her track background.

The contenders

Magdalena Lewy Boulet. Age: 38, PR: 2:26:22, Qualifier: 2:26:22, Rotterdam (’10)

In 2004, Lewy Boulet placed fifth at the Olympic Trials. Four years later, she did everything in her power to make the Olympic Team, including taking the lead early and running her own race. Although Deena Kastor eventually caught her, Lewy Boulet was rewarded with a 2:30:19 PR and, more importantly, a second place finish. She could easily still be considered a favorite, however, at 38, age is not on her side.

Tera Moody. Age: 31, PR: 2:30:53, Qualifier: 2:30:53, Chicago (’10)

Four years ago, Moody’s qualifying time of 2:46:40 seeded her 152 out of 160 runners. At the trials, she proceeded to place fifth in 2:33:54. She’s proved that performance wasn’t a fluke by running three more sub 2:33 marathons since then. It’ll be interesting to see how she responds to being one of the top 10 seeds this time around.

Blake Russell. Age: 36, PR: 2:29:10, Qualifier: 1:11:55 (half marathon)

Eight years ago, Russell finished a disappointing fourth at the trials when she was passed in the final 400 meters. She redeemed herself in 2008 by placing third at the trials before going on to finish twenty-seventh in Beijing. Heading into the 2008 trials, she hadn’t run a marathon in over three years. She’ll have to rely on that experience again, because she dropped out of this year’s Boston Marathon and had to rely on her half marathon time for a qualifier.

Amy Hastings. Age: 25, PR: 2:27:03, Qualifier: 2:27:03, Los Angeles (’11)

In her marathon debut at this year’s Los Angeles Marathon, Hastings ran 2:27:03, the third fastest debut by an American ever. This makes the 10 time All-American at Arizona State University the fourth fastest qualifier and an immediate contender.

The dark horses

Denna Kastor. Age: 38, PR: 2:19:36, Qualifier: 2:36:20, London (’10)

Honestly, I have no idea where to place Kastor. On one hand, she’s the 2004 bronze medalist and the reigning American record holder at this distance. On the other hand, she’s nearly 39 years old and her 2:36 qualifier barely puts her in the top 25. With all that said, I think Kastor will be a factor in Houston.

Dot McMahan. Age: 35, PR: 2:31:48, Qualifier: 2:31:48, Grandma’s (’11)

Perhaps no one was more excited about their performance at this year’s Grandma’s Marathon than McMahan. The former 800 meter and mile specialist from Wisconsin ran 2:31:48 to PR by more than three minutes. In Houston, she’ll need to improve upon her eighth place finish in 2008.

Ilsa Paulson. Age: 23, PR: 2:31:49, Qualifier: 2:31:49, Twin Cities (’09)

You may remember Paulson from when she won the 2009 Twin Cities Marathon at the ripe old age of 20. She also won the Country Music Marathon six months later in 2:33:41. However, since then, things have been pretty quiet from her.

Colleen De Reuck. Age: 47, PR: 2:26:35, Qualifier: 2:30:51, Copenhagen (’10)

Four years ago, even at age 43, I had De Reuck as a contender, because she was the defending trials champion and a four time Olympian (three times for South Africa). Despite the fact that she did not finish in 2008, and she’s four years older, I’m still picking her as a dark horse, mainly because she’s proved she can still run in the low 2:30s. Plus, it’d make for a very interesting story.

Jen Houck. Age: 27, PR: 2:33:00, Qualifier: 2:33:00, Grandma’s (’11)

When Houck toes the line for a marathon, all she does is PR. In 2010, she ran Boston in 2:39:02 and Chicago in 2:37:16. This year, she returned to Boston with a 2:34:28 and then two months later ran 2:33:00 at Grandma’s. If she continues this trend, the former College of St. Scholastica star could turn some heads.

Janet Cherobon-Bowcom. Age: 33, PR: 2:37:27, Qualifier: 1:11:21 (half marathon)

Although she’s only run 2:37, I’m including the Kenyan born Cherobon-Bowcom as a dark horse because she’s consistently run sub 1:12s for the half marathon. Plus, she’s running well, having recently won the U.S. 20K and 10M champions in 1:08:31 and 54:15, respectively.

The locals

Meghan (Armstrong) Peyton. Age: 26, PR: N/A, Qualifier: 1:13:56 (half marathon)

Team USA Minnesota’s Peyton has had a solid year finishing in the top seven at four different U.S. championships ranging from 5K to 20K. Most recently, she placed sixth at the TC 10 Mile in 55:09. She’s using her half marathon time for a qualifier, so Houston will be her marathon debut.

Kristen Nicolini. Age: 34, PR: 2:35:06, Qualifier: 2:35:06, Twin Cities (’09)

Nicolini made her marathon debut at the 2009 Twin Cities Marathon. There she placed third in the U.S. Championships in 2:35:06. The trials will be this former Team USA Minnesota runner’s second marathon.

Leah Thorvilson. Age: 33, PR: 2:37:54, Qualifier: 2:39:43, Grandma’s (’11)

Thorvilson was a sprinter, hurdler and triple jumper at Armstrong High School before becoming a distance runner at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock. She’s a three time winner of the Little Rock Marathon and at this year’s Grandma’s Marathon she placed seventeenth in 2:39:43.

Jenna Boren. Age: 33, PR: 2:40:45, Qualifier: 2:40:45, Grandma’s (’11)

Boren is a three time Minnesota Runner of the Year. The St. Olaf College graduate will be making her second trials appearance, having finished ninety-fourth in 2008. She’s had great success at Grandma’s Marathon over the years, including a 2:40:45 PR this year.

Michelle (Lilienthal) Frey. Age: 29, PR: 2:35:51, Qualifier: 2:42:31, Grand Int’l (’10)

Leading up to the 2008 trials, Frey dropped her times from 2:49 to 2:40 to 2:35. The latter time gave her the eighth fastest qualifying time. However, injuries slowed her down and she finished a disappointing eighty-fifth at the trials. The former Team USA Minnesota runner will look to rebound from that performance.

Katie Koski. Age: 38, PR: 2:42:33, Qualifier: 2:42:53, Twin Cities (’11)

This will be Koski’s third Olympic Trials marathon. What makes that even more impressive is that she failed to qualify for the 2008 trials. In her two previous appearances, the Duluth resident placed sixty-fifth (2000) and fifty-fourth (2004).

Nichole Porath. Age: 28, PR: 2:44:46, Qualifier: 2:44:46, Grandma’s (’11)

Porath’s improvement may be the most remarkable of anyone in the field. Three years ago, she sported a 3:03 PR. This quickly dropped like a rock to 2:58, 2:55 and 2:51 before running her 2:44:46 qualifier at Grandma’s this year.

Megan Grindall. Age: 30, PR: 2:45:16, Qualifier: 2:45:16, Boston (’11)

Grindall is originally from Minot, North Dakota, and she now lives in Moorehead. I’ll admit that she officially has me stumped. Between 2006 and 2009, she ran anywhere from 3:04 to 3:49, including a win at the 2006 Fargo Marathon. Those are not your typical times for Olympic Trials qualifiers. This year she went to Boston and ran 2:45:16, and she followed that up at TCM with a 2:52:58.

Nichole Cueno. Age: 32, PR: 2:42:03, Qualifier: 2:45:31, Chicago (’11)

Cueno made great strides leading up to the 2004 trials when she dropped her PR from 2:52 to 2:42. She ended up finishing fifty-fifth at the trials in 2:44:54. The former standout at Grinnell College won the 2009 Fargo Marathon in 2:53:15. She earned her qualifier at this year’s Chicago Marathon.

Stephanie Herbst-Lucke. Age: 46, PR: 2:42, Qualifier: 1:12:16 (half marathon)

Although she now lives in Atlanta, Herbst Lucke grew up in Chaska, Minnesota. She first qualified for the Olympic Track and Field Trials in 1988. She then proceeded to take a 20 year break from competition before returning as a Masters runner. In 2008, she placed fifty-ninth at the trials in 2:45:14.

It should be noted that former and current Team USA Minnesotans, Anne Bersagel and Meg Hogan have qualified for the marathon trials by way of their 10,000 meter times. However, I don’t believe they will be running in Houston.

Four years ago the trials field was considered to be the deepest since 1984. It featured former a world record holder, the reigning silver medalist and multiple Olympians at 10,000 meters. While the 2012 trials may not be as deep, it’s certainly close.

After placing first and second in 2008, Ryan Hall and Dathan Ritzenhein are back, and at 29 years old, they’re in their prime. Wiley veterans now include the 2004 silver medalist Meb Keflezighi, three time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, and Minnesota’s Jason Lehmkuhle. Throw in a guy like Brett Gotcher, who debuted with the fourth fastest qualifier, and the field is very exciting.

The favorites

Ryan Hall. Age: 29, PR: 2:04:58, Qualifier: 2:04:58, Boston (’11)

Let’s be honest, even in the uncertain world of marathoning, this is a no-brainer. Four years ago, Hall simply pulled away from arguably the best field in trials history to win by more than two minutes. His time of 2:09:02 is a trials record. Sure, his sub 2:05 at Boston was run with a 20 m.p.h. tailwind. Take that away and his 2:08:04 still makes him the fastest qualifier. In fact, of the top nine qualifying times, Hall owns five of them.

Dathan Ritzenhein. Age: 29, PR: 2:10:00, Qualifier: 2:10:00, London (’09)

Ritzenhein is arguably America’s most versatile runner. He’s a three time U.S. cross country champion. In 2009, he set the then American Record for 5,000 meters in 12:56.27. And he’s already qualified for two Olympic Games, running the 10,000 meters (2004) and marathon (2008). It was Ritzenhein who finished second to Hall at the last trials. He comes into these trials as the third fastest qualifier. Unfortunately, he spent most of 2011 not running due to surgery on his Achilles, followed by complications caused by an allergic reaction to the stitches.

Meb Keflezighi. Age: 36, PR: 2:09:15, Qualifier: 2:09:15, New York City (’09)

To be honest, I’m kind of surprised to be including Meb as a favorite. It’s not that he doesn’t have the credentials. Heck, he won the silver medal in the marathon at the 2004 Games. However, he’s 36-years-old now, which is getting up there for elite runners. But the numbers don’t lie and after Hall’s top two performances, Keflezighi has the next three: all between 2:09:15 and 2:09:26. And he proved he can win big races when he won the New York City Marathon in 2009. This was the first American to do so since Alberto Salazar in 1982.

Jason Lehmkuhle. Age: 34, PR: 2:12:34, Qualifier: 2:12:34, Boston (’10)

Prior to the last trials, I wrote that Lehmkuhle was the best 2:16 marathoner in the U.S. The Team USA Minnesota runner proved me right by running 2:12:54 to finish fifth. He’s since lowered his PR and run sub 2:15 a couple of other times, as well as a 1:02:49 half marathon. He won’t catch anyone by surprise this time around, but if he’s healthy, he’ll be in the mix.

The contenders

Abdi Abdirahman. Age: 35, PR: 2:08:56, Qualifier: 2:14:00, New York City (’09)

Sure, Abdi “only” sports a 2:14:00 qualifier this time around, but can you ever really count out a three time Olympian? Yes, he ran the 10,000 meter in those three Olympics, but he’s also the only other sub 2:09 marathoner in the field besides Hall. Earlier this year he won the U.S. 20K title in 1:00:12 and then followed that up with a sixth place showing at the TC 10 Mile, running 47:00.

Brett Gotcher. Age: 28, PR: 2:10:36, Qualifier: 2:10:36, Houston (’10)

All Gotcher did a year ago in Houston was run the fourth fastest debut by an American. His 2:10:36 also makes him the fourth fastest qualifier and plants him firmly as a contender. On the down side, a sore hip forced him to miss this year’s Boston Marathon. However, he seems to have recovered having finished third in the TC 10 Mile in 46:51.

Jason Hartmann. Age: 30, PR: 2:11:06, Qualifier: 2:11:06, Chicago (’10)

You may recognize Hartmann’s name, because he won the 2009 Twin Cities Marathon in 2:12:09. He proved that performance was no fluke the following year when he ran 2:11:06 at Chicago, making him the fifth fastest qualifier. The six time All-American, while at Oregon, will look to improve upon his tenth place finish four years ago.

Nick Arciniaga. Age: 28, PR: 2:11:30, Qualifier: 2:11:30, Houston (’11)

As a 24-year-old, Arciniaga placed seventeenth at the last trials. The former Hansons-Brooks Distance Project runner consistently knocked out 2:16 and 2:17 marathons. Now with McMillan Elite, he’s run 2:13:46, 2:11:48 and 2:11:30. If he can run another sub 2:12 in Houston, he will be in contention.

The dark horses

Matt Gabrielson. Age: 33, PR: 2:13:28, Qualifier: 2:13:28, Grandma’s (’11)

An original member of Team USA Minnesota, Gabrielson has tremendous range. He’s run as fast as 4:02 for the mile and 13:30 for 5,000 meters. His breakthrough performance at the marathon came in June this year at Grandma’s where he finished sixth in 2:13:28. At the last trials, Gabrielson was focusing on the track, where he wound up eighth in the 5,000 meters. This will be his first marathon trials.

Antonio Vega. Age: 28, PR: 2:13:47, Qualifier: 2:13:47, Boston (’10)

2010 was a very good year for Vega. He was named the USATF Men’s Long Distance Runner of the Year, in part, because he won the USA Running Circuit. Along the way, he also claimed his first U.S. title when he won the half marathon championships in 1:01:54. His qualifying time of 2:13:47 gives Team USA Minnesota three runners in the top 11.

Mike Morgan. Age: 31, PR: 2:14:55, Qualifier: 2:14:55, Chicago (’10)

There are over a dozen runners in the 2:14 to 2:15 range. I’m picking Morgan for one of my dark horses, because Hansons-Brooks Distance Project runners tend to do well at the marathon trials. In 2007, they placed five runners in the top 20, including Morgan who finished twelfth.

Tim Nelson. Age: 27, PR: 2:15:06, Qualifier: 2:15:06, New York City (’10)

No, Nelson’s 2:15 marathon debut is not nearly as fast as Gotcher’s 2:10 debut. However, Nelson has wheels, having run 27:31 for 10,000 meters. Of course, there’s more to the marathon than having wheels. If Nelson can figure that out, he could be dangerous.

Andrew Carlson. Age: 29, PR: N/A, Qualifier: 1:02:21 (half marathon)

Honestly, I could have placed Carlson anywhere on this list: favorite, contender or dark horse. He’s a two time U.S. Champion in the15K and 25K, and his half marathon time converts to a sub 2:12. However, the Team USA Minnesotan didn’t start this year’s Twin Cities Marathon due to injury, so Houston will be his marathon debut.

The locals

Josh Moen. Age: 29, PR: 2:23:16, Qualifier: 1:02:53 (half marathon)

The former Division III star while at Wartburg College is probably best remembered for his dual with Abdirahman at the 2009 TC 10 Mile. Moen pushed the three time Olympian all the way to the line, finishing in 46:38, just three seconds behind Abdi. Unfortunately, the Team USA Minnesota member has yet to figure out the marathon. If he’s able to do it at Houston, things could get exciting.

Chris Raabe. Age: 32, PR: 2:15:13, Qualifier: 2:15:13, Grandma’s (’09)

Having grown up near St. Cloud, Raabe was the second runner with Minnesota ties at the last trials, placing sixteenth in 2:17:01. In 2009, he won Grandma’s Marathon, becoming the first native Minnesotan to do so since Dick Beardsley. His 2:15:13 makes him the twentieth fastest qualifier.

Luke Watson. Age: 31, PR: 2:15:29, Qualifier: 2:15:29, Twin Cities (’09)

Watson, who grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota, made his marathon debut at the 2009 Twin Cities Marathon. He also won the 2010 Steamtown Marathon in a course record time of 2:16:41. He’s a three time Olympic Trials qualifier, having run the Steeplechase and 5,000 meters at previous trials. His 3:57 mile PR shows he also possesses great speed.

Michael Reneau. Age: 33, PR: 2:16:45, Qualifier: 2:16:45, New York (’09)

Reneau will be making his second trials appearance. At the last trials, he finished thirty-second in 2:18:51. Forty years earlier, his father, Jeff, placed tenth at the 1968 trials. Reneau, who is originally from Hudson, Wisconsin, trained with Hansons-Brooks Distance Project for a while, but is now in the Twin Cities.

Chad Johnson. Age: 35, PR: 2:15:03, Qualifier: 2:17:41, Boston (’10)

Johnson began his college career at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point before transferring to the University of Minnesota. He is currently with Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, and he’ll also be making his second marathon trials appearance, having finished twentieth in 2:17:58 last trials.

Donovan Fellows. Age: 32, PR: 2:18:05, Qualifier: 2:18:05, Twin Cities (’10)

Four years ago, Fellow ran a very solid race at the trials to finish thirtieth in 2:18:45. He’s a former Big Ten champion at 10,000 meters while at Purdue. The Woodbury resident finished fourth at the City of Lakes 25K in a time of 1:26:18.

Chris Erichsen. Age: 25, PR: 2:18:24, Qualifier: 2:18:24, Virginia Beach (‘11)

The former MIAC athlete of the year while at St. Johns University made his marathon debut at the 2010 Fargo Marathon. Although he won, he missed the qualifying standard of 2:19 by less than a minute. He earned his qualifier at this year’s Virginia Beach Marathon and recently won the City of Lakes 25K in 1:20:38 and placed twelfth at the TC 10 Mile in 48:59.

Matt Hooley. Age: 29, PR: 2:18:42, Qualifier: 2:18:42, Eugene (’09)

Hooley is a former Division III All-American while at Carleton College. He won the 2009 Eugene Marathon in 2:18:42 and placed ninth at this year’s TCM. He’ll be looking to bounce back after dropping out of the 2008 trials.

Chris Lundstrom. Age: 35, PR: 2:17:34, Qualifier: 2:18:58, Twin Cities (’09)

Originally from Northfield, Minnesota, Lundstrom ran at Stanford University. He finished the last trials in thirty-seventh place in 2:19:21. He qualified for his second trials at the 2009 TCM by a mere two seconds. In addition to the roads, Lundstrom is one of the best trail runners around, having run several ultras. He even helped the U.S. to a silver medal at the 2010 World Mountain Running championships.

Mike Torchia. Age: 23, PR: N/A, Qualifier: 1:04:47 (half marathon)

Torchia is a Rochester, Minnesota, native who ran for the University of Minnesota. He’s currently in his first year of medical school there and will be making his marathon debut at the trials.

Justin Grunewald. Age: 25, PR: N/A, Qualifier: 1:04:50 (half marathon)

Like Torchia, Grunewald is another former Gopher that will be making his marathon debut at the trials. The third year medical student’s half marathon time of 1:04:50 was just 10 seconds under the qualifying standard.

There you have it, my preview of the 2012 U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Houston. With both men’s and women’s races on the same day, January 14, 2012, is sure to be historic when it comes to U.S. marathon history.

After writing this article, someone asked me what are the things to watch for. Given that I wrote this just after the Chicago Marathon, in October, there are a few more names that have “popped up”. On the women’s side Molly Pritz and Stephanie Rothstein come to mind. Pritz ran well at New York. That was only 10 weeks before the trials, so it’ll be interesting to see how she recovers. I’m curious to see how Deena Kastor and Blake Russell bounce back after giving birth. How will Goucher respond to her new coach?  And, of course, will 47-year-old Colleen De Reuck, who comes in with the 8th fastest qualifying time, be able to make her FIFTH Olympic team? On the men’s side Ed Moran ran a top-10 qualifying time at NYC and Meb set a PR there too. Like with Pritz, I’ll be interested to see if they can bounce back in a short timeframe.


wayfool said...

What do you think of Mo Trafeh's chances? I didn't see him on your list, but with a HM PR of 1:00:39, a recent 1:01:39 (back in December), and a victory over Hall in last year's Houston Half, he is certainly a favorite, or at least a contender.

Chad said...

I had a more recent post where I picked my top 3. I didn't pick anyone who's never completed a marathon, including Mo. However, I have been reconsidering that because he scares the heck out of me. I definitely think he has the talent and he's been running really well lately. I wouldn't be surprised if he made the team.

wayfool said...

Looks like you were right about not picking Mo. Seems like some guys just don't have the mental make-up to finish a marathon. Reminds of Tadese. Either way, that was a fun trials to watch and surprisingly good tv coverage. Still wish they could at least broadcast it live, and then re-broadcast again. Seems like only us running junkies would find out the results before the re-broadcast.