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Moe Johnson Running with Moe

Moe Johnson Running with Moe

Observations and notes from the Olympic Trials

Sunday, February 11, 2024

I watched the Olympic Marathon trials last week to see which three runners will represent the USA in Paris this summer. I get asked why I watch a bunch of runners for almost three hours. There isn’t the exciting game winning score that other sports have. I think a person has to be a runner to appreciate the level of training that goes into running a marathon. When I use the term runner I am referring more to a person trying to run a fast time and win an award. The jogger that enters to get a tee shirt is not able to understand how fast the runners are moving for the distance of 26.2 miles. I had one woman comment about a friend of hers that ran a marathon. When she was told the distance was 26.2 miles she commented, “My goodness, that is like running to Austin.” Then she asked, “How many days did it take her?” That is why I think a person running for a fast time and 26.2 miles would understand the effort that was being put forth by the competitors.

The one thing that is different about the Olympic Trials Marathon is that only the top three runners will represent the USA in the marathon race. Time is important, but if a runner is not in the top three they will stay home this summer. The marathon is a long race, and the ability to sustain a fast pace for the distance takes on different strategies of when will the runner step up the pace and go for that spot on the Olympic team.

Watching the women’s race was an interesting strategy by the lead runners. At 15 miles there was a group of 12 women running a 5:30 per mile pace. Then the lead runner put on a spurt of speed for a mile at a 5:15 pace. The pack of 12 was now starting to stretch out. Another spurt after another mile and Fiona O’Keefe was running in front by herself. It reminded me of the first Women’s Olympic Marathon when Joan Benoit ran to the front of the expected winners. Most of them thought that her fast pace will cause her to falter in a few miles, and they will catch her. It didn’t happen and Benoit went on to run by herself to the finish line. O’Keefe ran a record trial time of 2:22:10 for the win. Emily Sisson came in second at 2:22:42 and Dakotah Lindwurm was third at 2:25:31.

The ability to run at a 5:30 pace for 26 miles for a runner is outstanding effort. Having run a 6:15 minute mile in a 5K my appreciation of a 5:30 pace for 26.2 miles is an incredible feat. What is also amazing is that the runners look like they are doing that pace so easily. The key to winning is can the runner keep that pace for the entire distance. That initial pack of 12 was a tight knit group, but after 15 miles only the top runners will be able to keep that pace.

The men’s race was even more impressive at the pace they were running. The men had a group of six runners moving along at a 4:48 per mile pace. After 13 miles it was a pack of three with the lead runner showing signs of stress to stay in front. There were a few miles that were at a 4:20 pace to separate the pack. After another mile the race came down to two lead runners. Conner Mantz and Clayton Young were in front by over a minute. The two lead runners were training partners and friends that qualified for the Trials at the Chicago Marathon. What was interesting to watch was how Young responded when he knew he was going to be one of the three representing the USA. He was smiling, talking to Mantz and waving to the spectators. At one point near the finish he ran off course to give some “high fives” to a group of spectators along the side of the course. At the finish line he got behind Mantz and looked to be satisfied with second place. He was happy to be one of the top three and that was the important thing. The winning time was an impressive 2:09:04. Since both runners were so far ahead and had secured their spot on the Olympic team the pressure to run faster to win was not a factor. The world record for a marathon is down around 2:00. How much faster Mantz and Young could have run is a question mark, but when a runner can run off course to ‘high five’ friends and carry on a conversation during the race it makes you wonder how much faster they could run if needed.

The strategy changes at the Olympics. Instead of finishing in the top three runners, the goal in the Olympics is to win. There are three awards but winning the gold medal is the primary goal. Watching that level of excellence is worth three hours of television viewing.

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