My Weekend (Spectating!) at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

Date: March 4, 2020 at 11:13 am- by Ali- Comment(s): 4

It’s been three days since I got home from Atlanta.

Three days later, and I’m still so hyped.

I am so glad I chose to go to Atlanta to watch the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. I think I booked my hotel almost one year ago. (Locked in a pretty good rate at the time! Woo hoo, planning ahead!) I knew I wanted to be there for this historic weekend.

At the time, though, I had no idea just how historic the weekend would be. How many women, in particular, would qualify to run the Trials. I had no idea I’d be doing not one but two live podcast events during the weekend, including one at the official America’s Marathon Weekend Experience. I had no idea just how inspired I would feel watching those women run. The goosebumps I would get at the first sight of the field of 500 women storming down Peachtree.

I have a whole bunch of post-Trials podcasts coming out this week and next week. (And honestly, can I just keep going? I don’t want to stop talking about this and want to hear and share every story from every runner and spectator from the weekend!) The live show I did Saturday night (after the race) with Carrie Tollefson, Meb Keflezighi, and seven UCAN athletes (Sarah Sellers! Taylor Ward!) is already up, and I’m excited to share a race recap episode with last week’s guests, Veronica Jackson and Alex Bernardi, tomorrow. (LOVE. THEM.) I also have a solo episode I’ll be sharing about my own experiences on the sidelines in Atlanta, and will have Friday’s live show (with Jenny Donnelly, Sarah Cummings, Ladia Albertson-Junkans, Kaitlin Goodman, and Amanda Nurse) up soon. Phew!

A VERY SPECIAL TIME!

But first! I was planning to do some Q&A in the solo episode, and asked on Instagram Stories (my fave! I’m @aliontherun1!) what you want to hear more about. And I very quickly realized I cannot fit it all into a roughly one-hour podcast episode. (Nor should I be left alone with a microphone for that long!)

So, with that episode still pending (been waiting for my voice to fully come back to me!), I’ll answer all those questions here!

THE RINGS!!!

WHICH MOMENT GAVE YOU (THE MOST) CHILLS? I ASSUME THERE WERE MANY.

You’re absolutely right! There were so many! But the moment I keep going back to is the first time the women’s pack came into view during the race. My friends and I were watching from right next to the fluid stations (so many bottles!), and all of a sudden we could see the lead vehicles in the distance, followed by an absolute stampede of women. It was this pack of 500 fast women, and I burst into tears when I saw it. It was just so inspiring, all these women who trained so hard to be there, who dreamed about running at the U.S. Olympic Trials. To know their dreams were coming true in that exact moment — it was so powerful. And they all looked so happy. Those smiles were filled with joy.

WERE YOU AT ANY OF THE GIANT SHAKEOUT RUNS AND, IF SO, WHAT HAPPENED THERE? 

I sure was! On Friday morning, I did part of the November Project x Brooks Running group run / workout, and it was so fun to get back to my NP roots a bit! The run slash workout (because of course we stopped to do burpees along the way, ugh) was led by the original November Project founders, Brogan Graham and Bojan Mandaric, and what those two men have created and built is truly magical. I had to get back to get ready for my live show at the expo so I couldn’t stay for the full workout, but the first half was a blast! And I almost vomited from doing burpees and sprints.

Bojan instructing us all re: proper burpee form! (Which surely went out the window as soon as I did my first one…)

Then, on Saturday morning, I got to meet my friend Julia in real life, finally! And we (along with 1,000 or so others) joined the absolutely massive NAZ Elite group run, led by Ben Bruce and NAZ Elite coach Ben Rosario. We took off down Peachtree and it looked like a race was going on. There were so many people. It was amazing. A true testament to the running community and the way we show up for each other. The run was a little chaotic since there were so many of us, and eventually Julia and I (and her husband, hi Dan!) decided to turn around and head back to the hotel. When we finished our run down by Centennial Olympic Park, Kara Goucher’s group run was finishing, so there were another several hundred people gathered there. So many hugs, friends, smiles. In total, Julia and I covered around six miles before it was time to spectate.

JULIA!!! In real life!

DID THE VIBE AROUND THE FINISH LINE AND AFTER THE RACE FEEL GENUINE AND POSITIVE? 

Oh my goodness yes. I’m obviously an outsider looking in, but the entire weekend felt really genuine and positive.

WHERE DID YOU WATCH THE RACE?

We stayed right across from the fluid stations, which was cool to watch! Bottle service! Jared Ward discarded his bottle and I caught it! The men really flung their bottles to the side of the course. My friend Feeney got absolutely wailed with one and got a bruise! (Reminded us of that scene in Pitch Perfect when Fat Amy gets hit by Bumper’s flying burrito. “I’ve been shot!”) We were on the out-and-back part of the course, which was great. There was almost no downtown. We saw all the men and all the women six times, and it was just constant excitement.

Jared was one of my picks for the Top 3, so I was excited to snag his bottle!

DO YOU THINK THE COURSE TERRAIN OR WEATHER HAD MORE OF AN IMPACT ON THE RACE RESULTS?

Hard for me to say, but after the race I heard more people talking about the swirling winds than the hills. I think because they knew about the hills going into the race, so people were trained for and prepared for the hills. But that wind was unexpected and gnarly. Wind is my own least favorite type of running weather!

TELL ME MORE ABOUT THAT RED POWER SUIT!

OK! Banana Republic. (40% off!) Here’s the jacket, and here are the pants.

Look at that lineup, though!

WHO CAN’T YOU WAIT TO INTERVIEW?

I want to interview every single runner. I’m excited to interview Aliphine, Molly, and Sally in a few months, closer to the Olympics, to reflect back on the Trials and to talk about their training leading up to the Games. I’d really love to do a series interviewing families of the runners, to get their perspectives. I want to get Kaitlin Goodman on the show, but also want to give her some time to rest and recover. I always love interviewing Des, but again, I like to give the pros a bit of time to breathe after these races, knowing they’re being inundated with requests. So maybe before Boston? But yeah. Everyone. I want to talk to everyone.

WERE THERE SCREENS TO SEE THE RACE WHEN THE RUNNERS WEREN’T BY YOU?

Not where I was out on the course. But after we saw the women go by the last time, we dashed into the nearby Atlanta Historical Society, where they were showing the live stream, and we saw the men’s finish there, and then popped into a bar a few blocks down to see the women’s finish. (The entire bar was packed and everyone lost their minds when Des moved from fifth place into fourth.)

A few blocks away from where we watched!

DID YOU INTERACT WITH A LOT OF RUNNERS BEFORE THE RACE? WHAT WAS THE MOOD LIKE? 

People who were running on Saturday? Yes! I saw so many friends who were running, and lots of people I’d had on the show before (literally bumped into Veronica Jackson, Jen Bigham, Starla Garcia, and Carly Gill all in the span of five minutes). Runners were absolutely everywhere, and most seemed excited and happy. There really was just this buzz surrounding the whole weekend.

Starla, Carly, and me!

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE RESULTS?

Shocked! Like many of us! I’d had my eye on Sally Kipyego, and I just love her story about coming back from having a baby to be there running. (Relatable!) Aliphine is one of my favorite runners. I just adore her happy, bubbly, super positive personality. And I’d only known about Molly from her episode of Running on Om, and wow! All three are amazing. I know we all had so many “favorites” going into the race, and this top three was really a surprise, not necessarily by the numbers, but because we are so familiar with stories from runners like Sara Hall, Des, Molly Huddle, Emily Sisson… We feel like we know them. And we maybe don’t know Aliphine, Sally, and Molly as well. I’m thrilled for them, and am happy to see their stories being shared.

DO YOU EVER HAVE ANXIETY BEFORE DOING A LIVE SHOW? HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT?

Anxiety, no. Sometimes I might get a little nervous, but I didn’t with either of the two I did in Atlanta. I barely prepped for either show. Friday’s show was with a lineup of returning guests, so I know their stories and knew the conversation would be really natural. (And OMG it was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had in my whole life.) And Saturday I was up there with Meb and Carrie, both of whom I know super well, so need for nerves! The only funny thing about Saturday’s show was that we didn’t know exactly who we’d be interviewing during the show! We wanted to bring up a bunch of UCAN athletes, but we didn’t know who would be there and was available. So Varun, from UCAN, was literally just pulling athletes from the crowd as they arrived and pointing at them, and we brought them up and rolled with it! It was actually really fun doing it that way!

400 people strong at the UCAN post-race show!

WHAT WAS THE COOLEST THING YOU SAW AT THE TRIALS?

That moment I described above — the women’s pack coming into view. I hope I never forget how that made me feel. (Inspired.) And I loved the moment immediately after Aliphine finished, when she turned around to welcome Molly to the line and hug her. That NAZ Elite group hug with Aliphine, Steph, and Kellyn was super special, too. Women’s running!!!

WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING TO WATCH FROM A PERSONAL (FAN) PERSPECTIVE?

I wouldn’t say any of it was difficult. As much as I love all these runners so much and I do get to interview them and get to know them on the Ali on the Run Show, I was rooting for so many of them! There were so many ways to be happy with the outcome! And these runners always share so much with us about their disappointment and how they bounce back from it, so even though Des just missed her spot on the team, even though Molly, Sara, and Emily dropped, we know these women are strong and amazing and that they’ll keep doing amazing things.

INTERVIEW WITH MOLLY SEIDEL?!

Not planning one right now! She’s getting tons and tons of press, which is great! But I am not planning a post-race interview with her. I guarantee there will be tons popping up in the next week, though!

CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS?

Judi Donnelly! I saw her when I was finishing my run Friday morning and I freaked out. We sent each other Christmas cards before we met in real life. Now we are real, true friends! I actually walked over to Friday’s live show with Jenny, Judi, and the rest of their (our!) family, and Shalane Flanagan was walking into the expo right ahead of us. I also saw Molly Huddle in the lobby at the Omni (the host hotel for all the athletes) getting ready for her shakeout run, and again later that day talking to her agent. And Meb, of course! I saw Meb. A lot.

JUDI!!!

UNEXPECTED HAPPY SURPRISES?

This moment, captured by Sarah Lorge Butler.

I’ve never met as many people as I did this weekend. It was so special. If you are one of the people I met in Atlanta, I hope you know how much you mean to me. When people come to these live events and then stick around to say hi, hug, take photos…it changes my life. It reaffirms what I do. It affects me on a very deep level. Something about Sarah’s Tweet, and then seeing responses from women I look up to so much, really affected me. Hard to put words to that one. But it’s something I’m still thinking about.

CAMARADERIE AMONG THE LADIES?

Powerful. Inspiring. Tangible. Exactly what the world needs.

A moment after Friday’s live show…

WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO HOST A LIVE SHOW IN BOSTON?!

Boston Marathon weekend is TBD. I’ll keep you posted! Best place to stay in the loop is the Ali on the Run Facebook group.

IS 7 TOO YOUNG TO BRING A KID TO THE NEXT ONE? (SHE’S 3 NOW.)

OK I can’t speak to this since my daughter is only 16 months old and I didn’t have her with me, but I met little Shalane. Remember that viral photo of the little girl dressed as Shalane Flanagan for Halloween? Well, I happened to bump into and run with this amazing woman, Lisa, Friday morning. Lisa is now my BFF. And at one point during the run (during which, BTW, I was gasping for air, because Lisa is so fast and I was dying), Lisa mentions her daughter dressing up as Shalane Flanagan for Halloween. And I was like, “Wait like that viral photo, that was your daughter???” So on Saturday night, Lisa brought said daughter, Avery, to the UCAN live show, and now Avery is also my best friend and none of this answers your question about bringing a 7-year-old to the Trials, but I say do it, because look at how these runners are inspiring little girls!!!

WERE YOU NERVOUS TO APPROACH ANY RUNNERS YOU KNEW THE DAY BEFORE THE MARATHON?

No. I also don’t approach pros before big races, unless I know them pretty well. I let them do their thing.

ARE ALL THE ATHLETES TREATED THE SAME? OR SPECIAL TREATMENT FOR THE PROS?

Veronica talks about this a lot on this week’s episode, but I got the impression that everyone at the Trials was treated like a pro! The Atlanta Track Club is amazing.

WILL YOU POST THE LIVE SESSION YOU DID WITH LADIA, JENNY, AND CREW? DID YOU RECORD IT?

Coming soon, and for now you can watch it right here:

TELL US ABOUT THE TWO PREGNANT RUNNERS!

I’ll let Women’s Running do that! I’ll tell ya, they got, by far, the loudest cheers of the day!

HOW DID IT SEEM LIKE THE RACE LOGISTICS WENT? WERE THE BOTTLE STATIONS CRAZY?

The first time the women came through the fluid stations seemed a little intense, but after that, when the runners were more familiar with the setup and the pack was more strung out, it seemed way more chill. (But also, right before the women came through the first time, it was so windy, and bottles were flying and volunteers were holding the bottles down with their entire bodies. It was amazing!)

Getting set up!

WHAT WAS EVERYONE SECRETLY GOSSIPING ABOUT?

I wish I knew! But again, just from my perspective, the talk of the weekend was the women’s race. You’d hear people ask before the race, “Who are your top three?” And the answer would be three women. Definitely more hype around the women’s race, at least from what I witnessed.

HOW DID YOU DECIDE ON YOUR AMAZING RED SUIT?

I wanted to try something very, very different for me. Several friends warned against it. I ignored them, and I loved it. It was fun to wear! And hello, U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials! I was patriotic!

Meb approved!

BEST PART? LEAST BEST PART?

Everything was the best. The only least-best part was my hotel room being right near the elevators and getting zero sleep because it was rowdy out there in the hallways.

HOW WAS IT WITHOUT ANNIE?

Honestly? It was great. This was my first time traveling alone (I went to Miami last month, but was with my friend!), and did I miss Annie? Yes. Do I love her more than anything? You bet. But was it really so nice to do what I wanted, when I wanted, without worrying about naps or sleep or eating or schedules or anyone but myself?! It absolutely was. And I say that without any guilt whatsoever. It was amazing.

DID YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO GET ANY RUNNING IN?

Every morning! Mostly slow, stop-and-go runs where the “elapsed time” was far longer than the “moving time.” Just so much friendship along the way!

On the run with my new friend Lisa!

WAS THERE OUTWARD SURPRISE AS TO WHO THE FINISHERS WERE FOR THE WOMEN?

Definitely!

HOW MANY HAPPY TEARS WERE SHED?

Many. I’m very dehydrated.

FAVORITE PERSON YOU GOT TO MEET?

I was really excited to get to meet Ladia at Friday’s live show. She inspires me so much. Getting to share that stage with her and those women was such a huge honor.

DID THE RUNNERS IN THE TRIALS GET MEDALS? I ONLY SAW THE PICTURE WITH THE TOP 10 WITH MEDALS.

Just the Top 10 got medals. All the other runners got something really cool and unique!

(And as a reminder, or in case you’re not familiar, the Atlanta Track Club covered costs for every single runner’s hotel room and airfare. I saw some people on Twitter — fans, not people who ran the Trials — complaining about the runners not getting medals, and I get that to some people medals are really important, but I would definitely choose airfare and accommodations over a medal! I think it’s so incredible what the Atlanta Track Club did. They really knocked the entire weekend out of the park.)

HOW WAS THE ATMOSPHERE FOR BACK OF THE PACK RUNNERS? I HOPE THEY WERE EXCITED!

From the sidelines, I’d say every single runner got the same amount of screams and cheers. It was loud the entire time, front to back. I hope the runners felt that.

HOW DO YOU COPE WITH THE EMOTIONAL HANGOVER AFTER A WEEKEND LIKE THAT?

Struggling with it! Trying to decide how to channel this energy and optimism and all the warm fuzzies into the next great series of things!

HAPPIEST EVER.

WAS THE ENERGY JOYFUL? COMPETITIVE? SUPPORTIVE? WHAT DID IT FEEL LIKE TO BE THERE?

Buzzing. That’s the word I keep going back to. The energy was buzzy. It truly feels like an incredible and special time to be a part of the women’s running community.

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