What comes after the Trials?
In this issue, a bunch of amateur women grapple with what’s next after the big day.
|Molly Mirhashem||Mar 9, 2020|
It’s already been a week since the Trials. In the days after the race, I found myself wondering about the amateur women—many of whom spent years training and preparing for that day—and what’s next for them after achieving such an enormous goal. Nearly all of us have experienced the post-race comedown, but the historically large field at this year’s race and all the (deserved!) hype around it made me particularly curious to hear from the women who are living in that post-race feeling right now. After I put out a call on Twitter, I ended up hearing from a wide range of women in last Saturday’s field. The variety in their responses fascinated (and inspired) me, and it should come as no surprise that all the energy from last Saturday isn’t going anywhere.
Thank you to everyone who contributed! I was overwhelmed by the response on a tight turnaround. You can read many of the responses below. (Note: these responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity. You can read the full responses, including some that didn’t make it into this issue, here. I’ll continue to update that doc with late responses as they come in!)
What’s next for me? Well, I feel lucky enough to be taking on my 7th Boston Marathon in a few weeks. I’m prepared for the recovery and shortened build-up to perhaps have some hiccups, but in my mind, nothing beats Boston (well… perhaps now the 2020 Trials take that top spot) and I just can’t imagine not being a part of my favorite running day of the year. Assuming weather and health are on my side, I'm looking for a big PR (currently 2:41:48). After Boston, I have no idea what my running goals will look like in the short-term. But after proving to myself at the Trials that I belong up with women who have run 2:35-2:37 marathons on faster courses, I’m excited to expect a lot more from myself over the next few years and hopefully move into being consistently a part of that faster tier of women I’ve admired from behind for so long. Regardless of what happened this past weekend, I would have been trying to improve going forward, but getting 63rd place is giving me a bit more confidence to make my goals faster and gutsier.
Qualifying for the Trials was the big goal. Running at the Trials was a celebration of being healthy, strong and fit! Now I feel like I’ve found the elusive “running nirvana”: I feel satisfied. I am proud of my PRs and what I’ve accomplished on the roads. Running will always be a love of mine and an integral part of my life. For now, I am excited to head out for a run and go as far and as fast as I want, with no set agenda. In the immediate, I am holding myself to no running for the month of March and plan to enjoy as much spring skiing as I can! Mountain running is my favorite, so I’m ready to get back to the trails and do some epic traverses this summer. Maybe I’ll get into doing more mountain or trail races and chasing FKTs. Whatever it is, I have no doubt I’ll find myself chasing another big running adventure soon!
I’ll probably change my mind, but I’m not sure I want to train for 2024. The whole build up to the Trials was not nearly as much fun as qualifying. Qualifying was sexy, but the Trials was overwhelming. Being in Atlanta, seeing pros everywhere, I got really psyched out. Everybody kept telling me just to have fun, but I wanted to perform so badly. Yes, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, but it seemed like a “HAVE TO” rather than a “GET TO.” I knew that would make it less fun but I just couldn’t get out of that headspace.
The experience reminded me that I need to get back to having goals that are personally fulfilling to me, rather than what I think other people would be impressed by. Qualifying for the Trials in one sense was one of those outwardly impressive goals, but I started trying early enough that I knew I didn’t have to do it at any certain race. So the results were allowed to be a little bit more open-ended, and the training was more “let’s see what happens.” With the Trials, it felt like I only had one chance to get it right—and that was stressful.
I’m really not sure what’s next. I will probably try to have competitive goals in the future. I feel like I have plenty of upside for the marathon (vs chasing down my college PRs on the track). But I’m not hungry to do another marathon yet. Maybe a fast fall half. I’d love to do Club Cross with my running club. I am also a huge social runner, so if my friends are training for a certain race, as long as it’s not a marathon, I might do that. We like to do destination races once or twice a year.
To be honest I keep going back and forth with my running goals now that the Trials are over. I qualified in 2018 so it’s been a long time focusing on one event. The past four years was a continuous marathon training cycle. Sometimes I think I want to just focus on shorter races and other times I want to jump back into trail ultras. It’s also been less than a week so I know I should enjoy my running break and what I want to do next will eventually become clear.
I am excited to spend more time in other aspects of the sport. I’m going to be volunteering at DC’s Cherry Blossom 10 miler in April. I will also be concentrating on coaching my friends to their big running goals. In the immediate present I’m going to enjoy spending more time with my husband, dog and friends who were all patient and supportive during this buildup!
After pouring so much of my (and my family’s) time and energy into running the Trials, I feel like it’s time to put that aside (temporarily!) and try to grow my family. It’s not easy to step away from this sport, especially at such an exciting moment with so many women fired up and running fast, but I think the timing is right and I hope to qualify again in 2024.
I’d heard from a friend who ran the 2016 Trials that it can be a really big emotional comedown after the race, and I’m definitely finding that to be true. It feels like there is an Olympic Trials-sized hole in my heart, so I’m doing some thinking on how to fill that. In some ways, I think it will be impossible to fully replicate the excitement of the Trials. It’s such a singular event—all of America’s best marathoners running the same race on the same day—and the word “Olympics” really grabs the attention of non-runners in a way that I don't think many (or any) other races can. It’s a long way off, but I already feel pretty certain I’ll try to qualify and race the 2024 Trials. And in the meantime, I have unfinished business in basically every race distance from the mile to the marathon, and I’ll just tackle whatever excites me first.
Post-Trials, I am feeling super happy and grateful!!! Even though I didn't have the race I had envisioned at the Olympic Trials, it was such a beautiful day out there full of inspiration, grit and determination! I am so glad I finished despite stomach pains, and I know that's something I can be proud of for the rest of my life!
Looking ahead, I feel like I’m just getting started. At the Trials, it was the first race that I felt like no one could say I didn’t belong. I’ve struggled with self doubt in the past, but there’s no denying that I qualified and earned my spot. Goodbye, imposter syndrome! This amazing experience inspired me to look around me at the amazing women I am surrounded by, and to dream even bigger!
I feel more motivated than ever to hone in on details and work on becoming an even better athlete (and person) while having so much fun the rest of 2020. I think I used to put a limit on how much more I could improve and think I would stop eventually. But, I am still so young and new to running! Qualifying for Trials felt like such a huge pursuit, that I thought 2:44:59 would be it. Then I ran 2:42 last year. Could I ever be better than that? Now, I say why not dream even bigger?
What’s next? I’m running the NYC Marathon on November 1st. I am extremely honored to be accepted into the professional women’s field. It’s my home field race, and I am eager to be as fit and ready as possible to run my streets in celebration and in awe of what this sport and city has done for me! I ran the NYC Marathon in 2016, as my 2nd marathon and the first time I broke 3 hours: I finished in 2:59:01 as the 60th female. It was a huge turning point for me. I’m pumped to return!
Between now and November 1st, I want to put myself on as many start lines as possible. I have identified some areas I can improve upon, mainly nutrition, recovery and mindfulness... as well as more racing experience. So, for the next few months you will find me back in the gym with my strength coach, Lena, running for fun and eventually back to workouts and long runs, racing all sorts of fun races in the spring/summer/fall, and working on my weaknesses! BUT FIRST, a nice break post-Trials and a whole lot of celebrating!
After 2020, I want to continue to improve and will probably want to run another flat course. I plan to return to Boston for redemption, maybe in April 2021. Then perhaps Chicago? I’d love to run that and London soon. Only time will tell. And if I’m still having fun and enjoying the process when they announce the 2024 Trials standard, I'll most likely give it a shot. Why not?
My background is in swimming and triathlon, so qualifying and running in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials was a pretty big out-of-the-box goal. I was nervous about stepping outside my racing comfort zone and how my community would perceive this unusual and lofty goal, and what might happen if I fell short. My decision surprised a few people, but I was mostly overwhelmed with support. Running down Peachtree Street as part of the historic women’s field was possibly my best experience in sport. I hope that memory gives me the courage to follow more unconventional paths in sport and in life. I plan to return to triathlon this summer, but I already have a few local running races on my calendar. I’m also so excited to cheer for Aliphine, Molly, and Sally in Tokyo/Sapporo. I feel so invested in their races since I ran the same course, in the same conditions, and not too far behind!
I’d say that my first reaction post-race was that I wanted to go again. I think I told someone that I was going to race Berlin about ten minutes after finishing. It was probably because having a disappointing performance feels even worse when you know you’re in much better shape than you raced. So I guess I wanted to get another crack at racing in a way I could feel good about. A do-over if you will. Now that the dust has settled a little, I obviously won’t be racing another marathon any time soon even if I’d like to. I’ll channel that energy toward trying to get back on the track a couple of times this spring and hopping in some fun road races over the summer. Mostly, I want to strike the elusive balance of not racing at the cost of my health, but allowing myself to remember why I love running and find chances to race more than I have these past 6 months as a way to stay sharp.
Leigh Anne Sharek
The day after the Trials, I received a text message from a good friend and fellow Olympic Trials finisher Lauren Perkins. It said “general feeling this morning seems to be along the lines of a restless ‘now what’. Immediately followed by “Did you sign up for the BAA 5K?” LOL. But she was echoing my thoughts exactly. There was a huge build up of training and anticipation for this race, and then all at once it was over. There is residual excitement from the race and soreness in my legs, but this gigantic THING is no longer in front of me, it’s behind. I feel like I am floating untethered in running purgatory.
So what’s next? About 2 minutes after crossing the finish line last Saturday, my teammate Jeanne Mack said, “I really want to run Berlin.” To which I replied, “I don’t ever want to run again.” It was a grueling race that I fought to finish. While I am happy to have had the experience and proud of myself for finishing, I didn’t perform as well as I know I can. What Jeanne felt right away, and what took me a few more days to realize, is that there is some unfinished business with the marathon. But before I tackle another 26.2, which will probably be in NYC this November, I am going to focus on shorter distances. I want to break 1:15 in the half this year, and break 16:45 in the 5K. I want to continue to build Brooklyn Track Club, especially the women’s team. I want to show up to the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2024 with a dozen BKTC women qualifiers! I want to continue to be a positive and hopefully inspiring woman in the running community.
What the Olympic Trials taught me is that so many women, from all different walks of life, are working hard to achieve their goals. We are balancing careers, families, and personal lives, all while giving running our best. I am 31, and nowhere near slowing down. My best times and races are ahead of me. The next 4 years will inevitably hold races from the mile to the marathon, challenges in the delicate work/life/running balance, tremendous growth with Brooklyn Track Club, and dozens of unforeseen experiences. I can’t wait!!
Going into the Trials, I had a build-up that was full of setbacks. I’ve always had really great training segments leading up to marathons, so I guess I was due for something less than ideal! I knew I would run at the Trials no matter what, but I had to adjust my place/time goals. I ran a hard, but slightly conservative race in Atlanta and felt within myself so I would be able to recover quickly to bounce back and run the Boston Marathon.
The first thing I’d note about the Trials as a non-professional woman, is that it was a very unique experience in that it was hard to have a specific goal for the race. In any other race I do, I want to run a certain time, finish in a certain place, or have something else that usually has a clear path of how to achieve it. At the Trials, I wanted to finish better than I was ranked and compete well, but those goals were much less concrete than I am used to.
In the past, I’ve also experienced a pretty big let down after “A” races. When I qualified for Trials, something I'd been aiming to do for several years, the week after the race I was a little depressed. I’d put so much into the race, and then I’d done it, but the aftermath felt empty and I wasn’t able to immediately figure out what the next 14 months before the Trials would look like. That hasn't been the case after the Trials. I am still happily reliving memories of the weekend. I think a big part of that is the lack of concrete goal going into the race, I did finish better than I was ranked and I moved up as the race progressed, but the experience felt less about being super competitive or trying to PR, and more about smiling at the crowd until it hurt so much you couldn't, and fully soaking in the experience.
As for what’s next, I am trying to take a true break from running. Training through the depth of winter was challenging, and I need a mental and physical break. Then, I plan on doing a few local road races in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, and after that spend the rest of the summer doing trail races. I don't plan on running another road marathon until after the 2024 Olympic Trials standards are announced, and frankly I hope to never again run such a hilly marathon. I’m a rhythm runner at that Atlanta course was about as ill-suited to me as could be possible.
Post-race I flew out to Utah and Arizona to do some hiking—surprisingly, I think the hikes helped my legs recover faster! I always get excited about my next goal as soon as I cross the finish line, and then need to take a little time to make sure it’s really the right goal to chase. Right now I’m deciding between heading to the track to try and break 33:00 in the 10k, or staying with the marathon this spring and going for a big PR—I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, and that Trials course wasn’t a PR day (for most of us, some people had incredible races there). Longer term I plan to stick with the schedule I’ve had the past few years, one marathon a year and a lot of US Championship road races. My hope is that the excitement around the Trials leads to increased interest in those Championship races as well. They’re a lot of fun, there’s tons of depth in the field, and it’s a cool circuit with a points system.
Qualifying for the Olympic Trials was a huge milestone in my running career. I ran 2:42:56 at Grandma's Marathon in 2018. However, in the last few miles of my qualifying marathon, it hit me that qualifying was just another step toward my ultimate racing goals, and racing in the Olympic Trials would not be the last milestone in my career.
My Olympic Trials performance was not what I wanted. I am grateful for the entire experience, but my performance made me hungry to push harder and aim higher. I have a lot more to give to my running and am setting bigger goals for my next 4 years of racing.
I'm racing the Berlin Marathon in September with a goal of running sub-2:37. I'm not sure what my focus will be after Berlin, but I’m committed to getting significantly faster for the 2024 trials regardless of any changes that might be made to the qualifying standards.
Both mentally and physically, I knew I needed a break from the marathon, even before I qualified for the Trials (which I did in November 2019). So back in October I signed myself up for the SOS Triathlon, which will happen this coming September. I figure it'll force me to “cross train” with purpose! Whether or not this benefits my running long-term is TBD, but it will be a relief to go back to a sport where “just finishing” is a goal for a while.
Beyond racing, all of the “Trials hype” over the past year or so has truly changed my outlook on running. Hundreds of women, myself included, found ways to fit 90+ mile weeks into our packed schedules that include demanding full time jobs (for the athletes who not only work but are also raising kids—you’re the most impressive of all). I’m not fast enough to be a pro runner, but being unsponsored comes with a huge benefit—I get to do this completely for me. The only pressure to perform is internal, which enables me to enjoy running so much more.
I like racing, but I find the most joy in the overall build-up and training process. This training cycle has taught me to stop limiting myself based on previous times—and it’s made me really excited to keep going. I love comparing workouts from the beginning of a training cycle to the end and seeing the progress I’ve made. A few weeks ago, I hit paces in a 2 x 3 mile workout during one of my highest mileage weeks that I couldn't even hit while fresh during a track meet in college.
Unlike shorter distances where you can race every week or two, the marathon is different because you're training for months and running thousands of miles to prepare for a race that will all be over in (hopefully) a little over two and a half hours. The week before the Trials, I sat down with my coach and two teammates to talk about race/fueling strategy and my coach's advice was that we all three needed to have something on our race calendars post-Trials so that it didn't feel like there was a huge void when we woke up on Sunday. I’m planning on running the NYC Marathon in November, as well as the USATF 10 Mile Championships (as long as I can get accepted!) in October as a tune up. I’d like to race a bit more during the next cycle—both for the physical benefit of a great workout and the mental benefit of coming out stronger from both the good races and the bad.
After the Trials feels a bit like after the Olympics, I imagine. I was not a contender to go to the Olympics, so the Trials was “it” for me. For two years, I thought about qualifying and once I qualified, I thought about the race. There was a long and intense build up and it almost felt like the trials were always far away. And then it came and went. And now it’s over. What an incredible weekend!
What next? It took me a week after the race to mentally rest. My body recovered after a few days. I am so thankful to have been 1 of the 500 women on that start line and to finish. And this has given me confidence and a fire in my soul. I know I can run faster. My plan is to run another major marathon—either New York or Boston. But in the meantime, I have a score to settle with the half marathon.
It’s definitely a weird feeling to be coming down from such an emotional day! My coach is making me take some mandatory time off, which is also contributing to my post-marathon blues! Right now, I’m just trying to embrace the feeling of achieving a lifelong dream and not look too far ahead. A lot of people are now asking me “what’s next?” Honestly, I am simply trying to embrace this moment and not take it for granted. These kinds of accomplishments don’t come around often and I don’t want to jump to the next thing without appreciating this feeling for all that it is worth. It’s hard not to have high hopes and new goals, but for now, I am taking some mandatory and necessary rest that I think both my mind and body will thank me for in the long run. Who knows what lies ahead, but I do know one thing. I know that chasing big dreams is what makes me feel most alive and I can only hope that I have the opportunity to continue to do what sets my soul on fire.
I’m definitely enjoying post-Trials recovery, although it’s hard to shake the itch to run. Luckily, with 8 teammates to hold me accountable, we’ve been getting in the pool and going on long walks to recap the phenomenal day that Saturday was!
This race was definitely sitting in the back of my mind since I qualified at CIM in 2018. I thought that once it was over, I would feel depressed because I knew that this big event we had all been putting hours of work into would come and go in a flash (or ~2 hours and 45 minutes 😝).
In all honesty, I wouldn’t consider myself “a marathon runner.” I was a cross country girl in middle school, high school, and college. I love the grit of XC, alongside the team camaraderie. But after last Saturday’s race I now have a new love for the marathon, which I’d never think I’d attain! Long story short, looking forward, I’ll be focusing on some shorter races to tune up for this Fall’s XC season. USATF XC Nationals are in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, which is my team’s backyard! As a team, we’re all gearing up for a big XC season and a solid showing at Nationals.
As for marathons, I’m a one-marathon-a-year type of girl, so I'm going to give the bod a rest for 2020 and probably hit Boston and/or Berlin in 2021! I have some unfinished business in both the Boston and NYC marathons, so I’ll be back with a purpose.
The big day is over! *sad face* It truly was a “big” day, but I think it was more than just a day. So much went into this one day—months and months of mileage build-up, workouts, early mornings, late nights, recovery/refueling, positivity through adversity, and about 3 pairs of running shoes. Though one day has come and gone, my outlook on running and competing remains steady—run fast, free, and fearless. The fast and fearless parts are pretty straightforward, but for running free I simply mean running for the purity and the raw love of nature’s greatest art form. Running really is an art as you create a stronger and faster you with all of the work you put into it. Race day is just the day you take a step back from the painting and say, Ah, what a masterpiece.
I approached running in such a large event like the Trials in just my second marathon the same way, and that’s exactly how I plan to approach the rest of my races in my career. Since I am only 22, I have about double my age left in prime marathoning years. Keeping that perspective in mind—it’s truly all about prioritizing those 3 f’s (fast, free, and fearless) because that’s what keeps it fun for me. I have yet to pick my next marathon, but I definitely plan on making “the big dance” in 4 years at the next Trials. The motto is JUST. KEEP. MOVING. UP. Move up in every race. Move up to the next level in running (professional level). I sat down with my coach this past week during post-marathon recovery to talk about how the race went and where we think I can get next—we were both extremely happy with my performance as I nearly PR’d in much rougher conditions than my qualifying race in Richmond back in 2018 (granted it was very windy that day too). However, we both know I have so much more left in the tank (I mean at least another great 22 years) and think Top 50 or even 30 is in reach the next go around. Whatever the goal the plan is to be in it for the long run (pun totally intended).
Since the Olympic Trials ended, it’s been a whirlwind of emotions. This race has been all of the HYPE for me since I qualified back in 2018. I’ve felt all sorts of things: failure, relief, happiness for good health, anger, sadness, and so many other emotions. One race doesn’t define me, and I will be back. I am currently planning races for 2020. I’ll meet with my coach this upcoming week to go over my goals, what areas of training I can strengthen, and what my timeline looks like in terms of qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Trials. Right now I am thinking: US 25k Champs, Pittsburgh Half, Grandma’s Half, US 20k Champs, US 10 mile Champs, and hopefully... possibly the NYC Marathon. I really want to do Chicago and Boston next year and more world marathon majors in the future. It’s been a week since that crazy race and the amazing weekend. My DNF is still a tough pill to swallow, but I am looking at the positives of it all. I am 100% healthy. The legs feel GREAT. I am stronger from that experience and I have the fire to compete again. Like my friend and Oiselle teammate Becki Spellman told me, “You’re a great athlete. Saturday didn’t take away from that.” I’ll be back. As Des Linden would say: “Keep showing up.”
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