Worlds Collide at the US Olympic Trials Marathon

You may be asking yourself why the heck iRunFar is talking about the US Olympic Trials Marathon. Well, it’s because it intrigues the hell out of me… and that’s without me giving a darn about the results aside from wanting my friends to run well. What caught my interest is how the trials showcase the overlap of the mainstream endurance running scene (primarily road running) and the mountain/ultra/trail ranks. The overlap is increasingly occurring in both directions.

I first got to thinking about the subject during the long drive from Park City, Utah to the Bay Area to cover The North Face Endurance Challenge 50. Specifically, I was thinking about how Meghan Arbogast, Devon Crosby-Helms, and Caitlin Smith – three women I considered first as trail and/or ultrarunners – had qualified for the trials. That Sunday, Jenn Shelton joined the list with a 2:45:01 at the California International Marathon. A quick note on Twitter after CIM yielded a number of other female qualifiers, including Tyler Stewart who’d just placed fifth at the TNF 50 mile, 2009 IAU 100k world champion Kami Semick, as well as Pikes Peak Ascent and Mount Washington Road Run winner Kim Dobson. Mountain running specialists Megan Lund-Lizotte and Kasie Enman have also qualified for the trials.

Of course, there are a pair of prominent men from trail/ultra ranks who’ll be in Houston this weekend – Max King and Michael Wardian. While Max King is a great runner and a great guy, I’m particularly psyched for Wardian running these Olympic Trials. Why? Because after Wardian led the early miles of the 2008 Olympic Trials Marathon, USATF (not so) coincidentally lowered the qualifying standard. Wardian worked tirelessly for three years before earning his qualifier for this year’s trials last June. You also have guys like trials qualifier Chris Lundstrom who come from a road background and race well on the trails. Although not qualifiers, a bunch of guys from Flagstaff, Arizona would also fall into this category.

You can follow the Olympic Trials Marathon here.

Mountain/Ultra/Trail Women’s Qualifiers (qualifying time in parentheses)

  • Leah Thorvilson (2:39:43 – running) – Winner 2011 Strolling Jim 40
  • Kasie Enman (2:39:55) – 2011 Mountain Running World Champion
  • Wendy Terris (2:40:24) – Two-time winner Sunmart 50k
  • Chris Lundy (2:40:06) – 2009 US Mountain Running Champion
  • Caitlin Smith (2:41:37 – running) – Winner of 2009 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile championships
  • Devon Crosby-Helms (2:42:44 – running) – JFK 50 mile course record holder (pre-race blog entry)
  • Sopenga Eap (2:43:05) – 2010 USATF Trail Half Marathon Champion
  • Susannah Beck (2:43:18) – Second at 2008 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile championships
  • Michele Suszek (2:43:45) – Member 2011 US Mountain Running Team
  • Joanna Zieger (2:43:48 – running) – [would love any specific trail/ultra info] (pre-race blog entry)
  • Heather McNiff née Wood (2:43:53) – Strong ultra finishes in late 2009 and 2010.
  • Jenn Shelton (2:45:01 – running) – Winner of 2007 Rocky Raccoon 100 mile in 14:57:18 (post-qualifier interview)
  • Tyler Stewart (2:45:14 – running) – Fifth at 2011 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile championships
  • Kami Semick (2:45:18 – not racing) – 2009 IAU 100k World Champion
  • Megan Lund-Lizotte (2:45:37 – running) – 2011 Sierre Zinal and USATF Trail Marathon Champ (pre-trials interview)
  • Meghan Arbogast (2:45:48 – running) – 50+ women’s 100k world record holder
  • Kim Dobson (2:45:56 – running) – 2011 Pikes Peak Ascent and Mount Washington Road Run

Mountain/Ultra/Trail Men’s Qualifiers (qualifying time in parentheses)

  • Josh Cox (2:13:51 – running) – US 50k record holder (2:43:45) (pre-race audio interview)
  • Ryan Bak (2:14:17 – running) – Second place team at 2011 GORE-TEX TransRockies Run (with Max King) (pre-trials article)
  • Max King (2:15:34 – running) – 2011 US Mountain Running World Champion (pre-trials interview)
  • Michael Wardian (2:17:49 – running) – 2011 IAU 100k World Championships silver medalist (team gold)
  • Chris Lundstrom (2:18:58 – running) – 3rd 2009 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile championships (pre-race blog entry)

Call for Comments

  • Did we miss any mountain/ultra/trail runners who qualified for the trials?
  • Anyone know if Kasie Enman, Susannah Beck, Heather McNiff, Leah Thorvilson, Chris Lundy, Sopenga Eap, Wendy Terris, Jenn Shelton, or Chris Lundstrom are running?
  • Who are you most excited to follow at the trials – mountain/ultra/trail runner or not?
  • If you’re one of the above qualifiers, please leave a comment for your fans!

Edits:
1/12/12 – Added Jenn Shelton article (thanks, Jon Allen), Chris Lundstrom blog entry, Heather McNiff Woods (thanks, Jim Holmes), Ryan Bak (thanks, Ian Torrence), Leah Thorvilson (thanks again, Ian), Chris Lundy (thanks, George), Michele Suszek (thanks, Justin Mock), Sopegan Eap (thanks, Scott Dunlap), Joanna Zieger (thanks again, Scott), and (thanks, Sean Meissner. Corrected Heather Wood’s name to McNiff (thanks, Andy G), Tyler Stewart’s status to running (thanks, Devon Crosby-Helms) as well as Leah Thorvilson’s (thanks, Trent), and Ryan Bak’s TransRockies placing (thanks, CJ).

Bryon Powell: is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar.com. Having spent nearly 20 years as an ultrarunner and three decades as a trail runner, he's also written Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and co-wrote Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running. He calls Silverton, Colorado and Moab, Utah home.

View Comments (69)

  • Bryon- I'm definitely interested, too. Runners World will have live coverage.

    Personally, I'm rooting for all the ultra folks, but primarily for my old training partner, Paul Petersen. Good luck to all of them.

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  • As a long-time Hanson's customer (I remember the first store at Hall & Hayes) - I'll be following Rochester's own Desi Davila. She's gonna show em what a 2:22 marathoner can do.

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    • Great! Thanks for the info. I've really enjoyed chatting with Chris after his runs at the TNF championships( and out at Western States). When I didn't see him out there in December, I figured that he's been concentrating on the trials. I hope he goes back to being at least an occasional participant in the trail and ultra worlds after this weekend.

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    • Thanks, Jim. I wasn't familiar with Heather. I've added her to the list.

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      • Bryon, as of last summer she's Heather McNiff.

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        • Thanks, Andy!

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    • Blake,you beat your daughter by 1 second,bet that won't happen again!

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      • Uh, NOW, I remember Ms. Wood! Had to read the full article. :-)

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      • and a great time,for BOTH of you.

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  • And there looks to be at least a handful ultrarunners in the mix :)

    Michael Wardian, Kami Semick, Devon-Crosby Helms, Jenn Shelton, Max King, Caitlin Smith, Meghan Arbogast, and Susannah Beck. I may have forgot a few names, but you get the idea.

    Other than Wardian or King, I doubt any have a chance to make the team, but what an honor to be included in this event.

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    • Huh? I think I named all those folks as ultrarunners who qualified. ;-) Of the ultra crowd, Josh Cox probably has the best chance followed by Max King. It's likely got something to do with having an "x" in one's name.

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      • Sorry Bryon! That one went way over my head that I missed the names :)

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  • Any idea why Dean Karnazes is not present? Isn't he on a specific marathon training plan for next years 50 marathons overs 50 countries or something like that? (think I read something like that in Trail Runner mag.)

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    • He would have to find quite a bit more speed in his legs to qualify. I believe the standard is 2:19, where he is closer to 3 hrs.

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  • Bryon,

    Two more to add to the list:

    Leah Thorvilson, who killed it at Strolling Jim & a 50K in Maine this year ([broken link removed])

    Ryan Bak, who was Max's partner at TransRockies this year.

    Gonna be some great races to watch!

    Cheers!

    Ian

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    • Thanks, Ian. Can you confirm that Leah's not running?

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  • Let's hear it for Oakland! I'm rooting for Caitlin Smith and Oakland's premier road runner, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet. Also doing the Bay Area proud, of course, is Devon Crosby Helms. What an exciting race it promises to be.

    With regard to Fred's question above re: Dean Karnazes (since I wrote that TR article) -- I don't believe Dean ever indicated he'd be at these trials, and he's in more of a non-competitive, ambassador mode now as he works out the logistics of trying to put the running-in-each-country project together. He may be there as a spectator but I don't think he's associated with the Olympic Trials in any official way.

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  • Wardian should run well considering his road background. Competition will be extremely difficult considering the talent that will be here. Unfortunately, I will not be able to go watch, but maybe somer will make an appearance over the weekend since I am running the marathon on Sunday.

    Wish them all well.

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  • Fingers crossed and sending good Ozark mojo Houston way for Devon and Wardian. And secretly hoping that the Olympic team gets some ultra world swagger.

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  • I believe Bak & King were second at the 2011 TransRockies

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    • Thanks for the correction. Mike Smith and Jason Wolfe did win TransRockies last year. It's ironic that I missed them given they're part of the fast Flagstaff roadie crowd I was thinking of!

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      • You bet Bryon...I'm excited as well to see the Trials unfold this weekend

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  • Chris Lundy (2009 US mountain running champ, among other honors) is also on the entry list.

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  • Hey, Leah Thorvilson will be running the trials.

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  • Keith Bechtol (Team Zombie). Has run at least two ultras: Woodside 50K and AR50.

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    • Should I call you JoeTube or Joey Seinfeld? Your knowledge of both is remarkable!

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  • Either the standards for men are much tighter, or female ultra-world has a mix of faster runners (gals) than male one")

    We plan on heading out to cheer them all on Saturday!

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  • While seeing the trail/ultra guys and gals take their shots is interesting, I don't think irunfar needs their entry to justify mentioning the US Olympic trials. Perhaps we forget this, running twice the distance or more, but a marathon is quite a long way. And the pace at which the elites are capable of putting one down is, without a doubt, astonishing. Of course, there are other venues that focus on road racing, and no place else covers ultras like this site. But on some level, running is running, and anyone who does it can appreciate the effort that has gone in to preparing for Saturday, and moreover, the effort still to come.

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  • The only "collision" is going to be in the starting gate. After the gun goes off, the ultra folks will be "colliding" with the elites' road dust. Simply put, the road elites will crush the ultra folks, who mostly appear to consider a "win" getting to the trials; none have a realistic chance to make the team or even place.

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  • Carlos... our elite road runners will most likely get smoked in London anyways, so I guess that it's all relative... basically, your point about ultra vs. road runners could be applied to the american elite vs. east african elite argument... at any rate, it should be fun to watch... and don't be surprised if max k. or michael w. end up making the team... a small victory is better than no victory at all...

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    • smoked... since we've had quite a good amount of top-15 finishes and a silver medal in the last few olympic marathons. I realize we're probably not going to win, and could very well be 5min back of the gold medal, but smoked is not quite the right term.

      And huge respect to both Max and Wardian, but the former has a slight slight chance and the latter has zero chance unless the leaders are consumed by the earth. good day!

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      • i'll stick with smoked... meb's silver was the product of a relatively slow race, by olympic standards... 15th on that stage would put somebody 5-8+ minutes back, which is pretty huge... not to mention the fact that many of the fastest marathon runners from Ethiopia and Kenya would rather try to win a world major, than go to the olympics... $25,000 or so (for Americans) for a gold medal vs. $130,000 for New York or $150,000 for Boston... national pride is one thing but when you are trying to transcend abject poverty, maybe your goals are a bit different... i don't know... at any rate, i'm grateful for roads, trails and movement in general and i have an immense amount of respect for the entire running tribe, regardless of ability or nationality or surface/distance inclination... peace

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        • FWIW, every one of the Kenya's fastest marathoners has expressed a desire to run in the Olympics. That only 3 will be selected of such an amazing field is a testament to the depth of the nation's talent - not a lack of monetary incentive. The Olympics are never a shallow field - not compared to Boston, Berlin, or any other race - and won't be in 2012. Kenya will field the world record holder, the reigning world champ, and the Boston/New York course record holder. Which does mean, in all likelihood, that no American will contend for a medal. But let's not pretend this is a JV race.

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    • The topic was our trials. I was stating facts. I have much respect for so-called "elite" trailrunners, but that doesn't give way to fantasy and fantasizing bout their place in the pecking order.

      Your point that our runners will get smoked in the Olympics illustrates my point further -- highlighting the enormous delta between our trail runners and world class marathoners.

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      • i completely agree... but i'd still like to see max pull a rabbit out of his hat... (i know it's not likely, but it would be cool for 'us' trail people...)

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