The Road to Orlando: A Monthly Running Blog Chronicling my Training and Racing Leading up to the U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials
In partnership with Runners Plus and Dayton Track Club, I am excited to start this blog which will highlight my training and racing leading up to the Olympic Marathon Trials which takes place on February 3rd, 2024 in Orlando, Florida. This edition will likely be the longest blog so I can provide some background and context. In an effort to be fully transparent, it is important for me to disclose that I contacted Runners Plus shortly after qualifying to the Olympic Trials and asked if they would sponsor me, to which they graciously agreed. Their sponsorship will help me continue training at a high level by covering expenses related to shoes, injury prevention equipment, and other running-related items. It is also important for me to note that I would gladly recommend and promote Runners Plus regardless of the sponsorship. Their stores offer every running product imaginable, and they do a tremendous job of promoting running in the local community by organizing group runs and races, and by offering coaching, training plans, and educational seminars.
What is the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials?
The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials take place every four years before the Summer Olympic Games. The individuals who qualify to the Trials compete against one another to determine which three runners will represent the United States in the marathon at the Olympics. In order to qualify for the Trials, men must run a marathon in 2 hours and 18 minutes or faster (5:15 per mile), and women must run 2 hours and 37 minutes or faster (5:59 per mile). There is also an opportunity to qualify by running a very fast half marathon time (1:03 and 1:12). Approximately 150-200 men and 150-200 women across the nation are expected to run a qualifying mark and toe the line in Orlando. Making it to this race is almost the pinnacle of the sport for our country. The only accomplishment that tops it is actually qualifying to the Olympics. I bring this up to put a conversation topic to rest: I do not have the talent to qualify for the Olympics. It is somewhat frustrating when others float out the idea thinking they are being encouraging. It is important to set lofty yet realistic expectations. Simply put, I’m happy to have the opportunity to race at the Trials, and you better believe I’m going to give it my all and compete as hard as I can–but a more realistic goal is finishing in the top half of the race. A PR on a good weather day would be nice as well.
California International Marathon (CIM): My qualifying race
On December 4, 2022, I ran the California International Marathon in 2 hours, 17 minutes, and 14 seconds. The race is a popular destination for athletes looking to set a personal record or qualify to the Trials or a world marathon major like Boston. The weather, competition, point-to-point course, and net loss in elevation provide a great opportunity to run fast. While the course is known for being a downhill course, it has rolling hills the first 20 miles that account for approximately 600 feet of climbing. Heading into the race, my marathon PR was 2:25:55 from Houston in January, meaning I needed to run about 8 minutes faster than I had ever run before. However, a workout in August and my half marathon at Columbus in October gave me the confidence I needed to chase after this lofty goal. I ran 1:04:30 at Columbus which converts to an equivalent effort of a 2:15 marathon.
I knew I would have plenty of people to run with for the entire race. This year CIM had more runners under 2 hours and 20 minutes compared to any other marathon in the country including Chicago, Boston, and New York. The race served as the USATF National Championships with a high prize purse to attract elite talent. Many people who were not aware of the level of competition were surprised to know I finished 33rd overall. My plan was to try to run a consistent effort throughout, and I pretty much nailed it with an 8 second positive split. My first half was 1:08:33, and my second half was 1:08:41. I thought I was running too aggressively during the first 10k of the race and intentionally slowed down. I’m glad I did and am not sure I would have qualified if I kept pushing the pace so early. At the 5k mark I was in 34th place and 36th place at 10k. I fell back as far as 50th place at the halfway point. Once the course flattened out in the last 10k, I started passing many people to finish 33rd. I let out a burst of emotion at the finish line that would bump up the rating of a PG movie to PG-13. Three days later after two days off running, I ran a few laps around the Tipp City track where I had done many of my key workouts. It was at this moment on the track, reflecting on all the work I had put in to get to this point, that the achievement finally sunk in deep and felt real. I yelled “Let’s go!” at the top of my lungs several times and was overcome with euphoria. I allowed myself to celebrate for two weeks before I started strategizing how I was going to get even better shape for the Olympic Trials.
Progression with running from 2013-2020
Prior to 2022, my official PRs in the 10k, half, and full were 31:43, 1:08:58, and 2:31. Now they are 29:43, 1:04:30, and 2:17 (all set in 2022). I ran collegiately at Bowling Green State University (2013 graduate), and I stayed competitive at the local and regional level post collegiately. However, I never trained aggressively until 2019 which was when I started running consistently with other local elite runners from the Dayton area (even though I was living in Columbus at the time). From 2013-2018, I was more focused on my work career and continuing education, and I couldn’t find a reliable group to train with. During this time I also developed a negative mindsight and convinced myself that I would never be able to run as fast as I did in college. My training volume during this period ranged from 50-70 miles per week, but I often skipped out on winter training completely.
My work ethic and passion for running re-ignited once I started training with the other local elites in the fall of 2019. A large group of us started training together twice a week: once for a mid week track workout, and again for a weekend long run. All runners can relate to being able to run a little farther and faster when you have others to work with. The friendships and camaraderie of the team made running more enjoyable. Some of the runners like Chris Lemon, Matt Lemon, and Garang Madut had more marathon experience and success than me, and I realized I would have to run higher mileage to be more competitive and maximize my potential. I bumped up my training volume to 80 miles per week with consistent workouts and saw tremendous success. Due to Covid-19, I was forced to test out my new fitness with a bike path marathon with Jeremy Wysocki in April 2020. Eric Contreras and Julie Mercado from Runners Plus were super helpful with pacing us on the bike, managing traffic at road crossings, playing motivating music, and handling gels/water. I finished in 2:27:55, bettering my official marathon PR of 2:31 that I ran at Columbus in 2019. Unfortunately with races being canceled for the foreseeable future, I lost my passion and stopped running for 12 months (June 2020-May 2021). At the time, I thought I had pretty much reached my running potential, and qualifying for the Olympic Trials seemed impossible considering I would have to double my half marathon PR of 1:08:58. So I quit running and got into lifting.
Getting back to running after 12 months off
In the summer of 2021, my wife and I built a house in our hometown of Tipp City after living in Columbus the previous 4 years. I had the luxury of working from home, and Megan landed a position at Dayton Children’s Hospital. Upon hearing this news, Tipp’s head cross country coach, Byron Kimmel, offered me a position as an assistant coach. I accepted the position and decided I better get back in shape if I was going to contribute in a meaningful fashion. I had gained thirty pounds during my 12 months off running, but I like to think that half of the weight was extra muscle from lifting (my passion for Snickers, ice cream, and gummy worms ensured it wasn’t all muscle). So I started running consistently with the high schoolers. During a pre-season time-trial, I finished 9th on the team. It was a humbling experience– I wasn’t even fast enough to make their varsity. I then made it my goal to be in better shape than everyone on the team by the end of the season so I could pace them in workouts. By gradually increasing my mileage and challenging myself in workouts, this goal became a reality. I ran a 1:10 half marathon at the Columbus half marathon in October 2021, and this motivated me to work even harder. I bumped my mileage up to 80 and ran more challenging workouts, resulting in a 2:25:55 marathon at Houston in January of 2022, a 30:38 10k in April, and a 1:07:55 half at the Indy Mini in April. All of these were PRs at the time, and this motivated me to take my training to the next level.
Big time training leads to big time results (June 2022--Dec 2022)
Prior to June 2022, I had never trained at 100 miles a week. Part of this was due to fear of getting injured. I had my fair share of injuries in college and even had to redshirt a year due to a serious injury. You name it, I’ve had it: IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, sprained ankle, achilles tendonitis, hip and lower back problems. Another reason I had never attempted 100 miles was because the thought of running that much seemed like a chore. However, I knew that the best of the best trained this much. Ultimately, I decided to give it a try. I would be turning 32 in September of 2022, and I knew my prime running years were counting down. I didn’t want to look back 5 years from now and wonder ‘What if?’. It is important for me to note that I spent a considerable amount of time each week doing injury prevention and strengthening exercises to minimize the risk of injury. Without these drills and exercises, I firmly believe I would have gotten injured. So from June through November, I ran 100-120 miles each week with the occasional down week for a big race. My long runs ranged from 20-22 miles, and I doubled 3-4 days a week. There were some days I totaled 30 miles which is absolutely bonkers now that I reflect on it. And it wasn’t just the mileage that got me to that level. It was also the repeat 400s at 5k pace; the repeat 1000s at 10k pace; the repeat miles at half marathon pace; and the longer efforts at slightly faster than goal marathon pace.
It would be remiss of me not to emphasize how much of a luxury it is to have a work-from-home job. I do not think I would have had the time or energy to run as much as I did without the convenience of a flexible work schedule and the time saved from not having to commute. An additional luxury has been always having friends to share the miles with. I’d like to give a big shout out to the Tipp/Troy morning crew of Brett Stover, Chris Lane, Ken Brunson, and Jason Bruns. My main workout partners deserve a shout out as well: Garang Madut, Charles Rodeheffer, Matt Lemon, Chris Lemon, Paul Krebs, and Ashton Hall. There's so many other talented training partners I could name that share the miles and hold me accountable.
So what’s next?
Many have commented with a dreadful tone to their voice that there are 13 months between now and the Trials. The implication is that it will be a chore to maintain this level of fitness for so long. I do not look at it that way. I do not want to maintain my level of fitness. I look at these 13 months as an opportunity to surpass my current fitness level and be in the best shape of my life in Orlando. Right now my hype song that gets me going is “Higher” by Eminem. In the song he raps about the fact that he has achieved so much in the music industry and wonders if he has reached the peak of his career. Upon further reflection though, he’s not satisfied and still feels like he has more to give and prove. He confidently raps, “Every time I think I hit my ceiling, I go higher than I’ve ever been.” This is where my mind is right now. Hitting the standard is definitely what motivated me in 2022. However, what is fueling me moving forward is challenging myself to run even faster at an older age. I’ll be 33 at the Trials.
In the four weeks since the marathon, I’ve run 40, 60, 70, and 80 miles. These lower mileage weeks have allowed my body to recover while also helping to maintain most of the fitness I achieved so I can build upon it. I’m transitioning into a speed phase of training as I prepare to chase some 5k and 10k PRs on the track at some collegiate meets. I firmly believe that getting faster at shorter distances will help prepare me to run faster in the marathon. It will also be fun going head to head with some college kids 10-14 years younger than me. I also plan on contending for the win at either the Toledo Glass City Marathon in April or the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon in May. After that I’ll focus my attention on doing more marathon-specific work and plan to contend for the win at the Air Force Marathon in September and Columbus Marathon in October.
I also have a big announcement that will play a key role in helping me take my training to the next level. Xcel Sports Medicine has generously offered me free physical therapy sessions leading up to the Trials. This partnership gives me the confidence to train at an even higher level knowing that Xcel will be there to help with recovery and staying healthy. Xcel helped me recover from achilles tendonitis pain earlier this year, so I have firsthand experience on their knowledge and expertise. They have locations in Vandalia and Beavercreek, and I highly recommend you schedule an appointment if you’re dealing with anything limiting your training.
Life outside of running
Megan and I have been married for 3 years and have been together for a total of 9 years. We both grew up in Tipp City and were even in high school together for a year but didn’t know each other. We met when I was in my final year at Bowling Green State University and she was a sophomore at Ohio State. Megan works as an Occupational Therapist at Dayton Children’s Hospital. I work as a Project Manager at Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) which is a government agency supporting the finance and accounting operations of the Department of Defense. My role is to lead automation projects that allow our agency to improve the efficiency and auditability of our business processes.
We recently added our Australian Shepherd puppy Ozzy as a new member of the family to join our dog Syd (13 years old, miniature Golden-Doodle) and cat Penelope (7 years old). Outside of hanging with the family, I enjoy following professional sports like basketball and football. I also enjoy being competitive in games like table tennis, darts, and foosball, as well as backyard sports like frisbee golf, Kan Jam, and Spikeball. Additionally, I play my share of video games and currently own a Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4. Party games and board games are also on my list of fun activities.
If you read this far, I’m impressed! I am not writing this blog to say “Look at me”. I am writing this blog because I’m genuinely passionate about running and because I know some people will be interested in following along for the ride. I’m very fortunate to have a supportive circle around me in family, friends, training partners, and community members. If you ever see me in person and would like to strike up a conversation, I’d love to meet and talk to you. Additionally, feel free to reach out to me on Strava, Facebook, and Instagram. Cheers!