Olympic Marathon Trials
April 20th arrived, ready or not. I have been more ready for a race than I was that day, but my excitement was irrepressible. With one of my High School Cross Country runners, Mallory, I arrived at the ‘holding pen’ at the Sheraton at 7:00 a.m. with all the other runners. It was fun scanning the room for different runners, connecting with Penny and Johanna and others, and generally just chilling out. At 7:30, we were herded through a mall, and let out into the outdoor ‘holding pen’ which was the start and finish line area. From here we were free to warm up. The crowd was already growing, and runners were connecting with family and friends. Mallory found my friend Theresa and my Dad, and they eventually got themselves situated on the course.
I warmed up with Johanna, assessing the state of my body’s recovery from it most current injury. I was just getting over number 2 for the calendar year, and was feeling pretty healthy. I had followed a cram session series of workouts over the last 2 weeks to see if I could recover some turnover, and felt that if I held together, I MIGHT be able to break 3 hours.
Under the canopies set up for the athletes, I saw Joan Benoit Samuelson, wished her luck, and said ‘You know you’re the only one older than me?’ to which she replied ‘Oh, you’re 47!’ She had studied the entry list too. We discussed whether she should wear flats or trainers. Not sure what she decided, but whatever it was, it worked.
With 10 minutes before the start, I ran some strides. Surprisingly, they felt great! Pain was minimal, the temperature was cool, the sun was shining. I saw Deena Kastor standing in the street, focused on the road ahead. I approached her, put out my hand, and wished her luck. She returned the greeting in her usual humble way. I was pulling for her.
At last, the national anthem, and I lined up at the back, asking around for the 3:00 hour group. I think most people thought I was kidding. One runner joined the group in her plain clothes, and another had a bad limp and a support sock all the way up her thigh. As soon as the race started, they both took a few steps and stopped. The pace started gently, Penny next to me, and Joannie just in front. Joannie surged up a bit, and I nudged Penny to go follow her. Fairly soon, I started to sag off the back with a few other women, and then there were just 2 of us. She asked me ‘are you Meghan Arbogast? My name is Jenn Pfeiffer. I know you have run Western States a few times, and I have too.’ She went on to say that she just had a baby four months ago, and wasn’t expecting to run too fast, and I explained my situation, so we hung out, in the back, escorted by two chirping motorcycles as the pack continued to gap us. We missed the first mile mark, and went through mile 2 in 13:20. I was very pleased with this, as was Jenn. We were now entering the main loop that we would run 4 times. We passed our first opportunity to pick up our special fluids, and I spied mine for the next time around. Just as we were turning to cross the river, I heard my name amongst all the yelling. I looked to my left and saw 2 Corvallisians – Jeff Phillippe and Nick AuYeung – holding up sign ‘Go Nutmeg!’ I smiled and waved, and crowd went nuts.
As we turned the corned I took off my long sleeve shirt. I was planning on giving it to Mallory and Theresa, but one of the volunteers came out on the course, crouched down, and held his arms out for me to throw it. Talk about getting picked up after! At the foot of the bridge was the 3 mile mark, and I went through with a 6:41 split. I had decided beforehand that I wouldn’t really study my splits, but look them over afterwards. I really wanted to finish this race more than run a certain time.
The Mass-Ave bridge was lined with spectators, 2-3 rows thick at times. Cheering, cowbells, clapping – it never ended, and it made me smile, which just brought even more. Across the bridge and on my way east into the wind, Jenn had dropped off a bit. I was now on my own, and figured I would run alone the rest of the race. At mile 4 (6:41) I heard ‘Go Gayman!’ and I started – who here knows my trail name? Then I saw Sean Meissner from Sisters, another ultrarunner and great supporter. I waved wildly, and then refocused. I looked across the midway as the front runners were coming toward me, forming packs. The road dipped under another bridge, then I heard my name again, as the Corvallis contingency of Robyn, Nate, Kara, Jess, Devon, and Robyn’s parents all jumped up and down, yelling. That lifted me all the way to the turn around, and on my way west now, I waved to Jenn, not that far back, still be chased by motorcycles. I hit the mile 5 marker in 6:45, went passed the gang again. As I passed under the bridge going west, the crowd was hanging over, cheering. I waved a little, and they exploded, so I waved a lot, smiled big, and was nearly deafened.
Ahead was the 2nd special fluids table, and I grabbed mine off of the 11th table, and soon heard the familiar screams of Theresa and Mallory. I drank from my bottle, and tossed it to them and waved. Mile 6 was done – 6:40. Soon I saw the leaders on the other side of the median, with Magdalena taking the lead. I panicked, thinking that they were on their second loop already, and it looked like I would indeed be lapped at some point. I reconciled that worse things have happened, and I was lucky to be here, blah, blah, blah, when I finally realized that they were still on the out-and-back portion of the west end. Phew! I made the turn, and Mal and Theresa had chased me over, to see me at mile 7, again with the screaming. 6:44, and a tight turn onto the Mass-Ave bridge back to Boston. The clock on the bridge was set at the half-marathon mark, which would be the next time around. The nearer I got to the finish of the first loop, the larger the crowd. It was LOUD! I passed through the finish area to the announcer who would introduce us each time we went through. Mile 8 – 6:42. Done with loop 1!
Loop 2 brought me to my water bottle again, and soon afterward, Jeff and Nick, whooping it up for me. Around the corner, onto the bridge again, and this time I see fellow Marathon Maniacs Marc, Chris, Steve and TP! all cheering. I was buoyed again, and at the middle of the bridge, I glanced over and saw that clock again that would tell me I was half way done as soon as I completed the north side, and for the first time I though ‘I can do this!’ I cruised to the other side, headed east into the wind, hit mile 9 in 6:36, then heard Sean yelling from his post. I tossed him my bottle (some reward!). Under the bridge, to the other Corvallis cheering section, to the turn around and mile 10 in 6:48. I hit the underpass to the very enthusiastic fans again, gave them some appreciate signs, and smiled my way up the other side. Two women cheered me with a ‘Thank you for doing this! We are so proud of you!’ Wow. I should be thanking them.
Mile 11 came, 6:49, I grabbed my bottle, and was soon greeted by Theresa and Mal. Ahead of me I had been watching the first person I would eventually pass get closer and closer. I hit the turn around, and passed her just at mile 13 (6:52). The half was coming up, and I had decided that if I was at 1:30 at this point I would be ecstatic. I hit the half in 1:28:19, and was completely jazzed. I entertained some delusional thoughts that I could even split, and run 2:56, but didn’t let myself dwell on it. I needed to finish in one piece, and I needed to keep working as hard as I could at the same time.
Getting close to the finish line area again, the crowd noise grew. I closed in on and passed another runner, and soaked in the cheers as I hit mile 14 in 6:52. Two laps to go! I rounded two turns, picked up my bottle, looked for my cheering section and kept chugging along. Mile 15 came in 6:51, and ahead of me on the bridge, I gained on and passed two more. Kim Pawelek, a runner I have competed with over the years was limping, but determined, a scene not unfamiliar to me. I touched her shoulder and said ‘we need to quit meeting like this’. She is a very talented runner, and finishes what she starts, good or bad.
Mile 16 came in 6:55. Soon afterwards, I high-fived Sean as he continued his support. On the other side of the median strip, the women were getting very spread out. I saw Penny, yelled over to her, but she didn’t see me. I was beginning to fade a little, but no big death march. I passed the Corvallis cheering section again, hit the turn around, and then mile 17 in 6:59. Under the bridge, onto the next mile marker and another bottle, and a man cheering for me, saying “It’s the Trials, Baby!” I smiled all the way to the turn around, where Theresa and Mal were still going strong, and pushed me through mile 19 in 7:00. Then back onto the bridge, I was running opposite most of the women, and saw Johanna looking strong. We gave slight waves to each other and forged ahead. As I neared the finish area for the 3rd time, I felt as if I was getting a second wind. I passed a runner, and said to her “you realize we’re not getting lapped!?!?” I looked down the finish line street at the crowds. There were large groups of Brooks cheering sections, and in appreciation for their support, I decided I should high-5 a few. I eased my way to the side of the street, and the crowd went ape. There were about one million hands extended to me. I got this silly grin on my face, and just held my hand up and touched as many as were in my plane of motion. I was having the time of my life, and then realized how much work this was! Luckily, there was a small curve to the crowd, so I could put my arm down, but as soon as I got close again, everyone’s hands came out. I couldn’t NOT do it, so I continued on. This time when I got to the announcer, finishing lap 3, he said “and here come Meghan Arbogast from Corvallis, high-fiving the whole street!” I was so relieved to make the next turn, and only hoped no one around the corner was expecting more. I was officially exhausted! My second wind was used up, but I recovered in a few minutes, grabbed my bottle, hit mile 21 in 7:01. Just as I was about to cross the bridge for the last loop, I could see the motorcycle escorts and 2 press trucks coming across the bridge. I tossed my bottle to Marc, and strained to see who was in the lead. It was such an exciting moment to see Deena Kastor powering her way over the bridge, in complete command. I began clapping for her until we passed one another, both of us smiling. She was a good distance ahead of Magdalena.
I exited the bridge, and headed east for the last time. Mile 22 was 7:10, and my total time was 2:30. I started doing math, and knew it was still possible to break 3 hours. The crowd was thinning, as many fans had moved to the finish area. I passed two more runners on the way to 23 (7:11) but the wheels were getting harder to move. Mile 24 came in 7:04, and my total time was now 2:44. I needed to run 2.2 miles in under 16 minutes. I sucked it up and gave it my all. I finally saw my dad and cousins for the first time all race, ringing their cowbells, yelling me in. Mile 25 – 7:09, 2:51:31. Wow, it was going to be close. I surged the last little climb, and rounded the corner to the finish line street. This time I went straight down the center, as time was a premium. I could see the clock in the distance, 2:59 something. I did something like a sprint, I guess, and squeaked in at 2:59:51.
Number three is in the books – and I am not injured. I am looking forward to trying to make it for the 4th time!