Chanman's Blog


San Francisco and Sacred Heart Cathedral, we have a two-time Olympian!

Shannon Rowbury became a two-time Olympian with her second place finish in the 1500 meters on July 1 at the 2012 US Olympic Trials. In 2008, Shannon was the US Olympic Trials champion and went on to place seventh at the Beijing Olympic Games. That seventh place finish is the highest finish by an American woman in the 1500 meters in Olympic history.  This is Shannon’s fourth consecutive national team qualification. In addition to these two Olympic team berths, she was also a member of Team USA for the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. At the 2009 World Championships she earned the bronze medal in the 1500.

The three qualifiers for the London Olympics were Shannon (4:05.11), the number one ranked runner in the world in 2011 Morgan Uceny (4:04.59), and the 2011 World Champion Jenny Simpson (4:05.17). The fact that all the experts were saying that these three were the clear favorites to qualify, didn’t make my race day morning have any less butterflies.

After two laps that were led by Treniere Moser and Brenda Martinez, the big three made their way to the front of the pack. With 500 meters to go there began to be some separation between these three and the chase pack. In reality, the drama of who was going to make the team was gone. The three battled it over the last lap before the final order was settled.

After screaming our heads off from the stands during the race, we hustled down to the fence to give Shannon a hug as she took the traditional Hayward Field victory lap. After the meet we headed to the Wild Duck Café. Tamalpan Mike Fanelli insisted on buying us a pitcher that we drank while watching NBC’s west coast broadcast of the meet (it was almost as exciting watching Shannon qualify for the Olympics this second time). Another highlight was taking a picture with Dave Frank, a coaching friend who used to coach at St. Francis and run for the Aggies. He now coaches in Portland and was the head coach at Cathedral Catholic when one Galen Rupp attended school there. I feel that Dave and I share some common emotions. Then we headed for some coffee and dessert. Finally Shannon finished her Olympic processing so we met up with her, her parents, her boyfriend (Pablo) and others in her core support group to raise a glass of champagne in celebration.

We got back to our hotel room just shortly before midnight. I was still pretty excited and couldn’t pull myself away from the computer to go to sleep. I read every e-mail, text, and Facebook comment. I re-lived the race and conversations with people at the meet. I watched a FloTrack interview where Shannon even gave me a shout out.

When I woke up this morning, I checked to make sure this wasn’t all a dream. Nope, it wasn’t. It all really happened. Shannon Rowbury is now a two-time Olympian! Congratulations!

Olympic Trials Coverage

Eugene, Oregon (aka Track Town USA) will play host to the 2012 US Olympic Trials.

The 2012 US Olympic Trials will take place from June 21-July 1, 2012. There are several places to go to follow the action. The home page for the Olympic Trials is: http://tracktown12.gotracktownusa.com/.

The best place for official meet information is the United States of America Track & Field website: http://usatf.org/Events—Calendar/2012/U-S–Olympic-Team-Trials-TF.aspx.

NBC will show twelve hours of television coverage of the Olympic Trials on either NBC or NBC Sports Network. A nice TV schedule and event schedule are listed at this website (note some of the times listed are PDT and some are EDT so pay attention):

http://running.competitor.com/2012/06/news/2012-u-s-olympic-trials-track-field-tv-schedule_54150

As far as I can tell, there is no online streaming of the Olympic Trials. I believe NBC owns the video rights to all the Olympic Trials coverage so if race videos are going to be available anywhere after the race happens, try looking here: http://www.nbcolympics.com/track-and-field/index.html.

The typical websites that I frequent to read coverage of the Olympic Trials and/or see pictures or video interviews are:

Let’s Run – http://www.letsrun.com/

Track & Field News – http://www.trackandfieldnews.com/

RunnerSpace – http://www.runnerspace.com/eprofile.php?event_id=49

FloTrack – http://www.flotrack.org/

Oregon Live – http://www.oregonlive.com/trackandfield/

Eugene Register-Guard – http://www.registerguard.com/web/sports/trackandfield/

Good luck to all the athletes competing at the Olympic Trials. This meet is the culmination of four years of dreaming and training. The Road to London goes through Eugene.

Random Thoughts About the Spirit of Competition

Earlier this week was the Bruce Mahoney basketball game and later this week is the US Olympic Marathon Trials. Both of these events encapsulate the spirit of competition.

It’s caring about the outcome that makes sports fun and exciting and that’s what I like to call the spirit of competition. When I race, I care about my time and my place. When I coach, I want my team and athletes to get personal records (PR’s) and win awards. What can I say? I’m a competitive person.

 

The Bruce Mahoney Trophy in the SHC Plaza

The Bruce Mahoney basketball game is the second leg of a best two-out-of-three series of games in football, basketball, and baseball between Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) and St. Ignatius (SI). The first school to win two games wins the Bruce Mahoney trophy for the school year. By virtue of the football team’s win in October, SHC had a chance to win the trophy with a win in basketball on Tuesday, January 10. It would be only the second time in the last fourteen years that SHC has held the trophy. If that wasn’t enough drama, keep in mind that the SHC-SI rivalry is the oldest high school rivalry west of the Mississippi. The two schools have been playing each other in sports contests since 1893.

I did not attend the game but I’ve seen some video highlights and the tweets and Facebook status updates during the game really capture the energy and passion that surfaces for a great competition. SHC won the game and on Wednesday at school I got to see the coveted Bruce Mahoney trophy before it was paraded out in front of the student body. It’s just a “silly trophy” and yet, there’s something mystical about it. I felt lucky to be one of the first to see it on our campus. The administrators around me were snapping pictures of the trophy as if we were at the Vatican. Even Sister Frances came over to comment on the lack of dusting the trophy has received since it was last in our hands in 2009.

I was really happy for the Sacred Heart Cathedral community and especially the boys on the basketball team for their success. It’s community building to have the winning team. But it’s also life building to have something you truly care about. I love watching the emotional responses during a big competition. All the hard work at practice and all the sacrifices are for opportunity to compete in games like the Bruce Mahoney basketball game.

On Saturday, January 14, three hundred men and women will have the opportunity to race at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, Texas. There will be nervous energy at the starting line just like there was in the gym for the basketball game on Tuesday night.

A top three finish and a berth on the US Olympic team is only a realistic goal for a small percentage of the runners. For these few, Saturday’s race is make or break. The Olympics only happen every four years. Finish in the top three and it’s as if you won the Bruce Mahoney trophy. Finish fourth or lower, and you are utterly disappointed. The fact that that kind of pressure exists is what makes the race so interesting to follow.

However, for many others, the spirit of competition at the Olympic Trials is not necessarily to make the Olympic team but rather, to run a personal record, or place in the top 20 or top half of the race. Still others are just proud of themselves for having run the qualifying time to be in the race. Not everyone can be an Olympian but that doesn’t mean those people don’t care about their results. All these people, with different goals and different definitions of success, run in the same race together. They will battle each other, the course, the 26.2 miles, and the clock because they care about the outcome.

A high school basketball game in California. A footrace in Texas. What do these two events have in common? The spirit of competition!

Olympic Marathon Trials

Posted in USA Track & FIeld by Andy Chan on March 29, 2010
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Culpepper and Meb at the end of the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials in Birmingham

Attached here is a table of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials results (Olympic Marathon Trials chart). You’ll find the date and location of the trials, the winner and their time, the qualifying standard for the race, and the date of the Olympic marathon. MarathonGuide.com has great historical data on the men’s trials and the women’s trials.

The women’s qualifying standards have not changed from the 2008 marathon trials. The “A” standard, which means you qualify for funding support, is 2:39:00. The “B” standard, which means you qualify to race but you have to get there on your own dime is 2:46:00. You can also achieve the “B” standard by running 1:15:00 for a half marathon or 33:00.00 for a 10,000 meters on the track. The qualifying window began on January 1, 2010 and goes until one month before the trials, with the exception that qualifying performances at the October 4, 2009 USA Marathon Championships in Minnesota could also qualify you. As of February 26, 2010, fifty-eight women are already qualified for the marathon trials.

Automatic entry into the trials is granted to both men and women who between 2008 and 2012:

–          Earned an individual medal in an Olympic Games marathon or in an IAAF World Championship marathon.

–          Won an individual USA Marathon Championship.

–          Won a US Olympic Marathon Trials race.

Automatic entry is also granted to members of past US Olympic Marathon teams.

The men’s qualifying standards have changed. To run in the marathon trials you must achieve a 2:19:00 marathon, a 1:05:00 half marathon, or a 28:30 10,000 meters on the track. The qualifying window for the men began on January 1, 2009, one year before the women’s qualifying began. There are also ways to qualify for the marathon trials at the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 USA Marathon Championships, place in the top ten and run faster than 2:22. As of February 26, 2010 seventy-six men are already qualified for the marathon trials.

The goal of both the men’s and women’s trials is to select the best three marathoners to represent the U.S. at the Olympics. Separate men’s and women’s committees are charged with coming up with a system that best achieves this. Committee considerations include whether or not to allow qualifying with a non-marathon time (e.g. from a half marathon, 10,000 meter or 5,000 meter race) and how many runners should be on the starting line. The women’s committee must believe that the system used for the Beijing Olympics was effective and thus did not make a change.

The men’s committee, however, made two big changes: they eliminated the “B” standard and allowed qualification with a half marathon time. The change in the qualifying standards was announced in December 2007, but now that the Marathon Trials location has been set the trials seem more real and the qualifying procedure is coming under some scrutiny.

Some reasons for the changes in the men’s qualifying rules have been explained by Glenn Latimer, the chair of USATF’s Men’s Long Distance Running Committee. He and his executive committee were responsible for establishing the qualifying standards for the 2012 U.S. Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials. Latimer described the change as a positive reflection of the US runners having success. When asked in a Runners’ World interview what the primary goal of the marathon trials was he answered:

“To pick the best U.S. runners for the Olympics, and to give them a chance to run their best in the Olympics. I know there’s a counter argument about Trials qualifying. I know there are some people who think we should let in a lot of 2:30 runners in the hope that they’ll be inspired to run 2:12 in a few years. But that’s ridiculous. Anyone who studies the sport knows that things don’t happen that way. When someone runs a 2:15 at London or the Olympics these days, they’re finishing two miles behind the winner. Our job is to raise the standards, to raise the bar. If you set it high enough, the serious athletes will find a way to get there. It’s like with the 4-minute mile.”  

In the past, some men and women at the trials were “A” qualifiers and these were your “stars.” The “B” qualifiers were the “second class citizens” because they did not have their travel covered. Eliminating the “B” standard does put all athletes at the trials on equal footing. Latimer also intimates that the committee doesn’t want runners who run 2:20 to 2:22 because, while it’s nice that they qualified, they do not represent the population of runners who have realistic Olympic potential. It is worth noting that since the creation of the “B” standard in 1996, no US athlete with the “B” standard has ever qualified for the Olympic team. The slowest trials qualifier to ever make the Olympic team was Christine Clark in 2000. Clark entered the trials with a marathon best of 2:40:38 (1 minute, 22 seconds better than the “A” standard of 2:42:00). Clark ran the race of her life to set a seven minute PR and win the race in 2:33:31.

One would expect that the number of men’s trials qualifiers would be less due to the changes and that the committee would be pleased with this. So it seems like a contradiction that they do two things different than the women’s committee that helps to increase the number of qualifiers. 

  1. The qualifying window for the men began on January 1, 2009, one year earlier than the women.
  2. Men can qualify by placing in the top 10 at the USA Marathon Championships in 2009, 2010, or 2011 as long as they run under 2:22 in the race. (Only the women automatically qualify the winner of the USA Marathon Championships, who is likely to have run at least a “B” standard anyway.)

To encourage runners to go after the qualifying time at their marathon, the race director of the California International Marathon (CIM) is offering bonus money to American runners who achieve the Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying standard – $1,000 to men under 2:19, $1,000 to women under 2:39, and $500 to women under 2:46. The KeyBank Vermont City Marathon is also offering trials qualifying bonus money, $750 for an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying mark.

By scouring the internet I learned to other things about US Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying. First, qualifying times are based on “gun” times. Chip timing is not accepted. Although there is a line in the rules that says chip times may be considered if the gun time is extremely close to the standard. Way to leave some wiggle room!

There are also rules concerning the allowable net elevation drop of a course. USATF has set 3.25 m/km as the allowable drop for a legal Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying. CIM is a legal course to qualify for the Olympic Trials, with a net elevation drop of 2.49 meters/kilometer. The Boston Marathon, with a net drop of 3.23 m/km just barely meets the allowable standard. However, to qualify for the Olympics or World Championships the qualifying time must have been run on a course with an elevation drop of no more than 1.00 m/km. Although the actual U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials race course has yet to be determined, the criterium course that has been mentioned will likely be legal for Olympic and World Championships qualifying.

The US Olympic Marathon Trials are very exciting races. Unlike other countries, where a committee selects the Olympic marathoners who will compete, the USA uses performances from one day, at one race, to determine the team. No politics come into play when selecting the athletes who will compete. The formula is simple: qualify for the trials, show up and race at the trials, place in the top three and you will go to the Olympics. This creates a lot of drama.

We Have An Olympian!

Posted in Report From the Road,USA Track & FIeld by Andy Chan on July 7, 2008
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Probably most of you have heard by now, but if not, Shannon’s an
Olympian. Malinda and I just got back from a night of celebrating.
I got a heroes welcome at the local pub where some of my peer coaches
were just in awe of what happened. Then we went to a dinner
organized by Shannon’s mom. One of the highlights there was getting
to really sit down and talk to Shannon’s coach, John Cook.

Anyway, Shannon’s win was in pretty dominating fashion. The pace was
slow early, which was shocking since most of the field needed to get
the Olympic A standard to even have a chance. When Shannon pulled
away with 600 meters to go she looked great. At 500 meters to go I
was pretty certain that it was not going to be a super fast race
(i.e. no new A standard athletes). It was also then that I noticed
that Treniere Clement was in last place. I excitedly told Malinda
that she’s good….there’s no way she won’t make the team pretty
much. But to make sure, Shannon ran a 61 last lap to win by 3
seconds at 4:05. Thanks to everyone who called/sent me text messages
after the race. It was fun.

The Day Before

Posted in Report From the Road,USA Track & FIeld by Andy Chan on July 5, 2008
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Today is Sat July 5 – the day before a date I have had on my radar
for quite some time. Malinda and I got up early today and went to a
distance coaches clinic. Yes, my wife got up before 8am to go with
me to hear a Q&A session with some top distance coaches. I know I am
quite lucky. Last night some of the other coaches were impressed
that Malinda was there with me (all the rest of these guys were
flying solo, happy that their wives/girlfriends let them go to
Eugene).

It was a day for SWAG. Both Malinda and I won Saucony shoes in a
raffle. There were about 40-50 names in the raffle and out of the 8
tickets that were drawn, we were 2 of them. I hope that’s a sign of
good things to come. We also got about our 9th free shirt of the
trip at the clinic and I added to my lapel pin collection.

Clealy the best shirt we got so far is a special made “Team Cook”
(Cook for Shannon’s coach, John Cook) Nike dry-fit shirt. It has the
Olympic rings on it (don’t tell the IOC) as well as Shannon’s name
and the other 2 women Cook coaches: Shalane Flanagan and Erin
Donohue. But the best part of the shirt was a little saying on the
bottom of it. For those of you knowledgeable in my SHC coaching
stuff, you know I have a different theme and motto every year.
Shannon’s senior year track & field theme was “Just Lookin’ For
Opportunities.” The logo was some clip art that I found online…a
rock, a caveman, and some rodent-looking squirrel or something.
Under the rock was the saying “Leave No Stone Unturned”….as in: we
would look under every rock for these opportunities. The majority
opinion is that this is the worst looking logo and dumbest theme in
my 10 years. I actually made a bet with Shannon, saying I would buy
her dinner the first time she works “leave no stone unturned” into an
interview. Anyway, I was QUITE exctied to see “No Stone Unturned” on
this shirt that Shannon’s mom gave me yesterday.

In addition to the clinic, we walked around the Eugene Festival
collecting as much free stuff as possible…because that’s what I
like to do to pass the time. We also went to the film festival and
saw Spirit of the Marathon. It’s been quite flattering to be
introduced/recognized around town as “Shannon’s high school coach.”

But now it’s the night before the big one. I’ve seen and talked to
lots of people all week and they all seem pretty sure that Shannon
will make the team. She does look very very strong out there
compared to the others. I know she can do it but the coach in me
can’t help but be nervous. The training is done. The trial races
are over. Now it’s just the big one. The race that’s been on both
Shannon and my mind for a long time.

I am not sure if the race is going to be shown live on NBC.
It’s at 4:05pm on Sunday. But here in Eugene, NBC is not going on
the air with coverage until 7:00pm so I guess they are showing it on
tape delay. I recommend the USATF website for official results or
letsrun.com or trackandfieldnews.com for during the race updates on
their message boards.

From the Olympic Trials #2

Posted in Report From the Road,USA Track & FIeld by Andy Chan on July 5, 2008
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Another fun day up here.

We went for coffee this morning and met the guy who coached Meb in high
school. He’s a former Oregon runner and was a 1980 Olympic
alternate…had some cool stories to tell.

We met up with Frank and Monica Z for lunch and then hit the Nike Store.

Shannon was nervous but she still ran a strong semifinal race, winning
her heat in 4:11. On to the Finals on Sunday.

We’ve been riding rental bikes back and forth from our hotel to the
track. It’s 1.75 miles according to my GPS. Downhill there (reached a
max speed of 2:25 mile pace on the downhill section this afternoon) but
uphill on the way back.

The local hangout after the meet is the Villard St. Pub. That’s where
all the cool people hang out (OK, mostly geeky track coach-types).
Shortly after we arrived, we saw Shalane Flanagan and Abdi at the Pub,
too.

From the Olympic Trials #1

Posted in Report From the Road,USA Track & FIeld by Andy Chan on July 4, 2008
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Well, Malinda and I are up here in Eugene. It was an eventful day.
Saw Tyson Gay of the 9.68 100 meters (wind-aided) in the Hilton lobby.
Rode the shuttle with the #1 seed in the men’s 110 hurdles. Got a ride
from total strangers from the credential pick-up to our hotel. While
on the warm-up field looking for Shannon, got a hug from the woman I
consider the greatest female athlete in American history, Jackie Joyner-
Kersee.

Oh yeah, and Shannon qualified on by winning her heat in 4:16. There
was a big group all together with 200 to go but she sprinted the last
half lap pretty hard to take the heat. Brie Felnagle, who I felt was a
possible Beijing contender, dropped out of the race tonight. Anyway,
on to the semi-final on Friday at 8:25pm.

Heard from Frank and Monica Z that they are in Medford tonight and will
arrive here at the Trials on July 4.

Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials Preview

Posted in Race/Meet Report,USA Track & FIeld by Andy Chan on October 25, 2007
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It’s just over a week until the Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials.  179 American men achieved the time standard (2:22) to qualify run at the trials.  134 of those 179 will toe the line on Nov 3.

There is some tremendous talent amongst this group.  People with Olympic marathon experience (Meb, Culpepper, Browne), people who wear the hat as the “future of US marathoning” (Hall, Ritz, Sell), and people with some very fast marathon PR’s (Khannouchi, Hall, Abdi).  My pick for a darkhorse is Jason Lehmkuhle (you heard it here first!).  I personally cheer for 4 people in particular: Chris Lundstrom (coached with me at SHC for awhile), Peter Gilmore (local guy who gets it done with no sponsor), Brian Sell (I’ve loved this guy since he threw down the gauntlet and led the 2004 Olympic Trials race for 20+ miles before fading), and Meb (because he’s such a nice guy and we sort of know each other from our UCLA days).

There is media overload on websites like LetsRun (http://www.letsrun.com/), FloTrack (http://www.flocasts.org/flotrack/index.php), and Chasing Glory (http://www.nyrr.org/races/pro/mens_trials/glory/index.asp).  But if you don’t have hours to scour through everything, I recommend two articles from American Track & Field editor Larry Eder.

A review of the past Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials:

http://www.runblogrun.com/2007/10/the_mens_marathon_trialsinfo_y.html

And Larry Eder’s predictions:

http://www.runblogrun.com/2007/10/134_marathoners_will_run_us_ma.html

The sentence from Larry Eder that I like the best is this:

The skills that it takes to win a city marathon around the world, and the skill set that it takes to win an Olympic or World Championship marathon medal are two entirely different skill sets.

I couldn’t agree more.  Running a successful marathon (whether it’s to get a fast time or to win a championship race) requires things like endurance, stamina, etc.  But running fast times at races like the London, Boston, Chicago, and Berlin Marathons, usually involves getting into a fast pace and holding that rhythm.  To win a championship medal, it requires dealing with pressure and having race tactics (the ability to surge, counter-surge, and change gears as the situation requires).  That’s what makes the Men’s Olympic Trials Marathon so intriguing.  The pressure is on and it will require mano-a-mano tactics to determine who finishes in the top 3 to stamp their ticket for the Beijing Olympic Games.

While some of you are lucky enough to be heading to New York to watch the race in person (and then run the NYC Marathon the day after, good luck!!), us stuck here on the west coast can still watch via the internet.  Nbcsports.com is supposed to be carrying coverage of the race online.  Race time is 7:30am EDT so set your alarm clocks!!

Weekend in Birmingham

    

Raymond Yu (Tower) and I spent the weekend of February 6-8, 2004 in Birmingham, Alabama.  Why?  Because for this weekend at least, Birmingham was the running capital of the United States.  On Saturday the city played host to the US Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials and on Sunday, the city would host nearly 3500 participants in the Mercedes Marathon and Half Marathon.  Birmingham got the bid to host the Marathon Trials because of their pledge to provide great hospitality, a spectator friendly course, fast times and the See One/Do One theme (the concept of piggy-backing the Trials with the community race the next day to get more attention for both events).  From my observations of the weekend, Birmingham succeeded in their promises.

     We were drawn to go to Birmingham because a friend of ours (fellow SHC coach Chris Lundstrom) was one of just 104 Americans to run a qualifying time of 2:22 or better to be invited to the Trials.  Also in attendance in the Lundstrom Cheering Section were his fiancé, physical therapist, father, step mother and high school coach.  Chris was able to secure us Family credentials which meant we were treated like VIP’s.  We caught a crowded shuttle to the start line with other nervous wives, girlfriends, parents and friends.  While the athletes warmed up in the 35 degree weather with 15 mph winds, us VIP’s drank coffee and ate Krispy Kremes in a warm hospitality tent.  Finally it was race time.  86 runners toed the line…America’s best and brightest in the Marathon event.  The energy and excitement was amazing as the gun went off.

     From the start, the runners ran 9 miles into town.  At that point they entered the “downtown loop”, which was 5.43 miles long.  They would run this loop 3 times and then head to the finish line.  Once we got dropped off by the shuttle in the downtown loop, Tower and I began to use our rental car to catch as much of the action as we could.  It was non-stop for the next hour as we would run from one block to another and then to the car, drive a mile, hop out, cheer, back in the car, drive, hop out, cheer, run to the next spot, etc.  In total we saw Chris 12 times in the loop.  And we were certainly not the only ones doing this.  Everywhere you looked you saw fans sprinting from spot to spot.  Someone in the lead truck would get the crowd cheering wildly as the runners approached.  There was live radio coverage so we were constantly able to hear updates on the leaders, their splits, the gap to the main pack, etc.  The water stops were particularly interesting.  At many major marathons you see “elite tables” where the elite runners in the race can have their own water bottles placed for in-race pick-up.  But since everyone in the field was elite, how would this work?  The answer: 13 elite water bottle tables with 5 or 6 water bottles on each. 

     The race unfolded in dramatic fashion.  The Big Three favorites were Alan Culpepper (2:09:41), Meb Keflezighi (2:10:03) and Dan Browne (2:11:35).  But early on Teddy Mitchell would take it out hard opening up a 125 meter lead.  He had such a big lead that the media truck chose to drive between Mitchell and the main pack so they could monitor both.  ’00 Olympian Rod DeHaven said on the radio he thought it was rather strange to go out that hard in the rather harsh conditions.  By mile 7 we had a new leader.  It was youngster Brian Sell who’s only previous marathon was a 2:19 effort just to qualify.  Sell received a huge ovation as he entered the downtown loop with a big lead.  Meanwhile our hero, Chris, was hanging tough with the main front pack but at 10 miles he began to cramp in his quads and was forced to ease off the pace after a 52:05 for the first 10 miles.  It became apparent Chris was having one of those off days but he was determined to finish what he started .  Like so many of us have done before, he fought through some difficult miles in the middle to get to that finish line at 26.2.  At mile 18, we caught up enough to see the leaders.  Young Brian had a 44 second lead and Tower and I began to speculate that he looked good and maybe could pull off a huge upset.  Just a few minutes later, though, we heard that the Big Three (Culpepper, Meb and Browne) were moving up on the kid, apparently the three agreed to work together to reel in Sell.  We listened on the radio to hear that the lead had shrunk to 15 seconds at mile 21.  By mile 22 the Big Three caught and passed him.  At this point Tower and I decided to cheer for Chris one more time and then sprint to the finish.  We found a parking lot overlooking the finish line and headed for the 2nd level for a better vantage point.  At the same time some small snow flurries began to fall.  It may have been cold and dreary out but none of the thousand of spectators at the finish were complaining.  The anticipation grew as first the media truck, then police cars arrived at the finish.  Then a roar came from the crowd as Culpepper and Meb came into view.  Culpepper would win in 2:11:40, with Meb 2nd in 2:11:45.  Clinching the 3rd and final berth on the US Marathon squad to Athens for the 2004 Olympics was Browne in 2:12:01.  The leaders ran 67 minutes for their first half and 64 minutes for the 2nd half.  Amazing.  Chris came in 54th in 2:26:59.

     After this we realized just how valuable the family credential was.  We warmed up after being outside for the past 2 hours plus with some hot food in the VIP tent at the finish.  Then we got 30% off our merchandise at the marathon expo.  Later that afternoon we attended the Awards Ceremony where the top 15 runners were recognized.  Amongst them included, 43 year old Eddy Hellebuyck (8th), Cal-Berkeley grad Peter Gilmore (9th) and the hometown hero Scott Strand (who helped design the course) in 15th place.  But the loudest ovation was not for any of these or for the Big Three but rather for young Brian Sell who showed so much guts and courage in leading this race for 15 miles.  It was very exciting to be around such a knowledgeable crowd of running fans who really appreciated how hard this kid pushed the Big Three.  And once again, the race officials fed us, this time free beer along with appetizers.

     Saturday night, we ate at a local Fish House.  Chris was re-fueling, while myself and Chris’ high school coach, Pat, were getting our pre-race meal in.  Pat and I would run the Half Marathon the next day.

     Sunday morning I rose at 5:50am (3:50am if your body is still on west coast time) and jogged to the race start line.  The temperature on the bank clock I ran by said 27 degrees.  At the start I met a guy named Eric who was also running the half marathon and had a friend who ran the Trials Marathon.  Remarkably we also had in common pretty similar race pace goals.  We ran together for 5 miles before we hit the hills.  At this point Eric pulled ahead of me and I began to focus my attention on things like my hamstrings that felt like cramping, the hills (I thought all of the south was flat), opening a packet of Gu, and my gloves, which were soaked from spilling water.  As the course neared its final 3 miles it flattened out enough for me to try to go hard again.  I was also encouraged by the distractions on the course – I broke through the BE&K Construction Wall at mile 8, then almost slipped on the “red carpet” at the Royal Mile (mile 9).  Mile 11 was supposed to be the Elvis mile but the King never appeared to cheer me home.  Instead I had the always supportive Tower to take my picture and offer encouragement.  In the end I finished in 1:21:38, 45th overall out of 2049 runners.  Better yet, that same credential got us out of the cold and into a warm hospitality tent where I drank a mimosa for the 2nd straight morning and re-fueled with salmon, bread pudding, and assorted other goodies.

     After a shower and a nap, we met up with Pat (Chris’ high school coach) and headed to the post-race celebration (Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q Post Race Party) at the Boutwell Auditorium.  More free food –this time BBQ sandwiches, cole slaw and ice cream as well as a live band, free massages and kegs of Michelob.  And even though we didn’t win the Mercedes M-Class, we still had a great time.

     All in all it was a terrific weekend of running that only a running junkie could truly appreciate.  Thank you, Birmingham!