Washington, DC

A warm day for marathoners can be pleasant for spectators, at least. But the weather in Los Angeles for the last Olympic Marathon Trials wasn’t good for anyone: A combo of high temperatures and noontime sun made it hurt just to be outside. My favorite spot to watch the race was in the shade beneath an overpass.

Which is why I’ll never forget the first time I saw my friend Kieran O’Connor pass by me. 

His top-10 American finish at the brutally hot 2012 Boston Marathon proved he had the ability to thrive in tough conditions. But what I saw still feels almost unreal to me. 

It was early in the race and athletes already looked delirious. Kits were soaked. Sweat was flying off hair. 

And there was O’Connor, cruising along, beard dry — cool, collected and completely in the zone, an athlete seeded 145th on his way to a 24th-place finish in 2:21:37. 

Reading Charlie Ban’s post-race article, the quote from O’Connor that brings me back to that moment is this one:

I knew I just had to keep grinding for six more miles. There’s nothing else I had to do, just keep grinding. With about three miles to go, I thought, ‘I just have to finish up this loop and I can go home and see my daughter.‘”

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Through the sheets of rain, Bonnie Keating embraced the challenges that the 2019 Marine Corps Marathon dished out.

The distance wasn’t a problem, she could easily handle 26 miles, and she finished fifth among women. But while the sunny Southern California weather she has gotten used to over the last 13 years hasn’t necessarily made her soft, she does realize she’s missing a certain edge, something she wanted to regain before her second Olympic Marathon Trials.

“On one hand, you never have an excuse why you can’t go out and train, but you also don’t get things like really windy snow drifts to give you that grit,” she said.

Keating moved to San Diego after three years at Frostburg State University that culminated in a 21st place finish at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships. That followed her time, as Bonnie Axman, playing soccer and running cross country at Robinson Secondary School in Virginia, forgoing soccer at the end of her senior year to run track.

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As her World Class Athlete Program team stood victorious in winning the 2015 Army Ten-Miler, Kelly Calway lowered her five-month-old daughter, Hattie, into the trophy. She fit perfectly. 

Four months later, when Calway came home from Los Angeles with a stress fracture, it was her eight-year-old, Hazel who told her, “Mom, I love you,” and helped ease Calway’s fears that she had let the family down when she dropped out of the 2016 Olympic Trials.

As Calway, of McLean, nears the 2020 Trials, she’s counting on pushes from her family to help her get closer to the 25th place finish she notched at the 2012 Trials or her 2013 Marine Corps Marathon title than to her injury-shortened 2016 race. 

“My dream is to get my whole family running together,” she said. 

She’s close to it. Her husband, Chris, is training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon. Hazel, now 12, has been running 5ks since she was a four-year-old in Girls on the Run, and Hattie, now 4, has run a mile. The three set up water stops and cheering stations on her long runs as she puts the finishing touches on her training. 

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Kyle Stanton was showing us how it’s done. His Strava posts that fall of 2017 revealed a true disciple of Renato Canova marathon training. It was a training log leaving little doubt that a breakthrough was coming.

Like his Nov. 12 post titled 20 Hard. 3 Weeks. Twenty hard, as in 20 miles at the natural surface Dual Ferries loop, solo, averaging 5:25. Three weeks, as in Stanton wouldn’t have to wait much longer before achieving his goal at that year’s California International Marathon. 

True to form, Stanton, then 26, ran 2:17:48, a sizable P.R., to finish 28th overall and qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

Then, in July 2018, the lights went out. The title of Stanton’s last Strava post — his last run — read like this: 

Injured…  

Stanton had been doing rehab work in an attempt to solve compartment syndrome. It’s a difficult and confusing injury to address, Stanton said, in that it typically requires some combination of lots of time off in addition to a surgery followed by a long recovery. That night, Stanton ran from his house in Rockville to a nearby middle school to try some short intervals. “And I did two or three of them,” he said, “walked back off the track, walked back in and never put the flats on again.”

Stanton shared later in our phone call: “So someone asked me, ‘How’s your calf?’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I forgot that was why I initially stopped running.” 

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Kathy Newberry’s running career has spanned nearly 20 years and has included six trips to world championship races and thousands of training miles, starting when she ran at Lake Braddock Secondary School.

Her secret to such a long trip? The same as the transoceanic flights to those races — plenty of fuel.

“I get that the regular person on the street has to be mindful of their diet, but when you’re running 120 miles a week, I’m sorry, I’m going to have four Dr. Peppers along with my bacon cheeseburger,” she said. “And my salad.”

That’s a message she has lived throughout her racing career and preached as a coach in both formal and informal capacities. As she approaches the last month before her fourth Olympic Trials, and her second trip to the marathon Trials, Newberry is as dedicated to eating right as she is to mileage and workouts. Now a Wellesley, Mass. resident, she qualified at November’s Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis. 

“Your body needs fuel,” she said. “If you try to watch what you eat, it’s a gamble you’re eventually going to lose. That’s a lot of why I’ve stayed healthy all of these years.”

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Shortly before Christmas, Columbia’s Julia Roman-Duval made the decision she had been wrestling with for weeks:  Run in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Feb. 29 or roll the dice and attempt to make the French national team for the Half Marathon World Championships by running the Paris Half Marathon the day after?

As a dual U.S.-French citizen, it was a unique quandary for the 37-year-old astrophysicist and mother of three who is still comparably new to the world of competitive road racing.

It’s a decision she didn’t make lightly. Having recently set a two-minute PR at the Chicago Marathon in October, Roman-Duval easily met the U.S. Trials qualification standard with her 2:35:41.

“The timing really stunk,” she said. “I was hoping I could do both, but if it weren’t for the timing it would have been possible.”

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As she cruised along the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon last December, Callie Betman had a leg up on the rest of the runners. 

She had the personal pacing help of a newly-minted Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier — her sister, Hannah Cocchiaro. Famous in their family, the Betman Racing Team, for her ability to keep an even pace, Hannah kept Callie steady on the course, not too far from the water that they would have been found in a few years before when they were primarily swimmers. 

“It was really awesome,” Betman said. “It was so nice to have her there the whole time. It was good sister bonding time.

“Having grown up together (the sisters are roughly a year apart) she knew me well enough to be able to tell when I needed some encouragement and when I didn’t want her to talk. She knew the right times in the last six miles to say something quick and motivating when I was really struggling.”

Three weeks before, the Betman Racing Team (which includes their sister Leah Williams) was in Richmond, cheering Cocchairo (pronounced Coke-E-R-O) on to a third-place finish in 2:40:08, well ahead well ahead of the 2:45 standard that got her into the Feb. 29 Trials in Atlanta.

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On Feb. 29, runners competing in the Olympic Marathon Trials will race a rough, hilly course in downtown Atlanta. Caroline Bauer will feel right at home, having started her journey there on similar terrain.

Four years and one day prior, she took off on the RRCA Club Challenge course in her then-hometown of Columbia, Md. It’s one of the tougher courses in Maryland, one that forces runners to scrap relative time goals and focus on the race’s inter-club competition. That didn’t shake Bauer, though, as she ran 1:01:33, finishing less than one minute behind Julia Roman-Duval, her Howard County Striders teammate who had finished 50th at the Marathon Trials two weeks before.

“I thought if I could run 65 (minutes) and change, that would be awesome,” she said. “I was trying to tuck into a pack, but at four miles I felt like it was too slow. I ended up negative splitting every mile on the course. I didn’t know where that came from.”

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Sarah Anyan’s feet hurt, and her shoes weren’t going to make things much better. But as much as she and Tyler loved running, they weren’t going to walk down the aisle in cushioned trainers. 

So, months of plantar pain be damned, she danced and had a great time at her wedding. And when she woke up, she felt…better. 

It was a little more than three months until the California International Marathon. 

“I felt like I could for a run and it didn’t hurt all the time, something changed,” she said. “I can at least run through whatever I felt — before it hurt to walk.”

When the couple got back to their Arlington home, Sarah joined Tyler for their family goal of qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials. 

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The weekend of the 2019 Houston Marathon, Maura Linde reviewed the course map for a final time — not to make sure she had every turn, hill, and water station memorized, but rather to scope out the medical aid stations so she could drop out with people nearby.

“I really did think I wasn’t going to finish it,” she said.

Just five days before the race, she had caught a stomach virus that had torn through the cross country athletes she coached at Johns Hopkins University. She was aiming to run under 2:45 to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials, but she and her coach, Jerry Alexander of the Georgetown Running Club, almost pulled the plug.

“I couldn’t eat real food till a couple days before,” Linde recalled, saying she instead focused on staying hydrated. “I didn’t run again till the Friday before for a shake out.”

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