Washington, DC

Alex Taylor crossed the finish line of the 2018 California International Marathon just a few seconds too late. 

Finishing with a gun time of 2:19:12, he missed an Olympic Team Trials marathon qualifying time by 12 seconds. 

“I think I was the first one to finish and not qualify,” he said with a laugh. 

While it was disappointing at the time, Taylor, a Woodbridge native, now sees that race in a different light. 

Last June, he finished Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn. with a gun time of 2:17:08, clinching that OTQ and achieving a goal that was a decade in the making. 

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Cross country at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology wasn’t a glamorous sport, but Jonathan Phillips didn’t care. 

“Basically it’s a bunch of nerds doing the nerdiest sport,” he said. “I loved it, that’s what kept me on the team.”

His journey to 40th place at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials started in places like Mason District Park, where the Colonials would perform their team rituals, which are best left vague for the uninitiated, or shirtless snowball fights on cold days.

“There was a team culture that really drew me in,” Phillips said. “We were pretty good at running, and it was a sport that takes focus. 

“When I started running, there were a bunch of guys in the next grade and they really reached out to welcome us. A lot of those guys came down to Atlanta for the Trials.”

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After three eight-mile loops of downtown Atlanta, Nick Golebiowski was approaching the end of the Olympic Marathon Trials feeling no worse for the wear. Sure, the hills were rough and he was well off of his PR, but the race experience had been pretty good. And then…

“Wow, those last couple of miles were brutal,” he said. “A few wind gusts pushed me sideways.”

Like the end of a horror movie, everyone thought the monster was dead, but it came back at the end for every protagonist in the race. Golebiowski’s overall effort started to catch up to him on the two-mile epilogue loop when conditions got their worst.

“My arms and shoulders were getting tingly,” he said. “I’ve never been in a place like that.”

Golebiowski finished 81st in 2:22:47, the first of three finishers who live in the D.C. area. Two former local high school runners, Jonny Phillips (40th in 2:17:51) and Chase Weaverling (64th in 2:20:58), were the top finishers with ties to the region.

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Three runners with D.C. area ties finished in the top 20 of the Olympic Marathon Trials on a brutally hilly and windy course in Atlanta.

Georgetown alumna Kate Landau was 14th in 2:34:07, passing Oakton and American alumna Keira D’Amato in the last few miles. D’Amato, formerly Carlstrom, was 15th in 2:34:24. Aliphine Tuliamuk won the race in 2:27:23.

Bethany Sachtleben, who hit RunWashington’s #TrialsFever triple crown by growing up in Manassas, running at George Mason University and living in Fairfax, overcame a mid-race interruption to finish 18th in 2:36:34.

When she hit mile 11, digestive ills forced her to find a bathroom, and fast. 

“It definitely wasn’t something I could keep running with,” she said. “I was in the bathroom for maybe 30 seconds at most, but the pack was gone by then. What else are you going to do in that situation…”

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Grace Landau knew how to cry. As a toddler, she wouldn’t nap, and it was driving her mother, Kate, a little nuts.

“I’d have to lie down with her if she was going to nap,” she said. “I couldn’t lie down all day, but she was a really colicky baby. Nothing else seemed to make her happy”

Grace would, however, sleep in the stroller. It was a revelation that gave her single mother options, and brought her back to a sport that once defined her life, for the good and the bad.

It had been 14 years since Landau, finishing her fifth year at Georgetown, stopped running in the middle of a long struggle with various eating disorders that she had only recently coped with. Since then, she’s run 2:31 for the marathon and is heading to her second Olympic Trials, her first since 1996. 

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With more than 700 runners heading to Atlanta this weekend to take a shot at the U.S. Olympic Marathon team, it’s hard to deny that Trials Fever is in the air. 

Runners who spend all day standing up teaching, others who fit in their training around work and grad school, some who are also raising children, they’re all going to be on the starting line with the professionals. With apologies to another sporting venue in Georgia, this is the tradition truly unlike any other. 

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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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