Sunday, December 9, 2012

2016 Men's US Olympic Marathon Standards

For months, I've been waiting to hear what the US Olympic Marathon Trials standards would be.  I heard rumors that the USATF wanted to make them even tougher, in order to save some money and make it a smaller, more elite race. Well, the rumors turned out to be true as the times were released this past weekend.  The "A" standard (if you hit this, you get your expenses covered) is 2:15:00 or faster and the "B" standard (you're in, but you cough up the money for everything) is either 2:18:00 for the full or 65:00 for the half-marathon. The qualifying window opens up on August 1, 2013. In 2012, there was no "B" standard.  If you hit the qualifying time, you were taken care of.  The ways to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials were 2:19:00 for the full marathon, 65:00 for the half-marathon or 28:30 10k (yeah, you could qualify for the MARATHON trials with a 10k time.)  From 1996-2008, it was 2:20:00 for the "A" and 2:22:00 for the "B".

I'm not sure how I feel about the new standards.  I somewhat understand speeding up the "A" to 2:15, because that is also the IAAF standard.  I feel the "B" standard would be better at 2:20. It will enable guys in the lower 2:20s to suck it up for a little while longer and chase the stopwatch. 2:20 is a very tough marathon time, but it's something a talented distance runner can acheive, if they train hard and intelligently.  Dropping it down to 2:18 makes talent more of an issue and could close the door on the guys living the blue-collar life, while chasing the dream.  By slowing it down to 2:20, you'll have more "normal" people qualify for the Trials.  Sure I'd like to sleep for 7-8 hours at night, wake up for a morning run, watch some TV/play some XBox, take a short nap and go for another run, but if I did that I'd suggest you buy stock in Ramen Noodles and any company that makes beans and rice.  Having the full-time workers at the Trials helps increase awareness and grows the sport.  Sure, most casual runners have heard of Ryan Hall or Meb Keflezghi but they've also heard of Billy Bob the guy who runs all around town and works in the DMV or Scott, the ridiculously good-looking elementary physical education teacher. People who have no association with the super-elite would follow the race if they had a local person or someone they could identify with, competing.

And if the "B" standard is 2:18 for the marathon, it needs to be faster than 65:00 for the half.  In 2012, most people chased the marathon time of 2:19, because it's an easier time to achieve than breaking 65 minutes.  However, 65 and 2:18 seems to be a pretty level playing field.  Most people can only run 2-3 high quality marathons a year, but they can run half a dozen or more half-marathons.

Why practice all that time figuring out proper pacing, worrying about fueling issues and running extra mileage when you could just jump in a half-marathon and if it doesn't work out, try again a few weeks later? So I can see people focusing mainly on the half-marathon and expect most of the "B" qualifiers to be from that event. I believe if a half-marathon standard is to be used, it should be a lot harder than the marathon standard. 2:19 and 65 is a good match-up, so with 2:18, I think 64:30 or even 64:00 makes more sense.

I wish the qualification window would open at the US Half-Marathon Championships in June.  It would increase the size and competitiveness of the championships and would be an excellent kick-off. Why wait until August 1st?  The US Championships is one of the last competitive half-marathons before the summer heat arrives, and you really don't see them pick-up again until late summer/early fall. 

Where does this leave me? Who knows. I'll get a better idea after Houston. MAYBE I could break 2:15 in the next four years, but I'd need a fast course, with good weather conditions and be able to figure out my pacing.  I get better as the distance gets longer and feel like the marathon is my best event.  If 2:15 doesn't work out, I feel like I can break 65 again.  Right now, these are some of the fall marathons I am looking at running:


Twin Cities, October 6: They are hosting the US Championships the next two years.  I haven't heard anything yet, but maybe they will be as helpful as the US Half-Marathon Championships was when it comes to travel money and time incentives because I'd have to fly there.  The course is somewhat fast but there's some hills towards the end, and I despise hills. It's also the earliest of the fall marathons I am looking at running, so that would mean a short break after the US Half-Marathon Championships in June and then right back into training (in the Nashville heat). But since it's the US Championships, there probably would be a decent number of guys to run/work together with.

Chicago, October 13: One of the fastest courses around, a very competitive field and it's always been on my bucket list.  I have a couple of friends running it this fall, so I could save some money and crash with them and it's also within driving distance. While the weather at the Chicago Marathon is good most of the time,  it can be pretty warm.  Would also mean a hot, hard summer.

Columbus, October 20: This was the race I was training for this past fall, before becoming injured. Fast course, and within driving distance.  The field isn't as fast up front but maybe a good number of people will show up to chase the new standard.  Also within driving distance.

New York City Marathon, November 3: A race on my bucket list.  It would be an awesome environment and a marathon to remember.  If I feel 2:15 is out of my reach in the fall, maybe I'll go for 2:18 here and try to break 65 in a half-marathon beforehand. Unfortunately, it's a couple of minutes slower than the other courses but I could take an extra week or two of rest in the summer.

California International Marathon, December 1: My early favorite.  I really wish I would have run this in 2011, because I wouldn't have been sick and this year, I was going to run, before my achilles issue lingered longer than expected. So maybe next year, I'll quit flirting with this race and actually run it.  Because it's in December, I could take a nice break in June and not start my marathon work until October.  The course is a net downhill but I constantly hear from others that it's slower than it appears.  The field isn't as deep as Chicago or New York but there are always solid guys that show up and the weather is usually decent (except for the super winds and downpour this year).

Houston Marathon, January 12, 2014:  Running this in 2013, was hoping to run here in 2012 at the Trials, so maybe I'll head there in 2014.  It's a super fast course and usually decent weather.  Upfront, it's very fast, but for guys on my level, it can be a little bit lonely.  A lot of guys qualified for the 2012 Trials here, so maybe they will head here again.  I could maybe pull off a Twin Cities/Chicago and Houston double, but that's a little too close for my liking. I also want to run Boston in 2014, so this double would be too close. Who knows?

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