Monday, February 15, 2016

Coach Jerry Reports: Trials Recap

It was a truly phenomenal weekend in Los Angeles for GRC.  To be succinct before I launch into my lengthy diatribe, Kieran, Teal, and Emily performed at a level that exceeded my always optimistic expectations, and I couldn't be more proud of them.

Kieran's performance was beyond question the greatest ever by a man in a GRC jersey, and no amount of tape applied by overzealous USATF officials to hide our logo could obscure that fact.  Going into the race we knew that the heat, which was beyond oppressive, would mean that time was irrelevant, and Kieran's goal was simply to beat people.  We also knew that Kieran was not afraid of the heat.  To the contrary, Kieran viewed the heat as an opportunity, and  had complete confidence in his ability to outlast his opponents in what promised to be a war of attrition that would reward those who wanted it the most.  When the gun went off Kieran settled in to a reasonable pace with a large group of athletes, and as Kieran held steady and bided his time, the pack dwindled, and athletes ahead of him started to fade.  Kieran kept plugging away and moved up gradually through the middle miles.   As I counted places on the course in the second half of the race, I was able to communicate to Kieran that he was in the top 50, then the top 40, and each time I relayed this news, Kieran gave me a thumbs up, and kept right on rolling.  By the time I saw Kieran with about 5 miles to go he was 35th place by my count, and while he had started show some signs of wear, he was buoyed by the knowledge that he was still moving forward.  When he passed me for the last time with less than 2 miles to go, he was hurting big time, but when I told him that by my count he was in 26th place, there was no doubt that he was going to continue his charge to the finish, and he picked up the spots he needed to secure his place in the top 25.

It is still almost incomprehensible to me that Kieran was 24th in the Olympic Trials.  His achievement is incredible on many levels, not the least of which is that he went directly from the hospital to the airport on Thursday morning after staying up most of the night with Zyra and young Caoimhe.  More fundamentally, Kieran has developed in less than 3 years with GRC from a guy who I wasn't sure could make the team into a true national class runner.  The list of athletes he beat in LA, in the most important race of the year, reads like a who's who of US distance running including, to name just a few, Scott Bauhs, Bobby Curtis, and Fernando Cabada (and those guys finished--there are some much bigger names among the guys who didn't).  Think about that for a moment.  Kieran, who didn't run in college and who has literally never run a track meet in his life, beat guys, in a race everyone peaked for, who are NCAA champions, consistently ranked in the top 10 in the US on the track and roads, and have been members of multiple national teams.  No one, least of all me, is going to contend that Kieran is a better runner than Bobby Curtis or Scott Bauhs, but on the day that mattered, taking the conditions as he found them, Kieran beat them, along with many, many other national class guys.  That he did so is a testament to his preparation, which was superb, and even more so to his sheer force of will.  Kieran got on the starting line determined to do something special for himself, his family, and his team, and he absolutely was not going to be deterred.  His complete faith in his ability to compete on the highest level in the biggest race of his life is truly awe inspiring.  The future is indeed bright for Kieran, and there is plenty of room for growth.  He was fit to run 2:14, and he will get his chance to run fast in good conditions before long.  In the big picture, we're already looking forward to making an even bigger splash at the Trials in 2020.  In the shorter term, a firm goal for 2016 is for Kieran to lead GRC back into the top 10 at Clubs.  What he'll do between now and then is something we'll figure out in the coming weeks.  For now, Kieran has got a  few blisters to heal, and lots of diapers to change!

As everyone who has ever heard of GRC knows, Teal fulfilled a dream she has had for her entire adult life by qualifying for the Trials at CIM in 2014 with an amazing PR of 2:42:13.  Teal's approach to running the Trials was not just to be satisfied to be there, and she intended to run a big PR.  Teal's preparation for the Trials was outstanding, and she was most definitely in sub 2:40 shape.  While it became clear the week of the race started that the weather was going to preclude fast times, Teal was determined to make the most of her opportunity, and she did not disappoint herself or her veritable armada of family and friends who came to support her, all whom were outfitted in Team Teal t-shirts that were, well, teal.  When the gun went off, Teal was not afraid to get out strong, and she settled into a large group of women with much lower seeds, and she continued to grind it out, mile after mile, lap by lap.  Teal never looked particularly comfortable in the intense heat, but she never looked to be in great distress either, and as the race wore on, she stayed focused, and continued to roll while others around her faltered.  Teal competed all the way to the tape, and her 72nd place finish in a field of 202 starters was an incredible accomplishment, as is amply demonstrated by a review of the list of athletes who she beat, which includes several runners who were viewed by pre-race pundits as having a shot to finish in the top 10.  And despite the deplorable conditions, Teal's time of 2:50:35 is her second fastest ever.  Teal has now established herself as a marathoner who can compete with the best non-professional runners in the country, and she will be back in 2020, an A standard under her belt, ready for another opportunity to live her dream.

Emily went into her third Olympic Trials planning to improve on her 40th place finish in 2012, and after an outstanding training cycle she was fit to run at least 2 minutes faster than her PR of 2:39:55.  Emily brought her family to LA, and was ready to put on a show for the two little ones, even if they might not be old enough to remember seeing their mom kick some booty.  The race did not go as planned, however, as the horrendous heat affected Emily very early on, to the point that she told me around mile 8 that she felt "horrible."  I've been coaching long enough to know that when a runner talks to me during a race, it's not a good sign.  As the miles wore on, Emily continued to tell me she was struggling in the heat, and her goal shifted from running fast to merely finishing which, given the conditions, was no easy task, but in a fashion befitting her years of military service, she kept soldiering on.  Then a funny thing happened on the final loop--Emily got her proverbial second wind, and started to move up.  After picking off several runners in the last 5 miles, Emily finished strong, with a big smile on her face, in a very impressive 102nd place.  While the conditions prevented Emily from showing what she was capable of doing, she never quit on herself, and as others literally wilted in the heat in the last 10k, she proved her toughness by not backing down despite knowing full well that she would not meet the goals she worked so hard to achieve.  I am extremely proud of Emily, who trained incredibly hard in very difficult  circumstances to prepare for a big PR, and I am really looking forward to continuing to work with her as we set our sights on a fourth Trials in 2020.

There are a few other points that I'd like to make.  First, as proud as I am of Kieran, Teal, and Emily, I'm equally proud of the way the entire team worked together to get our athletes prepared for their (figurative and literal) day in the sun.  Without the help and support of the team in workouts and on long runs, there is no way Kieran, Teal, and Emily could have achieved what they did in LA.  While the success of Kieran, Teal, and Emily belongs to each of them, it is also belongs to the team, and that spirit of working together is one of the reasons that GRC is so special.

Second, our experience this weekend was enhanced greatly by the efforts of our generous sponsors Pacers and New Balance.  The athletes were fully equipped with everything from custom-designed uniforms to shoes to hats to warm up gear, and it made us feel appreciated and supported, and part of something bigger than ourselves.  Kathy and Joanna were in LA, and we were able to enjoy some quality time with them at the invite-only after party Kathy took us to as her guests.  I can say with confidence that outside of family and teammates, no one was more excited about our great performances than our patrons at Pacers.  With their support, we will continue to make a name for ourselves on the national stage.

Finally, it was truly my pleasure to be out there this weekend.  To see GRC athletes compete toe to toe with the best runners in the country in a race of such consequence was beyond thrilling for me.  At the Trials in 2020, we're going to have an even bigger group doing even bigger things.  We've got a lot of work to do between now and then, and I'm going to enjoy every part of the journey!


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