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The Greatest Celebration - Olympic Marathon Trials 2020

By Coach Tara Richardson

Hi Rugged Runners! Thank you for all your messages and support as I headed into the Olympic Marathon Trials this past weekend! Every bit of support carried me through despite going into the race a little banged up. I hope you enjoy my recap and feel free to reach out with any questions!

I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop smiling from the moment I saw my best friend Steven at DIA to begin our journey to Atlanta until returning three days later. I had no idea how profound of an impact the weekend ahead would have on my life. The Olympic Marathon Trials was the most incredible celebration of love, perseverance, and community. I hope this recap can give you a small glimpse into my experience and show how appreciative I am of the people I met along the way and of those that have been in my corner since the beginning.

I arrived at the Omni hotel in downtown Atlanta Thursday evening. Steven and I were in a state of child-like excitement, laughing at inside jokes and complete nonsense. Within moments we had already crossed paths with what I call the “celebrities” of our world; Jenny Simpson, the Halls, Jim Walmsley, and many more! We walked a couple blocks to the CIM welcome party where I came across my friends Kiya and Kelsey B. Kelsey is always sure to put a smile on your face (and we joked about going to Chick-fil-A). After dinner I returned to the hotel and met my roommate for the weekend, Savannah Berry. Savannah is super bubbly and easy going. She had recently cut off 30 minutes from her personal best to qualify for the trials – no big deal!

The next morning at breakfast was when I truly realized that this weekend was not just about running a marathon. It was about connecting with others, hearing their stories, and celebrating the journey that got each of us here. I have always been an early riser so I was one of the first to sit down for breakfast in the giant ballroom filled with round tables. I was surprised that when a few others trickled in that they opted to sit at my table. The conversation flowed easily as we shared where we had qualified and what our goals were. I will do my best to share the stories of some of the people I met. Anita was in a hurry to finish her breakfast because she had to pick up her three children and husband from the airport. I found out later that she had finished 33rd in the 2016 trials! Morgan is a full time engineer and like many others, battled back from injury to qualify in her debut marathon at CIM. Wife and mother of a 20 month old, Emily B., gave us the rundown on how to continue training during pregnancy! I shared my story of averaging 24.7 miles per week for the past eight weeks (yes I did the math!) due to a calf injury and ski mountaineering as supplemental training…as my friend Ben Cook coined #SkimoToTokyo!

The day continued with a short pre-race run around Olympic Park with my former Western State teammate Sophie Seward and Adams State rival Malena Grover – just kidding if you know Malena you know she is the sweetest most genuine person! Later, the Richardson brigade rolled into Atlanta! I helped my dad, grandparents and aunt make a plan for spectating the following day and again tried to explain to my grandparents that I was not actually an Olympian and they should stop telling their friends that ☺.

After a lot of hustle and bustle with gear checks, interviewing at the Brooks Hyperion House, and meeting new and old friends, it was time to go to the technical meeting. My friend Kathryn and I walked into the auditorium filled with nearly 500 women qualifiers. We found two open seats and Kat kindly asked a woman if we could sit next to her. We were both surprised when Molly Huddle turned toward us and said the seats were open! Like everything else, Atlanta track club nailed the technical meeting, leaving no questions unanswered and giving clear concise information regarding the race ahead. I think this was the first moment that it really sunk in that I was running a marathon tomorrow. That being said, the rest of the evening was very low key. Simone, fellow 50K World Qualifier Courtney O., and I had dinner at the Atlanta aquarium before returning to our hotel for the night.

Saturday came and it was marathon morning! I went down to breakfast and Malena arrived shortly after wearing her entire marathon attire, bib included! She said that she had a dream that she had missed the start of the race and therefore decided to have everything set to go four hours prior to race start! We were joined by fellow Coloradoans and Boulder Track Club athletes Simone, Bryn and Jonathan. We contemplated what and how much to eat before a marathon starting at noon. Bryn and I decided the most important thing was to drink all the coffee. Following breakfast I met with my family for some good luck hugs and then returned to my room to get ready for the big show. Steven and my Flagstaff adventure buddy and badass trail runner, Ben Cook, kept me from going too crazy while waiting for go time. As Sophie, Georgia, Melena (go RMAC), Simone, Bryn, and I headed out the door to the warm up tent we were greeted by a brisk whipping wind. We did a short warm up before being ushered over to the starting corral.

While trying to stay warm in the staging area, almost the entire women’s 2019 50K World team - Courtney O, Devon Y and Liz N somehow managed to reunite! I have found that it is extremely important for me to laugh and surround myself with friends prior to races. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew to be with. I will have to keep from disclosing Courtney Olsen’s actions but let’s just say she brought us plenty of laughter!

Next thing I knew the men’s race went off and the crowds roared. The women jammed into their respective starting waves. By this time I had lost track of my friends but was happy to find a familiar face in Emily Barrett beside me. As we waited for the start, hugs and hand squeezes were given to neighbors. Then, we were off. The roar of the crowd was overpowering. Women were waving their hands in the air with excitement. I was overcome with an unbelievable feeling of joy. To be honest, the last several months had been extremely taxing on me. I had recently moved back to Colorado (yay!), ended a long relationship and was stressing about finances and finding a job. But, as soon as the gun went off, all of those worries vanished and I realized how lucky I am. I thought about how hard each and every woman worked to get to this day. I thought about all the stories and challenges (much harder than mine) all my competitors went through to be here today. I thought about how on this one day our families, friends, and strangers were taking time out of their lives to come and celebrate us.

The tricky part about the first few miles was not getting too caught up in these emotions and realizing I was indeed racing a 26.2 mile race! When the initial rush of emotions passed I tried to keep my pace in check and settle into a good rhythm. The course was challenging with long uphills made more difficult by the wind but I enjoyed being able to see the races unfold and encourage my teammates on the out and backs. The crowd support never ceased to stop. Not a mile went by that I didn’t hear someone yelling my name. I had so many friends and acquaintances that I didn’t even know were in town cheering like maniacs! Special shout out to Clint, Tess, Faye, Donnie, John P., that random Roaring Fork Valley Woman, and my friends from GU and Inside Tracker (Jonathan L) you guys definitely kept a smile on my face!

I knew going into the race there was a good chance that I wouldn’t finish. However, the thought barely crossed my mind while racing. The environment was electrifying and took away any doubt. I was running the Olympic Marathon Trials and I was going to get to that finish line. I wish I could say that the high lasted the entire race but as I think most people can attest, the last 10k was rough! Turns out that skimo racing and cycling doesn’t prepare your body for the impact of a marathon! However, somehow I kept inching up through the field. I gained some strength with about 5k to go when I came up to Malena and we shared some encouraging words. As I crossed the finish line, my dad, Ben and Steven (the people who have been by far the most encouraging on this journey) were waiting to wrap me in a hug.

To those of you who told me this would be an experience I would never forget, you were absolutely right. Congratulations to every single qualifier. To those who were injured, sick, or dropped out, I hope you realize that this celebration was just as much about you and your journey as much as anyone else’s. To those that had a bad day I hope you soaked in every painful amazing moment in! Those that had the day of their life (Georgia Porter finishing 28th!), congratulations! I hope you revel in this experience and accomplishment as long as possible. Lastly, to those that will be representing the USA at the Olympics this summer, know that you are admired, inspiring, and have an entire country rallying behind you!

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Tara, 10,000% congratulations, what you've just done and do is so inspirational! All Rugged Runners I am sure were cheering you on!!!

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