ATLANTA, GEORGIA, February 29—After months of anticipation, the women’s Olympic Trial marathon was chock-full of surprises as many of the favorites were dropped by 20M, and the unexpected trio of Aliphine Tuliamuk (2:27:23), Molly Seidel (2:27:31) and Sally Kipyego (2:28:52) ran themselves onto the Tokyo team.
The race pace and drama got off to a slow start facing the prospect of a hilly course on a windy day. After cruising the opening 2M in a paltry 11:51, the pace picked up a little by 5M in 28:54 (2:31:33 pace) with a megapack of 27 runners crammed within 2 seconds.
Not much changed as the lead clump of 21 stretched across the road as they passed 10M in 57:02 (2:29:30 pace). Halfway was reached in 1:14:38 and top-seed Jordan Hasay was lagging behind 21 seconds off the pace. “My lower back has been an issue this past week,” she lamented afterwards. “It was real iffy especially on the hills and at 12M I lost the group and from there it was all about finishing,” and she did, a far-back 26th in 2:37:57.
The leaders pushed on with big names Emily Sisson, Sara Hall, Laura Thweatt and Kellyn Taylor being fixtures at the front. A front-running group of 14 passed 15M in 1:25:10, and a dozen still remained in contention at 19 (1:47:31). But just when it looked like it would be a dozen-runner dash to the finish, things began to fray.
After making the U-turn at the north end of the course, Seidel went to the front to maintain the pace and that nudge in effort was enough to drop prime contenders Hall, Molly Huddle, Sisson and Stephanie Bruce. In the matter of a 5:32 uphill mile, 4 of the most formidable runners in the field were slipping out the back door, with all but Bruce soon to DNF.
Said Seidel, “Truthfully it wasn’t a conscious decision to make a move. We were going back uphill after the turn out on Peachtree and I just wanted to keep running my pace.”
A mile later Seidel touched up the pace again and this time Tuliamuk seconded the motion and in an instant they were running clear of the field. Seidel was surprised by the move’s impact, “I just wanted to keep running my pace, focus on what I needed to do. Aliphine was with me and all of a sudden it was just like people weren’t there anymore.”
For Tuliamuk, it was the move that she was waiting for. “My last race was the Houston Half-Marathon in January and I remembered when Sara Hall made the move and I didn’t go with it and that cost me a chance to run a fast time. So, I didn’t want to put myself in that situation today so I wanted to be very alert for whoever was making the move.”
Over the last 4M there was the unlikely duo of Tuliamuk and Seidel running side-by-side and pulling away from the field with every stride. Heady running for both runners, especially Seidel in her full-marathon debut.
As a runner who won NCAA titles at Notre Dame indoors, outdoors and in XC, there was never a question about Seidel’s talent, but struggles with injuries and an eating disorder had curtailed her progress until this past year as she took the half-marathon qualifying route running 70:27 in December then improving to 69:35 in Houston 5 weeks before the Trials.
“There was a twinge of fear knowing you’re in it now,” Seidel admitted, “knowing “you have to commit to this. I felt strong, I felt good, I was starting to hurt but I knew that’s what it’s supposed to feel like at that point. I knew it was the time to go. If they caught me, they caught me, but if they didn’t—cool.”
Tuliamuk, a 30-year-old Wichita State alumm has hit her stride training with the NAZ Elite in Flagstaff under the tutelage of Ben Rosario. The 30-year-old Kenyan native gained U.S. citizenship in 2016 and ran her 2:26:50 PR last April in Rotterdam, only to be sidetracked by a stress fracture in her right femur. She managed to run 2:28:12 in New York on limited training, but hit the Olympic year healthy and ready to take her game up a notch.
“Once we broke away a little bit,” she recounts, “I said, ‘Molly this is our chance’ and I’m so glad we were able to work together for a long time. Coming into this race Molly and I were both longshots and so it was kind of surprising but I believed in the training that I have been doing and I believed in myself.” Riding that confidence, Tuliamuk pulled away in the last mile to earn an 8-second win.
The 25-year-old Seidel’s effort goes down as a very memorable and well-timed debut. “This being my first one, I didn’t really have a lot of pace-based goals,” she admitted. “My goal was to run as hard as I could and not be afraid of what I could do, and not be afraid if I found myself up there. It’s scary but sometimes you just have to not think for a while, turn your brain off and just like let your body do what it knows how to do. If my body knows how to do one thing it’s how to put one foot in front of the other one for a long time.”
Texas Tech alum Kipyego, running just her third 26-miler ever, managed to stick with the break long enough to pull away from the field and spent the final miles of the race trying to hold off Thweatt and Desi Linden, noting, “It was the longest 5K of my life, it was hard. I felt really good until about 22M, and then it’s a marathon—and everything falls apart. With the hills it becomes even worse, if it’s flat you can just basically run.”
The 34-year-old Kipyego, who nabbed 10K silver medals in the ’11 World Championships and the ’12 Olympics for Kenya, struggled for a few years before running a PR 2:25:10 last fall in Berlin. “I really thought that Desi and Laurie were going to catch me,” she said. “As slow as I was going, I realized they weren’t running fast cause they would’ve got me. We were all dying, so it was a case of managing the dying.”
OT WOMEN’S MARATHON RESULTS
1. Aliphine Tuliamuk (Hoka NAZ Elite) 2:27:23 (74:38/72:45);
2. Molly Seidel (Saucony Freedom) 2:27:31 (74:38/72:53);
3. Sally Kipyego (Nike OTC) 2:28:52 (74:38/73:14);
4. Des Linden (Brooks) 2:29:03 (74:38/73:25);
5. Laura Thweatt (Saucony) 2:29:08 (74:38/73:30);
6. Stephanie Bruce (Hoka NAZ Elite) 2:29:11 (74:38/73:33);
7. Emma Bates (Asics Idaho DP) 2:29:35;
8. Kellyn Taylor (Hoka NAZ Elite) 2:29:55;
9. Nell Rojas (unat) 2:30:26;
10. Julia Kohnen (GoStL) 2:30:43;
11. Sarah Sellers (unat) 2:31:48;
12. Lindsay Flanagan (Asics) 2:32:05;
13. Brittany Charboneau (unat) 2:33:14;
14. Kate Landau (unat) 2:34:07;
15. Keira D’Amato (unat) 2:34:24;
16. Becky Wade (Nomad) 2:35:12;
17. Jennifer Bergman (RRP) 2:36:11;
18. Bethany Sachtleben (unat) 2:36:34;
19. Jaci Smith (USAF) 2:36:34;
20. Carrie Dimoff (Nike Bowerman TC) 2:36:41;
21. Kelsey Bruce (unat) 2:36:51;
22. Katlyn Peale (Nike Bowerman TC) 2:37:12;
23. Christina Vergara Aleshire (unat) 2:37:20;
24. Lauren Weaver (unat) 2:37:48;
25. Molly Grabill (Nomad TC) 2:37:57;
26. Jordan Hasay (Nike) 2:37:57;
27. Bria Wetsch (unat) 2:37:58;
28. Georgia Porter (unat) 2:38:07;
29. Taylor Ward (unat) 2:38:11;
30. McKale Montgomery (unat) 2:38:20;
… 206. Janet Bawcom (unat) 2:49:13;
…dnf—Roberta Groner (New York AC) (15M), Sara Hall (Asics) (22M), Molly Huddle (Saucony) (21M), Allie Kieffer (unat) (7M), Maegan Krifchin (Atlanta TC) (7M), Emily Sisson (New Balance) (21M).