MEB KEFLEZIGHI, 36, OF MAMMOTH LAKES, CA, THE FIRST MAN
TO CROSS THE FINISH LINE, IN 2:09:08, WATCHES AS THE
WOMEN CONTINUE.
PHOTOS BY CLAY SHAW AND KAREN MITCHELL

Covering the USA Olympic Marathon Trials
(And Enjoying the Texas Gulf Coast)

BY CLAY SHAW

Our Trip

Our trip to Texas started the weekend prior to the Trials; we took a vacation to the Gulf Coast. We traveled the entire length of the Gulf Coast, from near the Louisiana border in Port Arthur to Brownsville on the border with Mexico. We had both good and bad weather and stayed on islands for each of those five days. Our first stop was Galveston for two nights, an interesting little city reminiscent of New Orleans. We ran along the seawall each morning. (This wall was built after the 1900 hurricane which killed 6,000 residents.) We also enjoyed the historical district with its beautiful Victorian homes and an interesting shopping area. Although Hurricane Ike devastated the area in 2008, the residents have done a good job with restoration. Ten feet of seawater covered some areas for a short while--long enough to do much damage and kill many trees. In one area, a local woman organized an effort to make something of these trees by hiring tree sculptors. There are now tree stumps in the shape of herons, dogs, turtles, and even a geisha.

While staying in Galveston, we did a day trip to see the Gulf Coast Museum in Port Arthur, a great regional museum (hometown of Janis Joplin and the NFL’s Jimmy Johnson). In Port Arthur’s downtown, waves of economic recession and Hurricane Ike have created a nearly vacant, boarded up ghost town, possibly the worst we have ever seen anywhere in the world.

Our next stop was Port Aransas for two nights, with runs on the beach. From here on we stopped at National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) and other places for some incredible birding opportunities. We spent a day at the Aransas NWF checking out birds and other wildlife. Although Aransas NWR is a wonderful place, we did not have much luck there. There has been drought in the area for a year, and the day we chose to visit the refuge was the exact day that the park officials conducted a “controlled burn” and disallowed visitors from most of the park. Karen found better birding elsewhere at Goose Island, Port Aransas, and Corpus Christi.

The Texas highway system has free ferries in many places. We took one to Port Aransas and one from Galveston to Bolivar. Corpus Christi to South Padre Island was a long drive through scrublands to the Rio Grande Valley, while listening to Tejano radio stations along the way.

 

ANNA BECK OF WASHINGTON PA RUNS IN A BIG PACK BEFORE
REACHING THE FINISH LINE IN 2:47:26, IN 101ST PLACE.
PHOTOS BY CLAY SHAW AND KAREN MITCHELL
Our final night before Houston was on South Padre Island, with a moonlit 5 a.m. run on the beach done wisely while it was still warm. (Two hours later it was 20 degrees colder and windy.) We visited Laguna Atascosa NWF and headed back to Houston, a six-hour drive.

We stayed in downtown Houston, just a block off the marathon course and two blocks from the start/finish. From our 16th floor room we could see the marathon course. On the day of the Marathon Trials, Karen shot her photos from the ground and I was on the official photo bridge at the start and finish. Since the marathoners covered the 26.2 miles in loops, and the men and women were 15 minutes apart, there was great photography on the ground and on the bridge.

We had dinner with journalist friends on Thursday night and went to the Sacramento Kings vs. Houston Rockets NBA game on Friday night (a one-block walk--nice). Friday during the day we walked the downtown part of the course with Brandon Parks and his mom to check out photo spots for Karen. (Karen had mentioned that the Trials were in Houston, and Brandon, a pilot, managed to arrange his schedule to be there. Both Brandon and his mom enjoyed the experience.)
Following the Trials we met with Jeff Hill from Katy, TX, who started the “50 State Sub 4” group, which I am proud to be a part of. In fact, Jeff determined that I was the first person to run a marathon in each of the 50 states, all under four hours. Of the thousands that have now done the states, only 22 have done all of them under four hours. *
On Sunday, the regular Houston Marathon took place with lots of participants and fast times posted by the Ethiopian winners. We shot a few pictures and headed to the airport.

The Trials

First of all, Aimee Taylor and Dave Berdan deserved to be in the Marathon Trials. Both runners ran several worthy near-misses and have my respect for their marathoning talents and professionalism. Sometimes luck plays a part too, like the nice tailwind at the 2011 Boston Marathon. Well, maybe that luck was too good, as the winners ran so fast in the 2011 Boston Marathon that the IAAF won’t recognize the world records set there.

 

JED CHRISTIANSEN, 24, OF GREENVILLE, PA, FINISHED IN 51ST
PLACE WITH A TIME OF 2:21:09.
PHOTOS BY CLAY SHAW AND KAREN MITCHELL
The USA Olympic Trials were in Houston, Texas on January 14, 2012. For the first time in history the men and women ran at nearly the same time, in the same city, and on the same course. The spectator-friendly course started in downtown Houston with a 2.2-mile loop, and then continued with three eight-mile loops to the finish. The men started at 8 a.m.; the women started at 8:15 a.m. The system is pretty simple and fair; the top three men and women are the marathoners going to the London 2012 Olympics.

Meb Keflezighi, now 36, who won silver in the 2004 Olympic Marathon in Athens, won the trials in 2:09:08. Ryan Hall was second in 2:09:30, and Abdi Abdirahman held on for third in 2:09:47. Dathan Ritzenhein, who was on the 2008 Beijing team, was a close fourth in 2:09:55.

Shalane Flanagan was the women’s champ in just her second marathon in 2:25:38. Desiree Davila from the Hanson’s team in Michigan was second in 2:25:55. Kara Goucher was third in 2:26:06. Amy Hastings ran a courageous race but ended up in the dreaded fourth spot in 2:27:17. Deena Kastor, who won bronze in Athens and broke her foot 5 kilometers into the Beijing Olympic Marathon, was sixth in 2:30:40.

Some interesting facts: 152 women and only 85 men finished. Quite a few runners qualified by running a fast half-marathon and there were several nice debut marathons. A select few track runners qualified with a fast 10,000 meter time. Rebecca Donaghue from State College qualified that way and ran her first marathon in 2:35:57, good for 17th place as the first Pennsylvania resident. James Carney, a Pennsylvania native and now a resident of Colorado, finished ninth in 2:12:23, a personal best. Carney went into Millersville University’s Hall of Fame last Fall—obviously the school’s best professional runner ever (apologies to Greg Cauller). Jed Christiansen finished 61st. You may remember the fast Christiansen family from Greenville, PA who came to the White Rose 5 Miler for many years. Jed Christiansen won the White Rose in 2010.

Max King from Bend, OR was in my elite field at the Baltimore Marathon in 2010, where he posted his 2:15 qualifier; he bettered his PR with a 2:14:36, good for 19th at the Trials. Max is the best versatile runner around; he has made several USA cross-country teams, won the World’s Mountain Running Race, and commonly wins ultras and trail runs. Another versatile runner is Michael Wardian from Virginia, who finished in 62nd place and ran the Houston Marathon the next day--a 2:21 on Saturday and a 2:31 on Sunday...Quite a double.

 

SHALANE FLANAGAN, 30, OF PORTLAND, OR SURGES
PAST DESIREE DAVILA, 28, ROCHESTER HILLS, MI.
FLANAGAN WILL WIN THE RACE IN 2:25:38, 17 SECONDS
AHEAD OF RUNNER-UP DAVILA.
PHOTOS BY CLAY SHAW AND KAREN MITCHELL
On the women’s side, 21 Masters runners competed. Seven-time Olympic Trials runner and 1996 Olympian Linda Somers-Smith, now 50, placed 28th in 2:37:36. Four-time Olympian Colleen DeReuck, now 47, placed 35th in 2:38:52. Colleen won the 2004 St. Louis trials in 2:28:25 and held the trials record until this year, when the first four women bettered that mark.

Post Script: I picked Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, and Jason Hartmann in that order for the men. I guessed Shalane Flanagan, Desiree Davila, and Amy Hastings for the women. I got two right for each and was really close on the women. Many USA Marathon Trials have produced upsets in the past, but not in Houston. USA marathoning is strong and marathon trial records were set by both men and women. Both races were controlled swiftness; no one charged out in front in either race, as the main contenders all ran near the front.

About the Author: Clay Shaw is a long-time marathon runner and sports photographer. You can reach him at sports35_photography@yahoo.com.