No personal bests and no trips to Tokyo for Alaska runners Saturday at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials, and for two of them there wasn’t even a finish line.
The other three survived a windy, high-energy day in Atlanta quite nicely.
Tony Tomsich of Fairbanks placed 102nd in a field of 175 men’s finishers and Anchorage’s Anna Dalton and Soldotna’s Megan Youngren placed 212nd and 230th, respectively, in a field of 390 women’s finishers.
Aaron Fletcher of Anchorage dropped out the 26.2-mile race after 16 miles and Keri McEntee of Fairbanks dropped out after 10 miles.
The hilly course consisted of three trips around a loop of about eight miles and a punishing final couple of miles when runners left the loop and headed to the finish line.
“It was very challenging,” Dalton said by phone. “I knew it was going to be hard, but the only part of the course I previewed was the 8-mile loop. From about mile 23 to 26, that was just brutal — straight up and straight down.”
The wind was a constant factor, she added. She heard estimates ranging from 13 mph to 20 mph, and it was so unpredictable that there always seemed to be a headwind, she said.
“Signs were getting ripped out of the hands of spectators and aid-station coolers were getting knocked over,” Dalton said. At one point, a race bib got loose from another runner during the race and blew up against her leg, she said.
For all of that, Dalton reeled in runner after runner in the final 10 miles to finish well above where she was seeded.
Dalton finished in 2 hours, 49 minutes, 24 seconds, which was more than five minutes slower than her qualifying time of 2:44:18.
Youngren clocked 2:50:27, about six minutes off her qualifying time of 2:43:52. Tomsich, who was a UAA running coach for five years, finished in 2:25:16 after qualifying with a 2:18:49.
Youngren made history as the first transgender athlete to compete in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials, and she didn’t know until five days before the race that her entry had been approved by the sport’s governing bodies.
"(The) word is gratified,” Youngren told the Peninsula Clarion. “I'm so thankful for everything that just happened. It was a good race with a lot of amazing support. Everyone was super cool who knew anything about my story, or when I told them anything about it."
It was the largest field in the history of the U.S. Olympic marathon trials, especially on the women’s side. More than 500 women met the qualifying standard and about 450 of them started.
“It was kinda surreal,” Dalton said. “It made a little bit hard to have a clear goal. I did not look at my watch once. I was here to race.”
Dalton, one of Alaska’s top road racers for the last few years, was seeded 390th based on qualifying times and finished 212th.
“To be in the top half feels pretty good, and to mostly execute my race plan feels pretty good,” she said.
The plan was to run conservatively through the first half and then try to pick off runners in the second half. Dalton said she went out a little too fast but heeded the advice of her coach, Chad Trammell, who told her to chill after the first lap.
In the final half of the race, Dalton started working her way through the crowd of runners ahead of her. Someone following the race online told her she passed 100 people in the final 10 miles.
“My legs did not feel good but I was able to run the downhills way better than other people,” she said.
There’s a bit of irony there, she noted — in Alaska’s mountain running community, she is not known for her downhill prowess.
The looped course allowed runners to see each other from time to time, and three times Dalton and Tomsich — roommates in Atlanta — saw each other and gave each other a thumb’s up.
Other bursts of encouragement came from spectators.
“The energy from the crowd was insane,” Dalton said. “It was neat to be around so many fast women, and it was neat to be around so many women with these little snippets of their communities here to cheer them.”
Dalton’s community included her parents, Mark and Cami, who waved a big Alaska flag, “and my best friend from high school who has a very loud voice, so I heard her.”
Dalton and Youngren had never met before they got to Atlanta, and Youngren told the Clarion it was exciting to meet another Alaska marathoner.
“It was cool,” she said. “Maybe I can run with her sometime.”