Olympic Marathon Trials 2012

Goal: Marathon Olympic Trials 2012


      A feeling of elation juiced through my veins as I boarded the plane. I was going to run in the 2012 Olympic Trials. I was headed to Houston with my husband Jonathan, mom, and big sister – my support team. We were aware we would be a bunch of star-struck runners witnessing history take place Saturday, January 14th; however, we weren’t just there to witness this historical event – we were going to be apart of it all. Unbelievable. My body tingles when I realize this fact every now and then. My running idols: Shalane Flanagan, Desi Davila, Kara Goutcher, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, Blake Russell, Ryan Hall, Meb Keflenzki, Dathan Ritzenhein, Jason Lemkhule, and the list can go on and on. I was apart of what these great runners were apart. I had something in common with them all. For the first time ever, the men’s and women’s marathon trials would be run on the same day in the same city: Houston, Texas.
 We arrived Thursday night after a long day at work. I was completely aware of one difference between many of these athletes and myself: I had a full time job, and it was not running!  In my reality, if I needed a sports massage, I had to travel 45 minutes and pay big bucks for it! I know I am not a professional athlete, and I do not pretend to be one. I only dream of someday getting a company to sponsor me: to see just what my engine is capable of running. 

My Aunt Patti picked us up from the airport. We stayed with her for the weekend instead of the host hotel. This was good, not only because it saved us some money, but while I was able to enjoy the festivities, I was also able to get away from “it” all. Being able to relax in my Aunt’s home with my family was much more fun -instead of being cooped up in a cramped hotel room wondering who was on the other side of the wall. The only scary part about this was Pat’s driving. Wholly molly, we almost died at least four times to and from that darn convention center: but I did get there on time and in one piece. Love you Pat J

      The morning of the race, I was feeling a bit nauseous on our way as the tiny Honda, Civic raced and veered from side to side on highway 45 towards downtown. I will compare this roller coaster ride to Space Mountain at Disney World. However, I wasn’t bothered; I thought it was hilarious- the whole ordeal. I pictured Deena Kastor or Kara Goutcher riding with my Aunt to the starting line, and I couldn’t help laughing at myself. Laughter is the best medicine for me before a high-pressured event. Takes my mind off the matter. 

      Friday Morning: The day before the race,  
I arrived in downtown Houston at 11 for an interview with the producer of Miles for Trials. Wendy Shulik wanted to get all the girls who ran a last minute qualifier at the California International marathon (CIM) on December 4th together for an interview: 25 of us qualified there. Wendy described the moment of about four minutes when all of us ran through the finish line at Cal as “unbelievably emotional.” She is holding back the images and tape until the film debuts. I can’t wait to see it. I was the biggest crybaby of all. We were all hugging each other in amazement that we had finally reached our goal after years of dreaming and training, and now in just six weeks, we were going to toe the line with the nation’s greatest marathon runners in the Olympic trials: a surreal moment for many of us. So an interview with as many of these women would be very fitting. The film crew only got in touch with about eleven or twelve of us. But, we looked great sitting on that bench in the midst of “Trials Town.” We all gave our opinions and feelings about how the race would go for us.

      While in the interview, I met some girls who ran a bit faster than I did in California. Some of them were from the women’s running team based in California: The Impalas. Thirteen of them qualified for the trials: inspiring. I was a bit jealous these running ladies had each other’s friendship and running expertise to share with one another on a day-to-day basis. In St. Louis, we having nothing of this magnitude: maybe I should start something up!
  (Runnababez has two so far, but we will grow)!  We had to interview outside in uncharacteristic, windy, and cold temperatures in Houston. Wendy, the producer of the independent film was kicked out of the convention center, almost literally. She tried effortlessly to get her media credentials months before the race, but was turned down. So she told us all to meet “outside” the media center – in the hall. The whole ordeal was ridiculous.  In stomped the most serious security – one of the guards was so intent – he didn’t crack a smile or even show any emotion when Wendy was frantically packing up all her equipment. She would crack jokes – he was not amused. He escorted her out of the building like she were some criminal. Jonathan, my husband, was taking pictures of the whole thing…lol. I stayed outside the media center to let some of the later girls know we were now meeting outside, and I overheard the scary security guy tell his buddy, “Hopefully the rest of the day will be quiet.” I know the security guards were just doing their jobs, but I can’t help to think how Wendy was turned down for media credentials. I mean, she is a “small business owner” in the midst of producing this independent film about women, like me, who are following dreams, and she was denied. I believe NBC monopolized the event for their own coverage: but they didn’t care about women like us – we weren’t going for the Olympic team. We were trying to do an interview in the hall of the convention center, and they wouldn’t have it. Instead, we all shivered for an hour outside. Not too smart before running a marathon the next day: thanks a lot NBC.       Anyways, I just kept reminding myself that I wanted to have fun and support this woman’s film and dream, just like she had supported all of these women’s dreams in running the trials. I was doing this interview!
 The Impala girls seemed very nice. They were funny too. One girl forcefully yet humorously shouted to her teammate, who was picking up the pace at mile 16 during CIM, “Put the beast in the bag, put the beast in the bag!” I was rolling. Apparently her Impala teammate was a strong runner. She had a reputation of pushing the pace early, but it was a bit too soon to let out the “beast.” The girls needed to run smart, stick to the plan, just in case the monkey hopped on their backs in the later miles, and their qualifier got taken because they pushed to early in the race. They seemed like they had a lot of fun: I wanted to run with them. I would find their blue uniforms on the line the next morning and attach. As an experienced marathoner, I knew how deadly it was to lead a pack in the early stages of the marathon. Marathon 101: tuck yourself in the middle of the pack, turn your brain off, and just go for a run. If the pack dissipates in the later miles, start pushing and lead if need be, but never in the early miles. I always try to let someone else do the work: pace, block the wind in the early miles: just try to think as little as possible; I am certain I will need my mental prowess in the later miles.

When a reporter from runnerspace.com asked me what my goals for the race were, I replied, “I have no idea what to expect from my body. This will be my fourth fast marathon in four months, and I just ran a 2:44:32 at CIM less than 6 weeks ago. I feel healthy, injury free, and excited, but I do know, that in the marathon, body conditions accrued from pervious marathons can creep up in the later miles and debilitate you. That hamstring that you thought was recovered or those IT bands and hips that hurt in the later miles at CIM may seem dormant now, but they may not be 100% later in the race, so you have no idea how your body will respond. Cardiovascular, I feel fantastic.” Some of the girls in the interview expressed excitement with the anticipation of having their personal record (PR) come from the Olympic Trials while others expressed more conservative predictions: they did not expect to run faster than they had six weeks prior at CIM. Me, I was going to let my body and mind unfold during the race. The interviewer smiled at my reply and my carefree attitude: “It’s the marathon…I have no clue what my body is going to do!”

      Next on the agenda:  I checked myself in with USATF on the fourth floor of the Hilton: I saw Jen Rhines and Amy Hastings (Olympian and 4th place finisher of the trials) coming in from a morning run: very strong and fast women. I got my elite badge and gave my husband his “coaches” pass. We mixed my bottles with Cytomax and turned them in for placement at the fluid stations along the course. I was table 29 position 5. I turned my bottles in for miles 6.0, 11.2, 16.0, 19.2, and 22. I decorated them with pictures of my family, particularly my daughter, Samantha. When I would approach one of the miles where I had a bottle, I ran towards table 29 (indicated with a huge blue sign) and snatched my bottle from position 5. The system was fantastic. No jams of runners, just smooth as can be. Houston did a great job at organizing this system. As I chugged my Cytomax during the race, I would see pictures of my husband Jonathan and my daughter on a hike at Zion or Sam and I running in the Grand Canyon together. It was so uplifting during hard times of the race. It’s a shame I had to toss those bottles: but it was worth it.
  Next, I had to get my uniform checked. No sponsors could show on one’s uniform: only small symbols like a Nike swoosh, and if you had more than one swoosh, they had to stick black tap over it, and take a picture of your uniform. Some runners had black tape all over their uniforms. I had tape on my socks for heavens sake! You couldn’t wear anything in the race they did not scrutinize and take a photo of: USATF declared, “we will be watching!” Geez, it made me nervous I was going to break a rule and get pulled off the darn course.

      Moving on, the technical meeting at 2:00 was mandatory. All the athletes and their coach were there. I sat next to Magdalena and behind Shalane and Kara. The meeting was funny. Some runners, not the professional athletes, were asking very silly questions almost trying to stump the organizers. One girl kept asking the most useless questions: didn’t she realize she was holding up many A-list athletes in this prolonged meeting. My husband leaned over my shoulder pretending to be one of the obsessive compulsive questioning athletes and whispered, “if I have to go to the bathroom during the race, will you be able to hold my p****, so I don’t have to lose my running form?” oh Jonathan, you are hilarious and a bit true of some of these athletes’ questions: Just run!

      Finally, I got a magnificent massage and the time was already 4:30! We had to turn in one more piece of my uniform. A very nice man in front of us (Camille Heron’s husband I later found out – I love her!)  said he was standing in line for his wife while she napped: Immediately I thought, oh my gosh, I have been on my feet and downtown since before 11 am, and I have to run a marathon tomorrow. Oh well, I am here to enjoy the experience, not make the Olympic team. I tried not to focus on it. Camille’s husband and Jonathan ordered me to go take a seat while he waited in line.  Jonathan later told me this other husband was Camille Herron’s: A professional runner and very intelligent woman. I read her blogs all the time! Star struck…again just a little late.

Although the race directors had all our meals for the week and weekend prepared for us in a special area called, “The Discovery Green,” in the middle of trials town; we choose to only eat lunch there. The food was magnificent; anything a runner would request to eat before an endurance event. It was brilliant with Olympic symbolic centerpieces, flowers, lots and lots of foods, and an open bar, which provided water, power aid, chocolate milk, juice, and more. However, for dinner, we stopped at Pei Wei on our way home. I always eat plain white rice the night before; everybody else got yummy dishes. I had to wait. I was not willing to jeopardize my race because of stomach problems. I have seen some gruesome scenes in marathons with upset stomachs – not worth it! One man during the trials had shit all over his pants, up his back, and running down his legs at mile 5 already…poor dude. White rice and a lot of it please.

      We did not get home until after 7. I was gone from 9-7 due to traffic in Houston the day before the marathon! I immediately took an ice bath, got in my pajamas and then ate my rice. Next: SLEEP. I feel asleep to interviews of the Olympic hopeful’s on runnersworld.com on my Kindle Fire. When I would wake, the day I have been dreaming about would be here! 
Go Time!  
I woke up at 5:20, ate a bagel with peanut butter and a banana along with some coffee. We drove to the race site and arrived a bit before 7 am. All the athletes were held in a special area in the convention center right next to the start/finish line. They were all there: Deena used the restroom right before me. Magda was getting ready to warm up. I took a five minute jog inside the George R. Brown convention center then stretched and rolled out my muscles the rest of the time while sipping my Cytomax. Just waiting for the call. They were announcing the last call for the men to the starting line. They started 15 minutes before the women’s race. What about women first? The temperature rise between the men’s finish and the women’s finish was an increase of 7 degrees. However, I knew the race directors wanted as little overlap between the two gender races as possible. Since these men are faster, they needed to step on the line first. I used the bathroom one last time: I met Madeline – one of the Impala girls from yesterday’s interview. I asked her if I could run with her, and she seemed excited. I was elated to have someone else to run with. Announcement: Final call for the women to the starting area. I walked down and then kissed my husband good-bye. Here we go. Women were striding out, sitting, and using the port-a-potties last minute. Finally, the national anthem was sung by one of our own: Esther Erb. Frank shorter said a few words and then shot the gun for the men’s race.  We all stripped from our sweats as quickly and frantically as possible. I was in the back. I found Madeline and she waved me up. The 1984 Olympic trials champion and Olympic gold medalist, Joan Benoit Samuelson said a few words, runners to your mark, and the gun. Off we went. I found myself with Madeline and two of her teammates. The other girls were taking a conservative approach and stayed back. We were clipping 6:11 give or take miles, and I kept wondering, would this pace debilitate me in the later miles. All the bibs around me were in the 90s or below…I was ranked 117. What was I doing up here with these girls? Was I working too hard? I would ask myself. No, I feel good. I tried to pack up with other girls as much as possible so I could cruise and not think, but Madeline was a passer. We found ourselves, the consistent two, running together. We had left her teammate before we even hit the ten-mile and never even saw any of the other girls from the interview. I was nervous. I didn’t put any pressure on myself to do anything amazing: just express my fitness and enjoy the experience, but now, I didn’t want to let go and get passed by runners who ran “smarter” by running more conservatively at the beginning. I felt good. I would take a risk. At mile 17, I said, “You are a passing fool Madeline!” She replied, “You have to!” We ran aggressively partly due to her running without reservation, and I without fear.

      Mile 21 and still passing people. I just swiped a bottle from mile 19 with a picture of my pops and my family…it made me smile and keep going.

      Mile 22, “Madeline, I am done, go ahead girl.” “No Jackie, let’s go.” I let her go, but hung on her heels for a mile, then pulled back up next to her. She started to struggle, and I was feeding us both positive mental tricks. “Let’s pretend we just started the race, or lets take this next mile and relax, then give our final push when we get to 24.” All of a sudden I saw a former teammate from my college days. She hardly talked with me when I saw her the day before. She was one of the most talented distance runners on our team in college. I got a charge from passing her. I told her to keep going that she could do it…I could tell she was hurting too, but I wanted to pass her and leave her behind for good. It’s my competitive side. Madeline came with, but wouldn’t seal the deal with me; I had to leave her sadly around mile 23-24. I tried to encourage my new buddy. Once you weather a marathon with another person, you carry a special bond. You literally go through huge physical and mental difficulties with this person. I felt a connection with her. She was so sweet and special. I cared about her and how she did. I wanted her to come to, but I was in so much pain mentally, I had to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep my mind focused, never give in, never give up. Think of Samantha, my mom, everybody that has supported me. I wanted to finish strong for all of them.

      Mile 25: the pain in getting obnoxious. I figured if I slowed down, the pain wouldn’t go away or be any less, I would only be prolonging the pain and delaying any sort of gratification. The faster I go, the faster the finish line.       Mile 26: I see my big sister, Jerren and lock eyes, she is screaming with my Jonathan, my mom, and my Aunt Patti. I am overjoyed to see them. I burst a few tears and rev into my last gear to pass one last girl who qualified in Chicago where I ran a minute short of qualification. I finish in 2:44:22. A new personal record by 10 seconds. 70th place. 225 women qualified. 189 made it to the starting line without injuries or other difficulties and only 159 of these women could even finish this race. All the women from CIM in the interview never caught me. I never got passed. I did my job today. I am happy. 
I did it. Not only did I achieve my goal of getting to the Olympic trials, I competed well, and finished in the top half of the field. I am satisfied. No, I am hungrier. I want a sponsor. I want to get in the mix next time. I know the talent is there; I just need to get it out. Maybe someday, until then, I will enjoy the pure balance I have in my life: my family, my job, and my running…in this order. This is my life, and I love it.
 This race was the culmination of a lot of life challenges for me. Running was the catalyst that got me focused on the positive experiences that life has to offer.

       Five years ago, my mom and I would sign up for races every Saturday morning to keep me focused. I never felt better! Running has truly saved my life. After 5 months of being back into the running world, I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, Samantha. And five weeks after she was born, the doctor released me to run. I was out the door and on my way to training for my hometown marathon the Go! St. Louis in April. I ran a modest 3:07 for 2nd place.       In December of 2009, I ran Memphis and broke 3 hours for the first time: 2:58, then took 4 months off because graduate school was getting too tough. I gradated in May and started training again for Chicago 2010…I ran a 2:53. Little by little my time decreased with the help of Coach Webster and Serena Burla. With the mix of both their training philosophies (one being speed oriented and the other endurance) I was able to pull off a 2:47 in Cleveland in May 2011. I geared up for Chicago my first attempt at qualifying for the trials with a sub 2:46. I ran a 2:47 again. I believe I tapered a bit too soon for Chicago 2011 and missed a few important elements in my training. That is the thing with training. You have to individualize it for every athlete. One athlete may need more speed while the other needs to work on that long, hard, grinding the miles out type. It’s just never the same for all runners. After the race, I was supposed to be disappointed, but I wasn’t. I already booked my flight to the California International Marathon for December 4th. Just my mom and I went to this race. I filled the holes in my training that I felt like I missed in the last training segment and continued to focus on recovery with all the hard efforts I was running and voila: an Olympic trials qualifier in 2:44:32. Just six weeks before the trials. I took a week off – trained for about three weeks and backed off the last 10-14 days. I was ready to go again. I am so grateful to my brother Matt Pirtle, whom is my trainer at Emerge Fitness; my parents for supporting me through the entire journey the last 2-3 years of seeking this goal; my sister Jerren who is so loving and my best friend – she shows me how to be a great mother and always makes me feel good, and mostly my daughter Samantha and husband Jonathan for sharing me with my running and being my biggest fans. 2016 cant get here soon enough; I will do this again!
 Anyone can see, I have come a long way! I am healthy, happy, and free. The best part of this experience is realizing how important it is to have other female runners to run with and support. This is where my friend Lisa Cary came in. She has been so supportive of me as I am of her. This is why we have decided to start this team here in St. Louis.       Women! We need to support each other, to be strong together, and to make time for fitness and friendships. Runnababez embodies all of this. After all, we are Fun. Fast. Fabulous! Go get ‘em ladies 🙂

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