About this project

In any given year, approximately 200 American women are able to run a marathon fast enough to qualify for the US Olympic Marathon Trials, a race that rolls around only once every four years and whose top three finishers will make up this country’s Olympic Marathon team.

Most of the women who qualify are young, meaning in their 20s and 30s. But every year a handful of them 40 or older make it into the race. In 2008 there were 14 such women, including three past Olympians.

Houston Hopefuls documents the efforts of numerous female masters marathoners who are working toward earning a spot in the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials race by running 2:46 or better on a marathon course recognized as a legitimate qualifier by the USA Track & Field Association. The race will take place in January of 2012 in Houston, Texas.

This site presents interviews with these women about the planning, hard work and sacrifice that goes into what for most of them is a multi-year endeavour.

About the Trials

The Trials are held in conjunction with a major marathon race. For 2012, that race is the Chevron Houston Marathon. Both the men’s and women’s Trials races will be in Houston, whereas, as has always been the case, in 2008 they were in separate venues: New York for the men’s, Boston for the women’s. Getting both races — a first — was a huge coup for the Houston organizers.

Both trials races will take place on Saturday, January 14, 2012, the day before the full Houston marathon on Sunday. This arrangement, while requiring that race organizers be responsible for hosting additional races, is good for them and for the running community, as the Trials creates a lot of excitement.

As is clear in at least one of the Houston Hopefuls interviews, many an “average Jane” marathoner has been inspired to pursue a qualifying time for the Trials after having watched the Trials race from the curb on the day before her own marathon.

About the women’s qualifying standards

To qualify to run in the Trials, a woman must run a marathon on a USATF-certified course in a clock time of 2:46:00 or faster. If a runner can show a “clock” (or “gun”) time (what the race clock read when she crossed the finish line) that is extremely close to a 2:46 or better “net” (or “chip”) time (how long it took her to cover the distance from between the start and finish lines, as recorded via her timing chip), then the USATF will consider accepting her for Trials entry. Remember to line up right in front, ladies, so that 2:46:00 net time doesn’t turn into a 2:46:10 clock time!

It’s important to note that even if a course has been certified, that does not necessarily mean that the USATF will accept a qualifying time on it. Certain courses that have a significant net loss in elevation, such as Tucson (AZ), St. George (UT) and Steamtown (PA), are excluded, as they are considered “aided” courses.

Hitting or bettering a 2:46 time is just one means of qualifying. There are others. Runners may qualify at shorter distances — via a half marathon on the road, or a 10,000 meter race on the track. But these qualifying times are a lot tougher to achieve, relatively speaking, than is a 2:46 marathon.* Still, the alternate qualifying distances provide opportunities for runners who are “moving up” to the marathon, but may not be ready to run a full one yet, to nevertheless qualify for the Marathon Trials early if running an Olympic marathon is their eventual goal. One case in point from 2008 is Blake Russell, who qualified with a 10K on the track and subsequently went to Beijing for the marathon.

In addition, there are two tiers of qualification: the so-called “A” and “B” standards. The B standard covers the 2:46 marathon requirement as well as the two alternate methods (half marathon and 10K). In those cases, the runner who qualifies with a B standard must pay her own way to the Trials. The A standard is tougher — a 2:39 marathon for 2012 qualification. But it comes with the benefit of having one’s travel costs covered. Maybe A qualifiers get fancier pre-race food and post-race pedicures as well. I’m not sure. But a lot of women who’ve already qualified with a B standard time will continue to shoot for the A standard, not only for the plane ticket but also because it’s something to be pretty darned proud of.

Here’s a list of who’s qualified under the various standards so far for 2012. Follow the other links on that page for other details from the USATF, including information about the all-important “qualifying window.”

Finally, there is the Olympic standard itself, which is set by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). If you’ve managed to finish in the top three at the Trials (and if you’re fourth, that’s not so terrible either, because it means you still get to go to the Olympics as an alternate in case one of the top three gets sick or injured), there’s an additional requirement to meet: the Olympic time standard. This is the minimum time you must have run to be allowed to compete in the Olympic marathon itself.

The International Olympic Committee doesn’t want a bunch of slowpokes competing in their race. So they require that everyone who lines up be able to bring a certain level of quality to the race. This keeps countries in which marathoning is not that established/competitive — like, say, Jordan — from sending their “top” runners, who can run a 3:45:46 marathon (which, hell, even I can do on a bad day!). Note, however, that individual countries are free to set their own tighter standards if they so wish (Hello, Kenya and Ethiopia?). The women’s standards for 2012 are 2:37 (the A standard) and 2:43 (the B standard, softened by a minute since 2008).

*The requirement for a road half of 1:15 is roughly equivalent to a 2:38 marathon. The requirement for a 33:00 10K on the track is probably close to a 2:36-2:37 marathon. Insane.

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