Friday, March 8, 2019

Race Report/Scouting Mission: Road to Gold

This past weekend I got to go to Atlanta to run Road to Gold, a test race on the 2020 Olympic Trials course. The Trials course will be four laps: a 6-mile loop run three times and a final lap covering most of that loop before heading south for the final 2.2 miles. Atlanta Track Club invited all qualified athletes to come run most of the last lap (an 8-mile race) to get a feel for what the course will be like. It was both a scouting mission and an opportunity for a tune-up race/hard workout.

First, the scouting mission. Here’s what we learned about the Trials.
1. The course is HILLY.
That’s been the main theme of the press since the route was revealed, but I was hoping it might be over exaggerated. IT IS NOT. Even the flat sections (the first out and back we’ll hit on every loop) don’t feel all that flat: it felt like we were always going slightly up (which is annoyingly grating) or slightly down (which is either imperceptible or not that satisfying). It turns out the best downhill is in this section (heading north from mile 1-2) but I didn’t really notice it. The locals kept saying it’s “Atlanta-flat” (they did remove sections of Piedmont Park to make it flatter), but I was comforted when other athletes agreed "Atlanta-flat" is actually crazy hilly. 

Men's winner Brogan Austin and
a photo that gives a good sense of the hills.
[Credit: Michael Scott]
In my opinion, the worst hill that we’ll hit on all four loops comes just after mile 4. The hardest hills of all though will be in that extra 2.2 we tack on the last loop; these were tough in an 8-mile race, they will be a serious challenge after 23 or 24 miles. The last section also has quite a few turns; even in an 8 mile race it felt like a lot. (Although I think two of these turns were added to circumvent current construction. The Trials course is slightly more straightforward.) But as others have speculated, this will make for an exciting finish as a lot could change in those final miles. And good luck to anyone who doesn’t take the warnings seriously and goes out too hard!

2. It will be an afternoon race.
The other news of the weekend was the men’s race is likely to start at noon, with the women starting a bit later. This is determined by NBC (not Atlanta Track Club) based on when they think they’ll get the most viewers. (This lines up with 2016, when the Trials were on the west coast and started at 10 am.) It will be tough on the athletes, as even in February it could be warm and sunny in the afternoon (it was in the 60s this weekend) and athletes training in much colder conditions won’t be acclimated to that. (Think of when Boston is on the warmer side: with the late start and lack of shade, even just slightly warm temperatures can catch people off guard at Boston. The last few miles of the Atlanta course are pretty exposed, so a sunny day could be tough.)

3. Atlanta Track Club is going above and beyond.
And finally, although we got a hint of Atlanta Track Club’s commitment to the race and the athletes by the shear fact they put this preview race on, the weekend provided more proof of what a phenomenal job they are doing. They took surveys of all the athletes to ask what we’d like to see at the Trials, what LA did well--and not so well--at the 2016 Trials, and took the time after the race to talk to everyone and get our thoughts. Lots of people (myself included) were disappointed with how LA treated the athletes; it’s clear that Atlanta is going above and beyond to make all of us feel special and on a level playing field. (For instance, they will be helping pay travel/hotel fees for ALL the qualified athletes—not just faster, A-standard ones—even though there will be more of us than ever.) 

Now for my race: it didn’t go so well. (Although it did serve the purpose of learning everything I wrote above!) I consider myself to be a strength runner, usually good on hills (e.g. Charlottesville, Pittsburgh) but even though I’m in the middle of Boston training (supposedly focusing on hills) they crushed me.

But of course, I am in the middle of training. I took this race as a workout (at the end of a week with two other hard workouts). I felt like things were shifting and starting to come together, and hoped running this as a hard tempo run would continue to point things in that direction.

I tried not to stress about it too much (It’s just a normal workout!), but possibly that just meant I wasn’t as mentally prepared as I should have been. I went out around 5:55 pace (I think? I missed the first mile marker) with the intention to pick it up in the second half. I lost my group by mile 3 and started to struggle a bit, but was surprised mile 4 was decent (turns out it’s downhill). As soon as we hit that marker, a group of Hanson Brooks athletes passed me (they were behind me??), clearly with orders to pick it up after four easy miles. Or that’s what I told myself, but truthfully I just totally crumbled from this point on. I never recovered from the hill after mile 4 (above, I call it the worst on the main loop for this reason); it was like a switch flipped that I couldn’t ever flip back. I averaged 5:56 for the first four miles and 6:12 for the second four. I don’t know if mentally I just didn’t recover, if I gave up a bit too much when I realized how far off my goal I was, or what, but I couldn’t get it together and was just surviving until the finish from here on out.

[Credit: Michael Scott]

The final out and back under the Olympic rings was cool (although when we hit this stretch at mile 24 next year, there may be a sense of "yea yea yea, who cares”), but after that I couldn’t tell where I was going since I had fallen just far enough back I couldn’t see anyone ahead. (Not being able to see anyone also didn’t help my mental fight.) The turns slowed me more than usual as I had to repeatedly ask volunteers, “which way?” (This won’t be a problem at the Trials because of more signage, more participants, and a heck of a lot more spectators lining the roads). One volunteer told me to “Swing, swing, swing” which apparently meant turn right (in my addled mind, I was thinking it was a baseball reference: "Swing harder to drive this home???"). Fortunately she told me to turn before I idiotically almost missed it.

Even in the final mile I had nothing left and couldn’t summon a kick. My stomach was beginning to revolt, but “C’mon I’m almost done, who cares?!” That’s possibly what’s most frustrating: I was trying to try, but it wasn’t working. I’m not entirely sure what went wrong, which is making it hard for me to get over this race. Things were starting to turn around and this feels like six steps backwards. I had hoped being in a race environment would help me run this workout faster than I could alone at home, but that turned out not to be the case. I know it’s just one workout, but as I head into the Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon this weekend, I wanted to have a good one to build confidence going forward.

And at the moment, I can’t imagine running this course four times. Fortunately, I have a whole year to wrap my mind around it.

Dream big,


  1. Woohoo, Teal! Getting a notification that you've posted is one of my fav things ever. Love the race cap, and am going back in time a couple hours to cross my fingers for you in D.C.

    You are strong, you are dedicated, and you are going to find a way to wallop this course in February 2020. I have faith in your ability to think your way over obstacles, and I will be HERE to read how you do it.

    Dream even bigger, Teal, cuz you have it in you.


    1. Aww thank you, DJ! This is probably one of my favorite comments ever, so thank you so much for posting it.

    2. Woman, there were no lies.

  2. Just one day. Just one race. Has no effect on the next one.