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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Becki Michael wins 2011 Akron Marathon

 


Like Most Trials Participants, Becki Michael Crafts Her
Own Definition Of Race Day Success

 

On Saturday morning January 14th, nearly 200 exquisitely-trained and anxious American women will toe the line at the start of the 2012 United States Olympic Marathon Trails. Only the top three finishers will capture the ultimate prize: the honor to represent the United States in the Women's Marathon in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

A careful review of the women's field makes it clear that the women's Trials race will be divided into two very different categories: an elite group of 15 [maybe 20] women who harbor realistic goals of a top three finish; and a second, larger group of over 175 runners who, with no reasonable expectations for an Olympic berth, are competing to achieve personal goals.

A review of the field - the qualifiers and their times - confirms this dichotomy. The very top tier - the sub-2:30 group - is comprised of a talented and accomplished assembly of just seven women, all of whom have a legitimate shot to make the podium. At the other end of the field you will find 90 Trials participants - nearly half of the women's field - who just made the race with posted qualifying times less than 2 minutes faster than the minimum B-standard qualifying time of 2:46:00. For these women - and indeed a full 90% of the women's Olympic Marathon Trials field - there are no realistic scenarios by which they make the United States Olympic team. They know that. They don't care. They are racing in Houston for other reasons - to set a PR; to place higher than expected; to celebrate their qualification; or, as the Japanese say, "to race honorably." For them, this race is not about qualifying for the Olympic Games - the Trials race is their Olympic Games.

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Becki Michael, 2011 Akron Marathon, photo courtesy of Akron Marathon

 

Becki Michael, 2011 Akron Marathon, photo courtesy of Akron Marathon


One such Trials participant is Becki Michael, an upbeat an energetic 28 year old with flashing eyes and a quick smile. Becki was born and raised in Alliance, Ohio - a hardscrabble industrial city in the heart of northeastern Ohio's hard-hit manufacturing belt. Her Midwestern work ethic has contributed to her running success. Her Trials qualifying time of 2:40:17 - which she ran in the 2009 USA Women's Marathon Championships - places her in the top 30% of the women's field. Coming off a run-away victory [2:45:57] in the 2011 Akron Marathon last September, Becki has been focused on completing her final buildup for the Olympic Marathon Trials. During the week between Christmas and New Years, I caught up with Becki as we sat down for a light lunch and some conversation.

RBR: At the turn the century, you were running track and cross country at Marlington High School. Now you are poised to run in your second Olympic Marathon Trials race in just a couple of weeks. How did you get here?

BECKI: It has been quite a journey. I started running in junior high school. I ran cross country and track all four years in high school. Cross country was never in my comfort zone. I just could never get comfortable on grass - yet I was a state meet qualifier all four years. Each spring, I was a middle distance runner. As a senior, I captured a 7th place finish in the 800 meters state meet championship race.

RBR: Tell us about your career at the University of Akron.

BECKI: I was recruited by Scot Jones, the University of Akron's distance coach. He made me run cross country all four years [laughs]. I was a stronger contributor in the spring as a member of the distance squad.

RBR: Scot had you focus on the newly-emerging women's 3,000 meter steeplechase. Wasn't that an odd event choice for a diminutive runner like you?

BECKI: Not really. The hurdle height in the women's steeple is not very imposing. I ultimately got my time down to 10:51.

RBR: That solid steeplechase time looks more impressive when it is remembered that you posted that time in the early years of the steeplechase when women were still learning how to run this new event. So, not unlike your high school performance, your collegiate career was very good, but not really outstanding. What inspired you to continue competitive running after college?

BECKI: I honestly believed I could be good at it.

RBR: Without question, you did become a better runner. After college, your running made a remarkable leap forward. How did that happen?

BECKI: I just calmed down. After I graduated there was no frantic anxiety about running and racing. With my college work over and my degree in hand, I could give running my undistracted attention.


RBR: Was it difficult for you, as a post-collegiate athlete, to support yourself while you were focused on improving your running?

BECKI: Not really. I have always been able to support myself. At times, I have worked at a local running store. And for two years, I was an assistant coach at Wright State University in Dayton. Now I work at my family's pharmacy in Alliance. My goal has never been to make a lot of money.

RBR: You have had some ups and downs in your personal life over the past two years. How have you dealt with it?

BECKI: Just a couple of years ago, I married Josh Ordway. Our mutual love of running was an important facet of our marriage. When our relationship fell apart about a year ago, my life took a turn. I moved back to Akron and rededicated myself to my training. Running and my friends have helped me through this difficult time.

RBR: Both Josh and his brother Jason will be running in the Men's Olympic Trials race the same morning as your big race. Will that affect you?

BECKI: Not at all. I have maintained a civilized relationship with my former husband and brother-in-law. They are both great athletes and I wish them the best in the Men's race on race day. I'll be undistracted by them and I will be prepared to run my best race in Houston.

RBR: The Houston race will be your second Olympic Marathon Trials race. Tell us about your first Trials race experience in April, 2008, in Boston.

BECKI: It all happened so quickly. I qualified for the 2008 Olympic Trials two months earlier when I ran my first marathon in 2:43:42. I was ecstatic that I had qualified for the Olympic Trials. After posting that qualifying time, I made a rookie mistake by not allowing myself sufficient post-race recovery time. Enthusiasm overruled good judgment and my over-zealous training led to a nagging pinched nerve in my right foot. I ran the 2008 Trials race in pain and finished with the time of 2:53:38.

RBR: Joan Samuelson, the '84 Olympic champ, must have passed you in the last several miles.

BECKI: Yes she did [laughs]. Joanie is a pioneer and a running legend. Don't forget: she also beat 33 other girls that day [laughs].

RBR: So tell us how your training has been progressing as you point toward the Houston Trials race?

BECKI: It has been going very well. Physically, I feel I'm in very good shape. While I'm proud of my Akron win, it was basically a solo run when my fitness level was not at its highest. I am in much better shape now. My 8 week buildup has featured several weeks with mileage between 100 and 110 miles per week.

RBR: You have always been known as a voracious trainer. What can you tell us about this monster one kilometer interval training session I keep hearing about?

BECKI: It was a little wild [laughs]. At the University of Akron Field House, I ran 25 times 1,000 meters with a 200 meter recovery jog. I was hitting them around 3:40 - which is just a little under six minute pace. I ran that workout by myself - so I was just a little bit crazy by the end [laughs].

RBR: And that's a workout you devised on your own?

BECKI: Yes. I am self-coached now. I had good successes in my early post-collegiate years working with Matt Woods and later Ed Alyanak. Two years ago, when my life took a turn, I needed to take control. I made the decision to coach myself and I have been running better than ever.


RBR: Self-coached...kind of like Ryan Hall?

BECKI: You could say so. But he is just a little faster than I am [laughs].

RBR: The seeding for the Olympic Marathon Trials race looks as if you might start as the 56th fastest qualifier in a field of nearly 200. What is your plan for race day? And how do you define race day success for yourself?

BECKI: I know that a top three performance by me in Houston is not realistic. It is not a realistic goal for most of the women. I have always been a disciplined racer and my plan is to go out at 6:05 pace. Not 6:00 pace - that would be a bit too ambitious. I am hoping to race smart with the plan of passing people on the final 8 mile loop - passing people who made bad choices early in the race.

RBR: At age 28, you have many good years of running ahead. What are your future running plans? And what are your future goals and dreams?

BECKI: I am looking for a strong performance in these Trials - a positive experience, a good finishing place, and a solid time that can serve as a stepping stone to an even better performance in the 2016 Olympic Trials. Four more years of focused training should position me to run in the low 2:30's and to capture a top 15 finish in the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials. As a longer term goal, I'd like to qualify and run in five Olympic Marathon Trials.

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The writer with the racer, Becki Michael, photo courtesy of Akron Marathon

 

the writer with the racer, Becki Michael, photo courtesy of Akron Marathon

 


 

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