The Olympic Marathon Trials took place this past Saturday in Orlando, FL. The ZAP Endurance team was represented by 6 athletes: Josh Izewski, Tyler Pennel, Tristin Van Ord, Andrew Colley, Whitney Macon and Annmarie Tuxbury. The nature of the Trials, one race, one opportunity every 4 years, lends itself to the full spectrum of emotions. All were on display Saturday in Orlando. From Josh’s 8th place finish in a club record of 2:11:09 to 3 DNF’s, the team experienced everything from joy and heartbreak.
The team entered the race coming off a month training in Tallahassee, combined with 30min daily sauna sessions the final 10 days, to prepare for the potential for warm weather. The weather turned out to have an impact on the race in all the ways we expected. The race was run under cloudless skies with temperatures beginning in the low 60’s and rising to just above 70 degrees at the finish. But the relentless pace of both races was the story of the day and survival the calling card for success.
Each athlete had their own race plan and all executed them well. With the Trials there is often an “all or nothing” mentality that is unique to the event. Andrew came into the race intent on putting himself in the lead pack and racing for a top 3 spot, confident that was his best plan for success. The leaders passed through 5 miles in a relatively conservative 25:05 with 45 athletes connected to a large lead pack. Not long after, Zach Panning went to the front and began running at a devastating clip for the next 15 miles. It proved to be a pace nobody would sustain the final 10k.
By mile 10, passed in 49:07 – meaning a split of 24:02 for the previous 5 miles (2:07:00 pace) – the lead pack was down to 12, including Andrew. By halfway that group was whittled down to 8 contenders, a pack that included the eventual 1-4 places. As the group passed halfway, Andrew began to silently battle an increasingly upset stomach, an issue that grew with each fluid station. Not wanting to avoid his bottles on a warm day that early in the race, Andrew continued to take them, but the discomfort in his stomach grew.
At mile 18, Panning continued to pour on the pace, covering the previous 13 miles at a blistering 2:06:20 pace. He had whittled the lead group down to 5. And by 19.5 the group was down to 4 with Andrew hanging in the slipstream of what had been a single file line for much of the previous 15 miles. However, as the group approached 20 miles Andrew began to vomit, the tightness in his torso reverberating through his body and causing other muscles to seize up and slow him down. He pulled off to the side at a medical station and got sick repeatedly, his day coming to a heartbreaking end.
Well behind the leaders over the first half, Josh Izewski took a much more measured approach to his race. Josh went out with the lead pack in 25:05 for the first 5 miles, but when the pace began to ratchet up, he maintained 5:00 pace. Josh passed the halfway point in 1:05:32, nearly 1:30 behind the lead pack of 8. By 11:30am, 80 minutes since the start of the race, the intense overhead sun had begun to take it’s toll on much of the field. The aggressive pacing exacerbated the effects, and Josh began to fly through the field. The next 6 miles Josh rattled off miles between 4:55 and 5:07, passing 45 athletes in that span and moving from 61st place to 16th.
Josh elected to stay tucked behind a small group on the bottom side of the course where there was a slight headwind, waiting to make his move until the group turned for home just past 23 miles. His 24th and 25th mile splits of 4:55 and 4:46 were the fastest in the field. They were good enough to carry him all the way up to 8th place where he would finish with a new personal best and ZAP club record time of 2:11:09.
On the women’s side, Tristin entered the race with a 2:25:58 seed time, good enough for 15th in a historically strong women’s field. Tristin came in with a plan to lay back early and methodically work her way through the field. With the leaders wasting even less time pushing the pace than in the men’s race, running 5:17 and 5:19 in miles 2 and 3, she executed well on that plan early. Tristin passed through 5 miles in a measured 27:53 in 32nd place. By mile 10 had slid her way forward to 27th place, hitting the halfway mark in 1:13:33. That 2:27:07 pace was the identical pace she ran to take 4th at the Houston Marathon in 2023 in similarly warm conditions.
Tristin felt strong over the first half and felt poised to go to work picking up the pieces left by the aggressive pacing up front. However, as she moved through the middle of the race and went to drive into the next gear, she could feel it wasn’t there. She began to feel labored and by the final 8 mile loop had a permanent grimace fixed on her face as she gritted through the miles. Despite not having the performance over the 2nd half she was hoping for, in true Tristin fashion, she bore down and still managed to move from 27th at halfway to 17th at the finish, picking up 7 spots over the final 10k.
The mark of a great competitor is fighting for every inch even when things aren’t going your way. Watching both Tristin and Annmarie you could see their fight, despite knowing they were falling short of their goals in the final miles.
Annmarie elected to race without a watch, preferring to go by feel and not be tied to pace. She ran a brilliant early stretch, running relaxed and patient, before coming down with a side stitch early in the race. She tried to press through it, tightening her abdominals, pressing her fingers into her side, but to no avail. She would find moments of relief through the rest of the race, as evidenced by a 5:47 17th mile, but would ultimately battle the abdominal spasm all the way to the finish. After passing the halfway mark almost dead on 6:00 pace Annmarie would finish at 6:06 pace, running 2:39 for 62nd place, and still moving up 37 places over the 2nd half.
For Tyler and Whitney, there is a strong likelihood neither would have toed the line if it hadn’t been the Olympic Trials. Tyler came in nursing a hamstring injury that plagued him the final 3 weeks of the buildup, severely limiting his ability to train over that span. Tyler ran stride for stride with Josh through the opening 8 miles of the race. But as Josh moved to cover a small break in the pack, running 4:48 for his 9th mile, Tyler hung back. He could feel his hamstring begin to tighten. Moving through the next mile it tightened even more, and by 10 miles it was impacting his stride and causing him to favor his right leg. Tyler made the difficult decision to step off the course just past 11 miles, knowing that even if he could finish he would be limping for 15 miles to do so.
Whitney entered the race coming off a very difficult 2023 where she had surgery on her achilles tendon, and then in an effort to build fitness heading into the Trials, struggled with a knee injury on the opposite leg. She worked tremendously hard with strength training, rehab, and cross training to give herself every opportunity to toe the line. And against long odds she did just that. 6 weeks after running outside for the first time in nearly a month, Whitney toed the line at the Olympic Trials, albeit with diminished expectations compared to her aspirations 12 months prior.
After her challenging year, getting to the line feeling ready to run 26.2 miles was a monumental victory. And for 20 miles, she savored it and lived that success. As she moved into the 2nd half she began to have sharp pain in her hip, and by 30k that pain had become consistent. At 20 miles she made the calculation that finishing, essentially for the sake of finishing, wasn’t worth any further damage she may cause and stepped off the course after having averaged 6:16 pace, a pace she couldn’t run for a 3 x 10 minute workout at the beginning of January.
The stakes at the Olympic Trials could not be higher. It’s what makes the event so magical and captivating. It’s also what makes it so devastating when the 4 year dream fails to come to fruition.
From all the ZAP athletes and staff, we want to thank you all for the incredible on course support – the ZAP cheer zone was amazing and gave the athletes a much needed boost every lap. (Look no further than the photo to the right (courtesy of Warren Hall) of Josh acknowledging the cheer zone mid-race.) And thank you to all of those who were cheering us from home, who sent us supportive messages, have donated, have come to a Running Vacation and been part of this journey. ZAP is unique in the world of post-collegiate running in that we could not and would not be here without that support. You all are the backbone of any success we have and we are eternally grateful for it.
After an event like this, we’re not sure what’s next for everyone just yet. Surely some of the athletes will pursue Olympic Trials qualifying marks on the track. But all of them are taking a few weeks to decompress and take a step back before they take that next step forward into what comes next.
However, the team action continues this week with 2 different 5k races going on, you can get the preview for those here. You can also get full results from the Olympic Marathon Trials, along with mile by mile splits here.