On Saturday morning Brian Sell and Terrence Shea, both originally from our area, will take their best shot at achieving their mutual dream of representing the United States in the 2008 Beijing Olympic marathon.
The USA Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials start Saturday morning, November 3, at 7:35 eastern time at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. The last 24 miles of the course are in Central Park, and include one 4-mile loop, and four 5-mile loops. Only the top three finishers will make the U.S. Olympic Team.
You can click here to watch the entire Marathon Trials streamed live on the Internet at MediaZone.com. Important note: The Marathon Trials web cast at MediaZone.com is FREE, not to be confused with their web cast of Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon for which there will be a $4.99 charge.
Alternatively, you can click here for “near live” coverage of the Trials on RunnersWorld.com.
Back in the early 90’s when Terrence Shea was making his mark as a great runner for Altoona Area School District, I was thoroughly focused on helping my wife Deanna raise our five (then young) children. So, when Lee Baranik (Boys XC Coach at AASD) and Matt Manfred (PSU-Altoona XC and Bishop Guilfoyle Track Coach) separately contacted me about Terry being a Trials qualifier, I had to admit I was not familiar with him at all. For those of you with memories like mine, Shea continued his running career at Bucknell University and now trains with the famous Boston Athletic Association. With a Trials qualifying time of 2:20:52 in such a talented field, he is not considered to be a top contender for a spot on the U.S. Team. But it is an outstanding accomplishment just to qualify for the Trials and here’s hoping he’ll run the race of his life.
Brian Sell on the other hand, is on everyone’s radar screen as a solid contender for a top three finish. He finished 4th in the 2006 Boston Marathon, then 6th at Chicago running a 2:10:47 PR that day. According to a RunnersWorld.com panel of 39 experts which included an Olympic Marathon gold medalist, an Olympic Marathon bronze medalist, four previous Trials winners, and several Boston and New York City Marathon winners, the top ten pre-race favorites (with panelist votes in parentheses) are as follows: Ryan Hall (244), Abdi Abdirahman (233), Meb Keflezighi (202), Brian Sell (124), Alan Culpepper (68), Dathan Ritzenhein (47), Peter Gilmore (26), Khalid Khannouchi (24), Dan Browne (10), and James Carney (8).
Hall, a former miler, and Abdirahman and Keflezighi, each 3-time USA 10,000M champions, have track pedigrees. A slow race would play into their strong finishing kicks. Sell’s strength is, well… his strength. Brian trains with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project in Rochester Hills, Michigan. He has literally run thousands of miles over rolling hills similar to the Trials course topography. In the months leading up to the Trials he increased his weekly mileage to 150+, and peaked at 162 miles the week of October 14th – 20th. He tapered over the last two weeks doing 105 miles during the fourth week of October and, including Saturday’s race, he’ll do about 80 miles this week.
I expect Brian will want to push the pace on Saturday to gradually wear down Hall, Abdirahman, Keflezighi, and the other front runners. On Thursday, RunnersWorld.com reported that an unnamed “marathon expert who’s very close to the Hansons-Brooks team has confirmed that at least one HB runner will pace Brian Sell through the early miles in Central Park” (by my count there will be 13 HB runners in the Trials). “The goal is a steady, but fast sub-5:00 pace. They want to turn this into a marathon of attrition.”
That won’t be easy. The field of 134 runners is undoubtedly the most talented ever assembled for a USA Marathon Trials. Ryan Hall ran a blazing 2:08:24 at the London Marathon – his first attempt at the distance. Abdi Abdirahman has the second fastest qualifying time at 2:08:56, not to mention those three USA 10K championships. Meb Keflezighi was the silver medalist in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. Khalid Khannouchi has been plagued with injuries, but he’s a former world record holder in the marathon and still holds the American record at the distance. Alan Culpepper and Dan Browne were teammates with Keflezighi on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team. After that there are still seven more runners with sub 2:15 marathons to their credit.
Sell recently told Runners World that his ideal Marathon Trials course would be different than the course he’ll run on Saturday. He said he’d prefer “more long, grinding hills – half-mile and mile long hills." He went on to say "And it’d be one long loop. Not this five-times-around thing. I think the track guys will have a little bit of an advantage here. They’re used to going around and around. But it drives me nuts. That’s why I don’t do track races.” Still, the long oval course in Central Park is constantly rolling up or down. There are almost no flat sections. That may very well favor Brian who has, from his days at Saint Francis University in Loretto, to his 4th place finish in Boston last year, always run the hills well. Go for it Brian! For video of Sell discussing his race preparation, etc. click here and here.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another great runner from our area who narrowly missed qualifying for the Trials this year. A.J. Kelly from Altoona posted a 2:22:44 at the Bank of America Marathon in Tampa, Florida earlier this year – missing the qualifying cutoff by a precious 44 seconds. A.J. made another attempt a month ago at the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, but temperatures in the 90’s and brutal humidity ruined any chance of running a fast time that day. Here’s hoping we’ll see A.J. at the next Trials.