SACRAMENTO (02-Dec) -- On a near-perfect day for marathon running with sunny skies and comfortably cold temperatures, Brogan Austin of West Des Moines, Iowa, and Emma Bates of Boise, Idaho, won the USATF Marathon titles at the California International Marathon here this morning. Austin, 27, who entered today's race with only a 2:24:39 personal best, was a surprise winner, while Bates, 26, was one of the favorites, despite making her marathon debut. Austin clocked 2:12:38 while Bates was timed in 2:28:18. Both athletes earned $20,000 in prize money plus a $1500 bonus for achieving USA Olympic Trials Marathon qualifying times.
Llano Takes A Risk...
PHOTO: Brogan Austin wins the 2018 USATF Marathon Championships men's title at the California International Marathon in Sacramento, Calif., on Sunday, December 2, in a personal best 2:12:38 (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Remarkably the men's race had only one leader from the one-mile mark to the nearly the 26-mile mark: Matt Llano of Flagstaff, Ariz. Llano, 30, who is coached by Olympic marathoner Ryan Hall, found the opening mile split of 5:09 too slow for his liking and quickly ramped up the pace. He ran the second mile in 5:02, then the third in 4:52, and quickly put a gap on the rest of the field. He said he was prepared to run alone, if necessary.
"You know, everything Ryan and I had been working on was just focusing ahead, focusing on my race," Llano told Race Results Weekly. "I knew that there would be a chance I'd be running alone today, and I was ready for that. I knew it was going to be a risk, and I thought it was one that would pay off."
As the miles ticked by, Llano's lead grew larger, and larger. He went through 10-K in 30:49, and halfway in 1:05:12, just under course record pace. Wearing a white hat, sunglasses, black arm warmers and black gloves, the Hoka One One athlete strode confidently, clicking off steady miles at, or just under five minutes. His lead at halfway was 53 seconds over a two-man chase group of Sergio Reyes of Palmdale, Calif., and Wilkerson Given of Atlanta, Georgia. Austin was with the main pack still farther behind.
"To be honest, at half-way, I was hurting at halfway," Austin told Race Results Weekly. "I went out too hard."
Llano, who later said that he never looked back during the race, held his pace all the way through 19 miles. He was so far ahead the photographers on the lead truck could only photograph Llano because everyone else was so far away.
But in the 20th mile, Llano began to feel the strain of the hard pace. He slipped to a 5:08 for the 20th mile, then 5:09 for the 21st, 5:14 for the 22nd and 5:21 for the 23rd. He knew he was slowing, but he also knew he had a big lead. Was it enough?
"I was gaining confidence with every mile that passed," Llano said of the first half of the race. He continued: "So, I just tried to keep that confidence going, but I started to see the miles get a little bit slower. Like that's all right. I still have time on the field, I'm still in a good spot. The last mile I looked at was, maybe, 23, and it was, like, a 5:19. And I was like, I cannot look anymore."
Meanwhile, Austin was having an up and down race and wasn't sure how he was actually doing.
"I got a second wind around mile 18," Austin explained. "I'm making a move, then I started bonking again at 21. I'm like, OK, I think I'll just hang back here. And then at mile 23 I'm like, you know what? I'll pick it up a little."
He picked it up more than a little.
"I went from, like, a 5:08 mile down to 4:52 mile," Austin recounted. "And, then I got excited and I ran a 4:44 mile, and then I saw Matt in the distance. Then I was like, oh my God! I can catch him."
Llano was just trying to put one foot in front of the other, just trying to make it to the finish at the Capitol. He never heard Austin until he passed him just before the 26 mile mark.
"I didn't see him until he passed me," Llano said.
Austin was still rolling, but his legs had nearly given out. He just had to hang on for a few hundred meters longer.
"I don't know," Austin said, shaking his head. "Adrenaline took me through the last mile. About 400 meters to go I felt my legs shaking, starting to give out. I'm not going to make it! But, I was able to keep it together and finish strong."
Hands raised, Austin broke the tape and won his first-ever national title. He credited his new coaching relationship with Tom "Tinman"
Schwartz who coaches a small group in Boulder, Colo., which includes miler Drew Hunter and 5000m ace Sam Parsons. Schwartz coaches Austin remotely.
"I've been working with Tinman (Tom Schwartz), and he's really turned my life around, my training around," Austin marveled. "Like, I've struggled to run well for so long. I knew that this potential was here, and he's untapped it. I improved my half-marathon from a 64:09 to a 62:39. I took a minute off of my 10-mile PR."
Llano had to settle for second in 2:12:59. Although he was disappointed, he was proud that had the courage to lead and stick with his race plan. He just didn't have the turnover in the final miles, he said.
"It's not a total disappointment to end up second in 2:12," he said. "Obviously, if I could have held on for 500 more meters, 600, what ever it was, it would have been a great day." He added: "Four forty-fives at the end of a marathon; it's hard to match that."
Former triathlete Josh Izewski of Blowing Rock, N.C., and the ZAP Fitness program was an unlikely third in his marathon debut in 2:13:15, followed by his ZAP teammate, Joe Stilin, in 2:13:20 (also making his debut). Brendan Gregg, who grew up in nearby Davis, Calif., rounded out the top-5 in 2:13:27.
Bates From Gun To Tape...
PHOTO: Emma Bates wins the 2018 USATF Marathon Championships women's title at the California International Marathon in Sacramento, Calif., on Sunday, December 2, in her debut at the distance in 2:28:18 (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Emma Bates said in her pre-race interview on Friday that she had one simple goal for today: to win. When the gun went off, she paid no attention to the other 98 elite women and pounded aggressively through the opening stages of the race. She split 10-K in 34:41, a 2:26 pace. She slowed only slightly through halfway (1:13:24), but later admitted that she had started too fast.
"I just felt so good," Bates said with a laugh. "You get wrapped up in it, and there's so many people running around you, all the guys, everybody cheering. The adrenaline is really is really hard to keep at bay. I went out a little too aggressive, I think. I definitely wanted to run the second half a little bit faster."
Like Llano, Bates had a big lead through the halfway point. The number-one seeded woman in the field, Stephanie Bruce, was a full 83 seconds back. Was Bates worried about getting caught?
"I wasn't," she said. "I didn't know where the other women were behind me, but I knew I was keeping a decent pace, a solid pace. So, I wasn't worried at any point. I just wanted to run a fast time. At the end of the day, I just wanted to do my best."
Bates was never challenged. She cruised through the final miles and looked remarkably fresh at the finish line. Her time of 2:28:18 made hers the eighth-fastest USA marathon debut for a woman - 5 seconds behind Molly Huddle's 2016 TCS NYC Marathon time of 2:28:13. It was also her first national title at any distance.
"I said that I wanted to win, but first, actually, to be a reality is something that I'm really proud of," she told Race Results Weekly.
Bruce, who had run the TCS New York City Marathon exactly four weeks ago, finished second in a personal best 2:29:20 at age 34. She immediately knelt on the pavement in exhaustion, and was quickly comforted by her husband, Ben, who had just finished the men's race.
"It was the hardest marathon I've ever run," Bruce said. "I'll take it, man, I'll take it."
The next three women all ran better than expected to round out the top-5. Samantha Roecker, 27, of Charlton, N.Y., ran a career best 2:30:25, as did Michelle Lee, 24, of Sun Prairie, Wisc. (2:30:33), and Bridget Lyons, 30, of Fairburn, Ga. (2:31:00). The recently-married Lyons is also a dentist.
The depth of the women's race was staggering. Leigh Sharek, 30, of Brooklyn, N.Y, who finished in 50th place in the championships division clocked 2:42:02 (the USA Olympic Trials qualifying standard is 2:45). Results were still being tabulated as of this writing, and the race may have broken a world record for the fastest 100 women in one marathon.