(ATLANTA (01-Mar) -- Saturday's special Road to Gold 8-mile road race here will only be held once, but in this case once is enough. The special event, which will be staged tomorrow morning by the Atlanta Track Club (ATC) in the heart of the city which hosted the 1996 Olympics, will allow over one hundred 2020 Olympic Marathon hopefuls to sample the USA Olympic Team Trials Marathon course and allow event organizers to test some of the race procedures, systems and assets they plan to use for the actual Trials. The 2020 Trials will be held on Saturday, February 29, 2020.
PHOTO: 2016 Olympian Jared Ward in Atlanta's Centennial Park one day before the 2019 Road to Gold test event (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"Atlanta Track Club was super-excited last year when we learned we had secured the bid for the Trials," said ATC executive director Rich Kenah at an information session for athletes and the media this morning. "Our bid process was one that was fast and furious. We didn't decide until the last minute to submit a bid. Once we did, we went all-in."
They key part of that bid process was determining a suitable course which would showcase the city and it's history, be acceptable to city officials, be fan-friendly, and and not be overly difficult. Kenah, working with his technical consultant and measure David Katz, came up with a course they think will meet all of those needs.
"We looked to marry-up your interests with showcasing what we call Running City USA: the sights, the sounds the history of Atlanta," Kenah said, looking at the athletes assembled in the room, including 2016 Olympian Jared Ward. "While we start and finish at Centennial Olympic Park area, we touch culture, we touch history, and we touch the Olympic past of Atlanta."
After the course was unveiled, some thought it was too hilly. Kenah has a different take.
"I would say this course is 'Atlanta flat,'" Kenah offered, "a term we use here and as anyone who has been to Atlanta you know that Atlanta is not the flattest city in the United States. We've had some challenges as we've designed this course to make the course challenging, but fair to all of you. It's not Houston-flat, it's not L.A.-flat, it's Atlanta-flat. You'll find out tomorrow exactly what Atlanta-flat means."
The Trials course is based on central, six-mile (9.66 km) loop which the athletes will do four times, plus the extra 2.2 miles (3.5 km) on the final circuit. Tomorrow's Road to Gold will utilize the final 8 miles (12.88 km) of the course. The start and finish lines will be in slightly different locations that the actual Trials course, but will be very close.
"This is going to give you a good feel of what you might expect when you do get to Tokyo , for those of you who go there," added David Katz who performed a measurement of the course last night. He stressed that tomorrow's race is a test event and the feedback from the athletes, officials and event organizers will be dutifully gathered and analyzed and may lead to a few tweaks in the course.
"We're listening," stressed Katz.
For the athletes here, tomorrow's race will give them a true feel for the course, something that can't be obtained from course maps, video tours, or elevation charts.
"My primary objective is to get a feel for the course," reigning Olympic Trials Marathon champion Amy Cragg of the Nike Bowerman Track Club told Race Results Weekly. "We think about this race for years and years, and kind of picture and envision it in our heads. It will be really nice to see the course, feel the course and be able to add that to my daily thinking about it."
Jared Ward, who was third in the 2016 Trials and sixth in the Rio Olympics, agreed.
"I want to get the lay of the course and better understand when I go home how to prepare for the Trials in a year," Ward said in an interview standing just a meter from the Olympic Rings statue in Centennial Olympic Park.
Both Cragg and Ward stressed that they will be racing tomorrow, not simply doing a test run. Part of helping them prepare for next year's Trails is to simulate the pressure and drama of a full-out effort with Olympic team berths on the line. They both rated their fitness as solid, but they were not yet race-sharp.
"It's a race," said Ward who is preparing for both the United Airlines NYC Half on March 17 and the Boston Marathon on April 15. "I feel like my fitness is really coming along well. I've been healthy, better than over the last couple of years. It's my first race since the New York Marathon (last November, where he was the top American), so I almost look at this as the rust-buster so I can go and have a good one at the New York Half in two weeks and then be ready for Boston in six weeks."
Cragg, who finished fifth at the USATF Cross Country Championships on February 2, said her fitness is on the upswing even if she is not in top marathon-shape.
"I want to get out there and have a good race," Cragg said. "I'm in better shape than I was for cross country, but I haven't been doing marathon training, or anything like that. My fitness generally comes from doing those big miles. As soon as this race is done, it's going to start picking that up."
Perhaps more than anything, the athletes want to feel the flow of those special competitive juices which only participating in the Trials or a major championships can trigger. The Trials only come along every four years, and they can make or break careers.
"If you had asked me yesterday I would have said, 'no,'" Craig responded when asked if she thought she would feel those special Trials butterflies in her stomach on the starting line tomorrow. "Just going out there and being in the city this morning for my shakeout run I started feeling that. It will happen for sure."
The Road to Gold will have separate starts for elite men, elite women and the approximately 2000 recreational runners who will also take part. The elite men will go off at 7:00 a.m., the elite women at 7:05 and the masses at 7:15. Weather conditions look to be very good with 50-degree temperatures (11C) with partly cloudy skies and no rain, according to Weather.com.
: Some of the Olympic hopefuls who will run the 2019 Road to Gold test event in Atlanta on March 2, show their appreciation for the Atlanta Track Club (ATC) staff in Centennial Olympic Park. ATC staff in the front row (left to right) David Katz (technical consultant), Chris Hollis, Jay Holder, Winnie Lok, Rich Kenah and Marcus Budline (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)