Soldotna’s Megan Youngren, 28, finished 230th with a time of 2 hours, 50 minutes, 27 seconds, Saturday in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta.
Though Youngren — as expected — was a long way from qualifying for the Olympics, that didn’t tarnish her view of the experience.
“I am … the word is gratified,” she said via cellphone from Atlanta. “I’m so thankful for everything that just happened. It was a good race with a lot of amazing support.
“Everyone was super cool who knew anything about my story, or when I told them anything about it.”
Going into the event, Youngren received national attention for being the first openly transgender woman to compete at the trials. During the race, NBC Sports followed Youngren on a motorcycle from about mile 2 to 6 to do about a one-minute segment on her.
Youngren didn’t expect any airtime headed into the race, so she tried to stand out a little for friends and family watching when the motorcycle first drove by.
“I waved at it driving by,” she said. “Then it started tracking me. I tried to look like a normal runner doing normal runner things. At a certain point I forgot it was there and got back into my rhythm.”
The race was won by Aliphine Tuliamuk in 2:27:23. Molly Seidel, running her first competitive marathon, was second at 2:27:31. Area running fans may recognize Seidel’s name from her college battles with 2015 Kenai Central graduate Allie Ostrander. Sally Kipyego claimed the final Olympics spot at 2:28:52.
Heading into the race, Youngren had a 2:45 or 2:46 in mind on the tough course, which had 1,389 feet of elevation gain and loss.
The temperature, 48 degrees at race time, wasn’t a problem. Youngren said she had nothing on but her racing outfit warming up, while most of the other runners had on additional layers.
“Someone asked me, ‘Are you from Alaska or something?’” Youngren said. “I said, ‘Yes.’”
A couple of things slowed her a bit.
First, the wind was forecast to be 17 mph, gusting to 35. The course was three loops, so the wind did not have to be faced for long periods, but there was one uphill section that was in a wind tunnel due to buildings that was particularly tough.
“It was either, ‘Hey, get behind me or let me get behind you,’” Youngren said. “There was a mutual understanding of how bad the wind was.”
Youngren also said her stomach wasn’t accepting fuel exactly the way she would have liked. That meant if she really tried to push it late on the course, there could have been problems.
“If I really would have swung for the fences, I could have gotten 2:48,” Youngren said. “That also could have meant I dropped, too.”
Youngren was happy with the way she managed her race. When she ran her PR of 2:43:52 at the California International Marathon in Sacramento, California, in late December to qualify for the trials, Youngren said she went out too fast and was in extreme pain the whole race.
This time, Youngren didn’t have to battle that extreme pain until mile 18.
“My legs are toast,” Youngren said.
She also felt her preparing for the Atlanta course paid off. The trials course is much harder than the CIM course.
“I don’t know if it was just because I was very prepared, but this felt less hilly than California,” Youngren said. “That’s bananas, because that’s not true at all.”
Youngren said it was an incredible experience being with such a talented group of runners. There were 390 finishers, with that last runner crossing at 3:18:52.
Among those Youngren met was Anchorage’s Anna Dalton, who was 212th in 2:49:24.
“It was cool,” Youngren said. “Maybe I can run with her sometime.”
After training continuously since December 2018, Youngren planned to take some down time after this race, and that’s still the plan.
If anything changed, it’s that she’s now sure she would love to race the trials again.
“It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” Youngren said, crediting the Atlanta Track Club with meticulous preparation. “It made all of the struggle to get here worth it.”