Alvina Begay put together a strong showing at today’s Olympic Trials, finishing 56th out of 152 runners. Begay finished with a time of 2:42:40. A really impressive effort against the best runners in the country. Shalane Flanagan, 30, a bronze medal winner from the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, won the marathon with a time of 2:25:38, 17 seconds ahead of second place Desiree Davila. The final spot on the Olympic team went to Kara Goucher, who was 11 seconds behind Davilla.
Curley had a tougher day, coming in 84th out of 85 runners. Yet ran a 2:39:53. Both Begay and Curley should be proud, they ran for much more than themselves today, they ran for all of Indian Country.
Today at 3 p.m. EST on NBC, Navajo runners Alvina Begay and Craig Curley will race in the Olympic Trials Marathon in Houston, vying to become one of the three women and three men who will represent the United States at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The course is an eight-mile loop that goes counterclockwise three times to complete the 26.2 mile marathon. Begay is running the marathon against 224 other women, while Curley will be competing in the marathon against 85 other men.
In order to qualify for the Olympic trials, the men were required to run a 2:19:00 or faster in the full marathon and under a 1:05 in the half marathon (there is also a 10,000K race today, in which qualifiers needed to run a sub 28:30). The women’s qualifying runs had to be 2:46 or faster for the marathon, under 1:15 for the half marathon, and under 33:00 in the 10,000k. Imagine running a mile in a little over eight minutes. Now imagine doing that 26 times in a row. The endurance required for this sport is beyond mere strength and conditioning, it is mental, it is about pushing yourself to go harder when you think your body has nothing left.
How stiff is the competition? Consider that the top qualifier in the men’s half marathon, Dathan Ritzenhein, ran the 13.1 miles in exactly one hour (that’s a 4-and-a-half minute per mile pace!) Curley, who qualified in the middle of the 161-man pack, finished his qualifying run in 1:04:14. The last two qualifiers, Joseph Chirlee and Tommy Neal, finished at 1:05:00. For every minute of difference, dozens and dozens of runners are separated from the top three positions.
For the women, the separation between runners is much greater. Desiree Davila, the top qualifier, hit her mark for the Olympic trials at the Boston Marathon last April, running it in 2:22:38. Begay, who is in the top half of the pack, qualified with a time of 2:37:14 at the Phoenix marathon in January of 2010. It will take a huge push for her to make up the difference and finish in the top three today, but if anyone can do it, it’s Begay.
Qualifying for the Olympic trials is an achievement worthy of praise and recognition itself. Each runner is in peak physical condition, their bodies, minds and spirits perfected over years of training, for many a lifetime of training. So today is not just about the race itself, but about everything each one of these runners did to get here. All those hours of training, all those early mornings when the rest of us were sleeping and they were out on the road, all those healthy choices in terms of diet (hey, almost everybody would eat pizza all the time if they could), all those times their bodies felt as if they were going to shut down but they willed themselves to continue—today’s race is a testament to their strength, physical, mental and spiritual.
Both Navajo runners will take the starting mark with a long history of excellence (and an even longer history of hard work) and strong support from the American Indian community. Begay is a Nike N7 ambassador with a running pedigree that goes back to her upbringing on the Navajo Reservation in Ganado, Arizona. As her N7 profile states, Begay grew up running at an elevation of 6,000+ feet, on “endless, dusty dirt roads and trails of her hometown.” Running was in Begay’s blood—her father was a long distance runner, and with his and her mother’s support, she turned her Northeastern Arizona upbringing on those 11-million acres of Navajo land into the perfect incubator for success not just running, but also in school. She was an Academic and Athletic All-American, studying at Adams State College and then Arizona State, inspiring countless people in Indian Country, as well as the people she met along the way who got to experience her passion first hand.
Long distance running is about balance—when to push, when to conserve energy, how to strike the ground, how to hold your body, and balance is something Begay takes into her personal life as well. Not content with just being a big-time runner and Olympic hopeful, she is working on completing her master’s degree in Health Administration in Flagstaff, where she resides and has trained with Team USA Arizona running group. Leading up to the trials, she’s been training with the Nike Oregon Project, in Beaverton, Oregon, utilizing their facilities to maximize her chances in Houston. She also champions Wings of America, a running camp for Native America youth, which is also a part of the outreach goal of the running documentary Racing the Rez, which Indian Country Today Media Network reported on recently.
Begay recently shared some of her training regimen with RunnersFeed.com, in which she spoke about the importance of getting a good night’s rest before tackling a day that typically includes two runs (morning and afternoon) and strength exercises. The meal she said she typically eats the night before a race is pasta, some chicken, bread and a salad. She also shared what her race day shoes will be—unsurprisingly, considering her ambassadorship, she’ll be running today in Nike Lunar Racers.
Craig Curley also grew up on the Navajo Reservation in Ganado, and currently lives and trains in Tucson. Curley is sponsored by Nideiltihi Native Elite Runners (NNER), a nonprofit organization that helps foster American Indian long distance runners in the Four Corner’s states, with the goal of representing the USA in national road and track competitions. Assisting potential world-class Native runners who would otherwise struggle to be able to compete financially and get themselves into important events, such as the Olympic trials in Houston, NNER makes it possible for runners like Curley to compete in major events.
Curley trains under the guidance of the Pima Community College head cross country and track coach, Greg Wenneborg. His recent races have included the USA 20K championships in New Haven, Connecticut, the MedTronic Twin City 10 Miler in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and the Las Vegas Half Marathon.
Today, six runners will earn a spot on the United States Olympic Team, hundreds will earn the right to say they competed for the toughest roster spot in professional long distance running, and two, Begay and Curley, will earn, once again, the respect and admiration of everyone in Indian Country.