Three athletes with Kentucky ties will compete at the Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles on Feb. 13. Each have qualified for the trials before but have distinctly different stories.
Bobby Curtis, Michael Eaton and Allison (Grace) Morgan each took the time to answer some questions for me ahead of the trials and I’m excited to share their stories over the next few days.
First up: Bobby Curtis, a Louisville native and St. Xavier graduate (2003). Curtis won 19 state titles as a Tiger before heading to Villanova for a standout collegiate career. He was the national champion in the 5,000 in 2008, a two-time regional champion, seven-time All-American and eight-time Big East champion.
Although he hasn’t lived in Louisville since high school, Curtis said he still visits frequently and running at Seneca and Cherokee Parks is one of his favorite things to do when he’s in town.
“I have a lot of great racing and training memories from those parks,” he said. “And I’m always impressed by the city and it’s people when I come back.”
He trained in Australia for several years before returning to the U.S. to join the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project in 2013. He continues to train with the Hansons-Brooks group in Michigan, which has produced a number of Olympic team contenders, including one of the favorites in the women’s field, Desiree (Davila) Linden.
In 2014, Curtis lowered his marathon best to 2:11:20 at the Chicago Marathon, finishing first American. It was his third marathon — and his third PR.
He debuted at the distance in 2011, finishing in 2:16 at New York. Two years later he dropped to 2:13 at Fukuoka (Japan). “So … I guess I should run 2:09 in L.A.!”
While he’s joking — a little — with that prediction, Curtis believes a 2:10 is what it will take to make the team.
It would be vindication for what Curtis views as a subpar performance at his first Olympic Trials, in 2012, where he finished 10th in the 10,000-meter race.
“I was in Mammoth Lakes doing some of my best training ever,” Curtis recalls. “I think I trained a little too hard leading into the trials and my performance there wasn’t representative of the quality work I had put in leading up to the race.”
But, he said, that’s not unusual. Runners try to elevate their training in preparation for the trials because making the team is so special — but as runners know, push too hard and you can wind up overtrained or worse, hurt.
“This time around I’m trying to keep things normal and avoid letting all the Olympic Trials buzz dictate the intensity of my training,” Curtis said.
That’s not to say his training isn’t intense. Curtis said he just hit his highest milage week ever — 140 miles.
“Other than that, I’m following pretty much the same program I did before Chicago,” Curtis said. For 10 weeks, he’s been putting in 20-mile long runs, 8-16 mile workouts and 120-ish miles per week.
“In marathon training I think it’s really important not to go overboard because once you’re cooked there is no coming back,” he said. “My college coach used to say to keep your training ‘al dente’ and I think that’s a good way to describe how this segment has progressed for me.”
Curtis has reached a level of understanding with the marathon that he didn’t have when he toed the line on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
“Like a lot of track guys, I naively thought that my track times indicated I should run 2:10 or 2:11 with no problem,” he said. “That was a humbling experience. At mile 20, I was sure I was going to run 2:11. By mile 22, I was wondering if I should drop out!”
Time and consistency have been key to his steadily-improving times. Building up to 18- and 20-mile recovery days — from 13-14 miles — and running longer tempo and long runs “just took time.”
The four-time national team member isn’t solely focused on the marathon. Last year he raced in the world cross country championships, and he said he still looks forward to racing on the track.
“In the end it’s all distance running,” he said. “I think you can get stale if you just focus on one aspect of distance running, so I like to do a little bit of road, track, cross-country and marathon racing.”
But for the next few weeks his attention is on the race at hand. If things go as planned, he’ll be training for the Olympic marathon in August.
Curtis said he believes he’ll need his fourth-consecutive marathon PR to make the team and he hopes to run even splits for the race.
“I would like to be top 3,” Curtis said. “I think there are probably 10 or so people that could make the team on the right day, so I want to do every thing I can on race day to be one of those people.”