Fairport’s Melissa Johnson-White, 38, was one of the 449 women who participated in the 2020 US Marathon trials in Atlanta, George, on February 29. She finished 245th, recording 2:51:11 finish. Egils Robs asked her a couple of question about her experience in Atlanta at her 5th Olympics trials.
GRTC: In your own words – how did you do at the trials?
Melissa Johnson-White (MJW): My biggest goal for this race was to enjoy the experience. This was my 5th Olympic Trials, and timing for this one meant my training looked much different than it has in the past. I had a baby in December of 2016 and my 2nd in April of 2019. I ran the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon 7 months postpartum to get my qualifier. Normally I wouldn’t run back to back marathons, but when you qualify for the trials, you go for it. Atlanta put on an incredible event, and I think I smiled the whole time. The spectators were phenomenal, and I wanted to take it all in. Training for back to back marathons with a 3 year old and a 10 month old has its challenges, but every mile and every sleepless night was worth it. I’m proud of the training I put in during these past 10 months, but I also know my recovery is lacking. As a coach and athlete, I know the training is only part of the equation. I’m happy with what I’ve been able to do, but I believe I can improve on the training and recovery in the future.
GRTC: How big was your entourage at the trials?
MJW: It’s hard to say exactly how big it was, but I felt a lot of love out on the course. Brooks, Hansons, GVH, Michigan friends, and a lot of Rochester friends were all out on the course cheering. The crowds were the biggest I’ve ever seen for a marathon trials, and it was incredible to hear the cheers for 26.2 miles.
GRTC: This was the first time I heard about the pre-trial bottle labeling event on Thursday. Please tell us more about the event!
MJW: One advantage I feel we get at the trials is the ability to have our own water bottles at the aid stations. The size of the field in Atlanta meant this was going to be the largest personal aid stations ever put together. Each athlete had the option to put 6 bottles on the course filled with whatever they prefer. You then get a table number and bottle number, and in theory, your bottle should be there when you run by. I think Atlanta nailed this. I carried my own gels because I was prepared for the stations to be crowded and bottles to be gone, but I got every single bottle I put out. Here’s a good article that explains more about the planning: https://www.runnersworld.com/news/a30983357/hydration-stations-olympic-trials-course/.
GRTC: Are there any other pre-trial traditions that are lesser know to the general public but are an integral part of the trials?
MJW: Another thing we have to do before the race is gear check. You have to show everything you’re going to warm up in, wear for the race, and bring your shoes. All the clothing has to pass inspection in order for you to wear it. There are specific restrictions on the size of logos and the number of logos you can have on your racing kit. If your logos are too big or you have too many on an article of clothing, they will tape over it.
GRTC: What, how much, and how often do you drink during a marathon? Do you consume any food during a marathon? If so, what do you take?
MJW: I’m a big fan of taking gels during the marathon. You get a good amount of calories in a small package. I try to match my gels to what the race has in case I miss one of my bottles and need to take something on the course. The Olympic Trials used Clif Gels, so that’s what I practiced with and used on race day. I use a non-caffeinated flavor early on and switch to a caffeinated gel for the 2nd half. I take one gel at the start (especially with a late race start), and then I take another gel every 3-4 miles. We had personal bottles at mile 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, and 22. My bottles had a gel mixed with 8oz of water, and I carried it until it was gone.
GRTC: How do you prepare yourself nutritionally before a marathon? What do you eat and drink in the morning of a marathon, the day before a marathon, a week or so before the marathon?
MJW: About 2 days before a race I tend to cut out high fiber foods and stick with bland, boring foods. I try to focus on higher carb foods like rice, pasta, and bagels. I save the fun food for after the race! My pre-race breakfast is a bagel/toast with peanut butter, a banana, and coffee. I like to keep it simple and stick with something that is easy to find at any race. I try to hydrate well leading into the race, especially if it will be warm.
GRTC: What do you know about, and what can you tell us about the top-3 trials finishers?
MEN Galen Rupp, 2:09:20; 2. Jake Riley, 2:10:02; 3. Abdi Abdirahman, 2:10:03.
WOMEN 1. Aliphine Tuliamuk, 2:27:23; 2. Molly Seidel, 2:27:31; 3. Sally Kipyego, 2:28:52)
MJW: This was the largest women’s field, which was really exciting. I think realistically, there were about 15 women that could have had a great day and taken the top 3 spots. The 3 that made it may have been a surprise to some, but if you look at their background, they are all extremely talented and have experience in high caliber races. Aliphine is coached by one of my old teammates, so that was exciting to see him get his first Olympian. Jake Riley was one of my teammates at Hanson’s, so I was so pumped to see him get 2nd on the men’s side. He has had a rough couple of years with injuries and his personal life, so I was happy to see him back to racing well again. Abdi is a beast, and you can never count him out., he just made his 5th Olympic team at the age of 43.
GRTC: What can you tell us about the trials that we, back home, could not see while watching a TV broadcast?
MJW: I’ll be honest – I still haven’t watched the tv broadcast. I think in general it’s hard to get an idea of how the race is playing out after the top runners on TV though because that’s all you see. In-person at the trials, you can watch both the men’s and women’s races from the first to the last finisher. I also think the excitement was something that is hard to experience without seeing it in person. The crowds spanned almost the entire course and were several rows deep. It’s rare to see this number of spectators at a marathon, and it was incredible.
GRTC: There was a lot of buzz about the running shoes leading to trials. What shoes were you wearing, and how did you feel about your shoes?
MJW: There is a ton of buzz about shoes right now. Brooks released the Hyperion Elite on February 29, and that’s what I wore for the marathon. I think it’s a good racing flat, but I’m interested to see the 2nd edition which is going to be released in September.
GRTC: What’s in the future for Melissa?
MJW: I had so much fun training for the marathon again, and I really enjoyed the process, but I’m ready to switch gears and work on some speed. I’m enjoying some downtime right now, and then I plan on running mostly 5k/10k races and perhaps some miles over the summer with possibly a half marathon in the fall. In the future, I’d like to go after a sub 2:40 marathon again.