Q&A with Olympic Trials Qualifiers Meredith Lambert and Abby Dean

Philadelphia, PA

This coming Sunday (April 20th), Meredith Lambert and Abby Dean will have their games faces on. At 8AM that morning, the gun goes off the 2008 U.S. Olympic Women’s Marathon Trials. Meredith and Abby will get to mix it up with the very best distance runners the nation has to offer. So let’s find out what steps took them to this moment, and what hopes and dreams Meredith and Abby hold in their hearts.

PRTC: Tell us about the steps that took you to becoming an Olympic Trials qualifier.

ML: In the fall of 2006, I ran my first half marathon at the Philadelphia Distance Run. Immediately after finishing, I told myself it would be a long while before I ran a full marathon. After PDR, I spent the rest of my fall training for the Philadelphia Half Marathon in November. At that race, I saw a huge improvement in my time and was amazed at how comfortable I felt. At that point, the idea of running a marathon began percolating in my head. I took a break from workouts for a couple months, and by February 2007, I was itching to start racing again. As I deliberated over whether to do some longer track races or another half marathon that Spring, I figured, “Why not run the full marathon and see if I can get the Olympic Trials qualifying time?” So I signed up for the inaugural Eugene Marathon in April. I decided on Eugene because the course promised to be fast and flat, and I liked the idea of running in a smaller race. Of course, I also just wanted an excuse to visit Eugene. Leading up to the marathon, I ran two workouts a week, combining tempo workouts and long runs, and my peak mileage reached about 90. A month before the race, I ran the Caesar Rodney Half  Marathon as a tune-up, and was able to PR there, which was a huge boost to my confidence going into Eugene. Finally, a week before the marathon, I made a concerted effort to taper my mileage, which seemed like the hardest part of all my training. On race day, I went out with the pack running at 6:20 pace. That pace felt comfortable, so at about mile 5 or 6, I broke away with the second-place finisher and her training partner and ran with them through about mile 20. With 10k to go, I felt confident that I could win the race, so I surged ahead and didn’t look back (I was really pining for the first-place prize of free Subway for a year!). When I crossed the line in 2:44:39, I was so elated to see that I had fulfilled my goal of qualifying for the Trials.

AD: I think I may have taken as many steps to get to an Olympic Trials qualifier as I have literally taken in running a marathon!  My first attempt to run an Olympic Trials qualifier time was back in 2002 in hopes to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Trials. This was when the qualifying time was a 2:48, and my coach and I felt I was in shape to run a 2:48, so I signed up for the Las Vegas Marathon. I did not run a smart race, and finished in 2:50. I attempted to make the qualifying time in a few more marathons, but really struggled with some hip problems, and just was not able to run well. At the end of 2003, after several doctors’ visits, and lots of physical therapy, it became apparent that surgery was my only option of fixing the problem I was experiencing with my hips. Over the course of the next two years, I ended up having a total of three hip surgeries. After the 3rd surgery, I was told that I probably would not be able to run again, and if I did, definitely not marathons. Determined to stay active, I bought a bike and started cycling and swimming. I was not going to give up on running, though, so in the fall of 2005, I made my attempts at running again and started training for triathlons and some running races. After doing triathlons and road races for a little more than a year with little to no problems with my hips, I decided to give the marathon a shot. I signed up for the 2007 Grandmas Marathon, and despite the fact that I was also training for triathlons at the time, I wanted to see if I could make the Olympic Trials qualifying time of 2:47. The weather was a little hot, and I was not in the best marathon shape at that point. I ended up running a 2:54, 7 minutes slower than the qualifying time of 2:47. But now my desire to make a qualify time was stronger than ever! I signed up for the 2007 [LaSalle Bank] Chicago Marathon, knowing that it was a fast course with typically cool weather. Unfortunately, Chicago hit a record high with heat that day, and again, I missed the qualifying time. My coaches then suggested I run the Philadelphia Marathon. I thought they were crazy to think I could possibly run another marathon in 6 weeks!  I had also planned on doing Half Ironman (70.3) Championships that I had qualified for, but this was a week before the Philadelphia Marathon. Knowing that it would be impossible to do both events, I canceled my travel plans to Clearwater, FL for the 70.3 Championships and signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon. I ended up having a great race in Philadelphia, running almost 2 minutes under the Olympic Trials qualifying time! I am very thankful that I listened to my coaches!

[Editor’s Note: Teammates Ted Callinan and Matt Byrne ran the exact same two races as Dean in the Fall of 2003 to qualify for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Men’s Marathon Trials]

PRTC: What was your build-up to the Trials like?

ML: My build-up this year was very similar to what I did last year. I tried not to make many changes to my training program since it worked so well for me before. Again this fall, I raced PDR and the Philly Half, but I hadn’t been following any structured training program  to prepare for them. At the end of January, I gradually started increasing the length of my long runs and integrating tempo workouts into my routine. I raced the Virginia Beach Shamrock Sportsfest Half Marathon about a month ago with slightly disappointing results, but I’m optimistic that I was just having a bad day then and that my training has otherwise gone according to plan.

AD: I first had a little bit of down time (about two weeks) after the Philadelphia Marathon. I then focused on building my mileage back up. Once I had built my mileage back up, I did a few weeks of shorter track stuff, followed by a lot of tempo pace and marathon pace workouts. I tried to focus more on quality workouts than quantity. I think my maximum mileage was 85 miles, with most weeks in the 60’s and 70’s.     PRTC: Were there key tune-up races or workouts in particular that you focused on? ML: The Shamrock Half [Marathon] was a key tune-up race that I focused on. I also ran a couple longer runs at marathon-pace, which have restored my confidence going into the race.   AD: I picked the Caesar Rodney ½ Marathon and the DC National ½ Marathon as my key tune-up races. For workouts, I particularly focused on tempo and marathon pace runs.

PRTC: What about the Olympic Trials themselves? Has the preparation with host committee been exciting? What has it entailed?

ML: Most of the preparation with the host committee has been via Email and the Internet. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as “exciting,” but the committee seems to be well organized, and I’m confident that the race should go smoothly under its direction.

AD: The preparation with the host committee has been exciting. One of the first things you had to do was wait for you name to appear on the USATF site’s list of women that have qualified. Once your name appeared, you could “enter “ the Olympic Trials race. I don’t think qualifying really sunk in until I saw my name on that list! One not so exciting aspect of dealing with the host committee was finding out that I needed to have a WADA Therapeutic Exemption form filled out for medications I take for my asthma. After qualifying, I was made aware of the fact that my medications for my asthma were on the WADA Banned Substance List. This required medical records and documentation from my doctor. In addition, I had to have pulmonary function tests performed to prove that I did indeed have asthma and needed the medications that have been prescribed to me. I just got my clearance letter from WADA in the mail a few weeks ago!

PRTC: What are your goals for the Olympic Trials?

ML: My goals are to enjoy the race, practice pack running, run under 2:45, and finish in the top half of the race.

AD: My goals are to finish in the top 25 and set a Marathon PR. In order to try and finish in the top 25, I think I will need to try and race the marathon rather than stick to a goal pace. This could be a little risky, but I think it will be well worth the risk!

PRTC: On an ideal day, around what place and time would you hope is possible?

ML: Ideally, I would like to PR, so I would be pleased with any time under 2:44:39.

AD: On a perfect day, I think I can place in the top 25 and break 2:40.

PRTC: Anything else you want to add?

ML: I’m really excited to be a part of this experience, and I am so glad I made the decision to enter the race. I hope this will be the first of several Olympic Trials for me. Thanks to all the guys who helped out with those Sunday pace runs – if I make the Olympic team, I promise to give you all a shout-out at the press conference!