On Feb. 13, the best marathoners in the country will race the 2016 USA Track & Field Marathon Team Trials in Los Angeles, California. Both men and women will race the marathon distance to punch their ticket to the Rio De Janeiro Olympics in the 26.2-mile event. A field consisting of 168 men and 202 women will attempt to qualify for the Olympic Games. The competition should be fierce, with many former Olympians competing for a shot to return to the games. To win outright, the men may very well have to average under five minutes per mile for the 26.2 mile distance, while the women will most likely have to run under six minute pace.
For fans of UNCG athletics, one competitor at the trials will stand out. Former UNCG Cross Country assistant coach Jen Rock will run the trials representing the professional running team Hansons-Brooks. The former Division II All-American has been hard at work preparing for the race, running well over 100 miles per week in preparation for the event.
“During the peak of marathon training my mileage is around 110-120 miles per week”, said Rock of her training schedule. This grueling training schedule is facilitated by the support received from the shoe and apparel company Brooks. Rock receives free housing, travel, apparel, shoes, and race entry fees through Brooks. Rock is joined by seven other women and seven men who make up the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project. This professional running group was started by brothers Keith and Kevin Hanson who make up the coaching staff of the group.
“It’s the perfect support system”, said the former coach. Jen works at running shoe and apparel stores owned by the Hanson brothers who allow their athletes to fit their work schedules around their training and racing programs. The goal of this system is to allow for the group-training atmosphere to push the athletes to the height of their performance. “Some days you can feel great and you can help a teammate through a workout that might be struggling, and other days you might be struggling, but then you know you have teammates there to help pull you through.”
Rock mentioned that the team-type setup of the group really facilitates her training. “It is much easier to get through the daily grind of marathon training when you have teammates there to share the process with you.” Certainly, the daily grind of training has paid off for Rock, who has run a blistering 2:39:46 marathon (an average pace of 6:05 per mile). This incredibly fast marathon earned the athlete, who while at UNCG was affectionately known to the team as JRock, a spot on the line in Los Angeles this Saturday.
The professional runner described the Olympic team qualifying process as such; “To qualify for the trial for women, you have to run sub-2:45 in the marathon or sub-1:15 in the half marathon. Men have to run sub-2:19 in the marathon or sub-1:05 in the half marathon.” At the trials, the athletes on the men’s and the women’s side finishing in the top three will go on to represent the United States in Rio this summer.
Jen’s ultimate goal for the race is to average a pace of six minutes per mile to run a time of two hours, 37 minutes. “Running that time should place me in the top 30”, said Rock of her goal placing. To be among the top runners in the country, mindset is of the utmost importance. “The marathon is a long race, so your mindset is one of the most important things on race day”, said the top-30 hopeful. The athlete stated that she will remind herself of all of the hard work that she has put in to get to this point.
The Olympic Trials Marathon will be broadcast live on NBC. The race will begin at 1 o’clock Eastern time, with the men’s race starting approximately 15 minutes before the women’s race. Good luck Jen!