Austin, Cragg Win Road to Gold 8M in Atlanta (Last 8-Miles of Olympic Trails Marathon)

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2019 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

PHOTO: Jared Ward and Parker Stinson chase eventual champion Brogan Austin at the 2019 Road to Gold road race in Atlanta (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

ATLANTA (02-Mar) — Brogan Austin of West Des Moines, Iowa, and Amy Cragg of Portland, Ore., won the special Road to Gold 8-mile road race here in downtown Atlanta this morning, a one-time “test event” which utilized a key portion of the 2020 USA Olympic Team Trials Marathon course. Austin, the 2018 national marathon champion, was timed in 38:07 while Cragg, the reigning Olympic Trials Marathon champion, clocked 43:23.  Over one hundred 2020 Olympic hopefuls competed here this morning ahead of a mass race with about 2000 entrants.

Athletes competed on the main, 6-mile loop at the heart of the 2020 Trials course, plus an additional two miles which will be added to the final circuit of the Trials to make the full 26-mile, 385 yard distance (42.195 km).  Those last two miles (3.2 km) are particularly challenging, with sharp up and downhill sections and a U-turn.

The elite men went first on a cool and slightly breezing morning, and the pace was honest: 4:45 through the first mile and 14:12 through mile-3.  Austin was at the front of the lead pack with 2016 Olympian Jared Ward and former University of Oregon Duck Parker Stinson.  Austin, who is preparing for the United Airlines NYC Half on March 17, said he was surprised at the difficulty of the course.

“Hilly is an understatement,” Austin said.  He continued: “I definitely have a new respect for this marathon. I only ran eight miles.  I can’t imagine doing four times that distance.”

Unlike at last December’s USA Marathon Championships where Austin achieved a dramatic come from behind victory in the final mile of the race, he was able to ease away from this top rivals here today and enjoy the final miles of the course.

“I maybe broke away at mile-5 or mile-6,” Austin recalled.  “I didn’t get too far ahead of them the whole time; they were probably about 30 meters back and stayed that way the rest of the way.”

Ward, from Mapleton, Utah, was a clear second in 38:17, Stinson, from Boulder, Colo., was third (38:25).  Tyler McCandless, also from Boulder, and Colin Leak from Chadds Ford, Pa., rounded out the top five.

In the women’s contest, Cragg made a solo run from start to finish to get her victory.  She split the first mile in 5:22 and already had a 12-second lead.  By the third mile (16:03) her rivals were so far behind that when Cragg looked back she had to take a double-take because she couldn’t see anyone.  The Nike Bowerman Track Club athlete enjoyed many “Go Amy!” chants from the side of the course as she ran through the otherwise quiet streets of Atlanta.

“I felt pretty good,” Cragg told Race Results Weekly.  “I think I’m in a good position and I’m pretty excited to get into the bigger miles.  For me, that makes a huge difference.  I feel ready to start that, which is exciting for me.”

Carrie Dimoff, another Bowerman Track Club athlete who works at Nike and lives in Portland, finished a distant second in 44:24.  Third place went to the up-and-coming Brittany Charboneau of Golden, Colo., an actress and comedian, who clocked 44:32.  Katy Jermann of Burnsville, Minn., and Bridget Lyons of Fairburn, Ga., filled out the top-5.  Lyons, a dentist, is a member of the Atlanta Track Club’s elite team.

Both Austin and Cragg won $2000 in prize money out of a total purse of $7700.

The overwhelming consensus among the athletes was that strength will count more than speed for next year’s Trials which are scheduled for Saturday, February 29.  The 2016 Trials were held on a very flat course in Los Angeles, as were the 2012 Trials in Houston.  Atlanta Track Club executive director Rich Kenah called his course “Atlanta flat” given that the city itself is hilly.

“You’re not going to have to be fast for this course,” Austin observed.  “It’s just all about grit, being in great shape.  Whoever is going to be strongest that day will ultimately come away with the top three.”

Cragg agreed.

“It’s going to be really, really tough,” she said.  “We’re going to send a good women’s team, a really good women’s team (to Tokyo).  If you can get through this course, you’re going to be ready.”

Three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein also said that the placement of the toughest hills in the final two miles could play a big role in the outcome of the Trials.

“The team could change big-time in that last two-point-two,” he said.


PHOTO: Amy Cragg celebrates her victory at the 2019 Road to Gold road race in Atlanta (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

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