Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series leading up to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on February 29, highlighting the top athletes contending for the U.S. Olympic team.
Molly Huddle is one of America’s most accomplished runners ever, with 28 national titles to her name. But the distance she hasn’t yet won? The marathon.
She’ll take her shot on February 29 at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta, where nearly 500 women will compete. The top three will make the U.S. Olympic team, racing in August at the Tokyo Games.
Huddle, a two-time Olympian, is the American record holder for 10,000 meters (30:13.17) and the half marathon (1:07:25). She raced the 2020 Houston Half Marathon on January 19 as a tune-up for the Trials, where she finished in 1:09:34.
This will be Huddle’s first crack at making the Olympics at the 26.2-mile distance. At the 2012 Games she competed in the 5,000 meters and in 2016 she raced the 10,000 meters. Her debut for the marathon was in 2016 at New York City, where she placed third in 2:28:13 and her most-recent 26.2-mile finish was at the London Marathon in April, where she set her personal best of 2:26:33, which is the eighth-fastest qualifying time at the Trials.
In her buildup for February 29, Huddle, who lives in Providence, Rhode Island, trained in Phoenix, Arizona, where her running partner, Emily Sisson, is based. The duo is coached by Ray Treacy, cross country coach at Providence College.
After overcoming an ankle injury in December, Huddle said her training was mostly smooth sailing. The only aspect that was different this time was that she stayed off the track, where she’d typically do speed workouts.
“All the workouts have been estimations, it feels like, just because there are hills or wind; it’s just not as controlled as the track,” she said. “We’ve done them all on the roads or the canals here—we’re doing a lot of volume, so all the turning [on the track] was kind of irritating to my foot.”
Olympic Trials Qualifying Time: 2:26:33 (2019 London Marathon)
Marathon PR: 2:26:33 (2019 London Marathon)
Peak weekly mileage: Estimated low 120s—Huddle’s training schedule is based on a 12-day cycle, so she doesn’t typically keep track of weekly mileage.
Favorite workout: The long run, up to 23 miles, which includes some fast final miles at marathon-pace effort, on a loop course that simulated the hills of Atlanta.
“The long runs that went well I found to be the most confidence-boosting,” Huddle said.
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Best part of training for the Olympic Trials: The week before the Houston Half Marathon was when Huddle finally felt like she was fully rolling and responding to the training after her injury.
“We were pretty intent on not backing off before or after that race, so I went five weeks without an easy day,” she said.
Worst part of the training for the Olympic Trials: About three weeks after Houston, Huddle hit a rough patch—probably because she hadn’t taken an easy day in five weeks.
“I think I was just tired,” she said. “It was definitely part of the marathon fatigue rollercoaster you go on.”
Best piece of advice or encouragement given: When stressed or disappointed that she had to take an unplanned day to recover, Treacy, her coach, reminded her that success in the marathon is an accumulation of work over years, not weeks.
“He said, ‘You have a whole career of work behind you—that’s the advantage of being in a veteran position. You have a lot of miles; you have a lifetime of fitness to rely on,’” she said. “That’s a good way to look at it, and also to just look at your age in a more positive way. I’ve built up a lot of strength and fitness and maybe I shouldn’t worry too much about a day off here and there because of that.”
Taper tantrums: While many runners don’t enjoy the last stretch of reduced volume before the big day, Huddle embraces it.
“I actually really like it. I don’t know if that means I’m not meant to run this much, but I usually start to feel increasingly better in all ways during the taper,” she said. “I do love putting in work, but I feel better and better the less I run—my ailments go away, so I look forward to it.”
Pre-race superstition or good luck routine: Huddle likes doing her nails the night before her race and wears a necklace that says, “Strong” on it.
“Those two things have been consistent for quite a long time, but nothing I take too seriously,” she said.
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Looking back on 2019🏃🏻♀️: USXC- 2nd Stanford 10k 30:58, 2nd London Marathon – 2:26:33 (PR, technically😑) 12th USA 10,000- 1 Hoka One One Long Island 5000m-15:08, 1st IAAF World Champs 10,000- 9th Reebok Women’s 10k- 1 Valencia Half- 69:30, 6th 🏃🏻♀️🏃🏻♀️🏃🏻♀️🏃🏻♀️ Some good ,some bad , some meh but always grateful for the chance. #finishstronger #runforgood #bloodsweatanddata #formulatedforfarther
Race-day shoes: She hasn’t finalized the decision yet, but Huddle will likely wear the Saucony Fast Twitch.
Looking forward to most on race day: The fruits of her labor.
“I want to see what this buildup became and what fitness I’m in,” she said. “I’m excited about the atmosphere, too…and running to my potential that day.”
Dreading on race day: The lack of freedom to set multiple goals, like athletes usually do in a non-Olympic year.
“It’s like pass/fail—the undercurrent is that you’re either top three or you’re not,” Huddle said. “I try not to think of it in that way even though that feels like the message out there. But it is a higher pressure race and that part can be hard to navigate. The Olympic Trials are just extra stress.”
Impressions of the Olympic Marathon Trials course: Huddle toured the course once in November. It reminded her of many routes she runs in Providence, although she wasn’t able to train there because of the harsh winter.
“There’s no one mountainous hill, but it’s always rolling a little bit,” she said. “That can be deceptively hard by the end…it almost reminds me of the New York City Marathon course but without the magnitude of the bridge hills—I’m trying to think of that as something I’ve had success at in the past.”
Support crew in Atlanta: Coach Treacy; Huddle’s husband, Kurt Benninger; and an array of friends
Morning routine for a late start time: Huddle’s hoping to keep herself on Mountain Time and sleep in a little bit—the race doesn’t start until 12:20 p.m. Eastern.
“I’ll take my time fueling up,” she said. “It’ll be nice.”
Olympic Trials breakfast fuel: She’s sticking with what’s worked in the past: peanut butter and jelly either on bagels or rice cakes, a couple of bananas, some Gatorade chews, and sports drink.
Race-day mantra: “Strong with every step” or any positive thoughts that cue her body to remain strong.
Walk-up song, if you had one as a pro runner: “Water Me,” by Lizzo
Slow and strategic or fast and furious: Strategic might favor somebody like Huddle, who prefers the half marathon, she said.
“Although we have a lot of women out there and I could see it going out a little hard to separate the packs and ease the congestion, so I have to be prepared for that, too,” she said. “Anything could happen.”
How she’ll know that she did everything she could, even if she doesn’t make the team: Although Huddle knows she’ll be disappointed if she doesn’t finish in the top three, she believes seven or eight women are capable of taking those coveted spots.
“If I race what I feel is my full potential and strategically everything goes well and I don’t have any hydration or fueling issues—any marathon you get through where you avoid those problems is a success,” Huddle said. “I feel like I have a little less pressure on me because I have time to come back for the 10K [at the track Trials in June]—the marathon is my focus and that’s the number-one choice, but if it helps me to know I have another shot, I’m going to use that.”
Celebration beverage of choice: A beer. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had one,” Huddle said. “It’ll be a nice time to relax and that’s something I always crave afterwards. It’ll be three o’clock by the time we’re finished, so it won’t be that ridiculous.”