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How To Qualify For The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

If you meet the qualifying time standard of 2:45:00, you'll be invited to compete at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in 2020.

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That’s the time a woman must run in the marathon in order to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials. Running a 6:17 mile is hard enough, let alone repeating that performance 26.2 times. Then again, no one said that competing in the Olympic Trials is—or should be—an easy feat.

Fewer than 200 women qualified for and competed in the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials. While 2:45:00 is the golden number for these competitions, it’s not the only way athletes can qualify, nor does it provide for all the race-day expenses.

It is possible to qualify for the Trials with a half-marathon time, provided that—just like the full marathon standard—it’s run on a USA Track and Field-sanctioned course. The half-marathon standard for women is 1:13:00, and for the 2020 Olympic Trials, that finish time must be acquired between September 1, 2017 and January 19, 2020. Similarly, to qualify with a full marathon time, runners must meet one of the standards between September 1, 2018 and January 19, 2020.

You read that right: “standards.”

The “A” And “B” Standards

Running a 2:45:00 does satisfy the “B” standard for 2020, but it doesn’t provide athletes with any compensation for travel and lodging. To get those perks, female runners have to go sub-2:37:00—something 259 competitors have done as of December 12, according to the USATF website.

For many of the “B” standard athletes, qualifying is only half the battle. Once they’ve nailed the time standard, they must arrange and finance their trip to Atlanta, Ga., for the race. On top of that, they must remain healthy between now and February 29, 2020—the date of the Trials.

For those that do, the experience of a lifetime awaits them. Aside from toeing the line with some of running’s strongest women marathoners, they will have an excellent chance of getting a personal record if conditions are ideal on race day. The stiff competition, coupled with high-caliber race management, are often factors that push runners to the next level.

While many Trials participants will be focused on achieving a personal best, the potential impact of the race does not allude them. The top three finishers in the men’s and women’s races will have the honor of representing the U.S. at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. They’ll also net a sizable bonus, as the prize purse for the Trials totals $480,000, according to the Atlanta Track Club. How much will the winners receive? If 2016’s race is any indication, the female champion could walk away with $80,000.

We’re still more than a year away from the Trials, but the excitement is building—and for good reason. This race is the people’s chance. It’s a unique opportunity because it equalizes the runners. It doesn’t matter if you’re sponsored by Nike or working three jobs to pay for race travel: If you hit the Trials time standard, you get the chance to compete. And if you get the chance to compete, you have the chance to become an Olympic athlete and represent your country on the world stage.

Once the gun goes off, it’s anyone’s race.