Fun assignment: Observe
local person in spotlight
Wednesday, January 18, 2012 2:54 AM
I was on assignment in Houston, Texas, last weekend. My assignment: To cover the Olympic marathon trials, an event that chooses the three marathon runners from the United States who will compete in the summer Olympics in London.
Our newspaper doesn't have the resources to travel the world covering events, but Chris Erichsen, a 2004 Kingsland graduate, qualified for the trials. Besides, Houston is where my brother lives, so I had a place to stay. Not only that, the public marathon was being held the next day and I could run that with my brother.
Still, the main attraction was the Olympic trials. My brother will always be in Houston and there are always marathons I can run.
For an area native to qualify for the Olympic trials is amazing. I know running isn't much of a spectator sport, but meeting the tough qualifying standards to be able to run in the trials would be the equivalent of making the NFL Pro Bowl or all-star games of the NBA or MLB.
I remember sitting at a table with a former NFL player several years ago when the subject of running came up. This was a man who had a distinguished career in the NFL and was a great athlete. He said that he thought the greatest athletic achievement of all, including any sport, is by elite marathon runners who can go 26.2 miles at around a 5-minute-per-mile pace.
Only 147 men marathoners qualified for the Olympic trials and 111 competed in this prestigious race.
Although getting up early and being on my feet for a few hours isn't the best thing to do before running my marathon the next day, I wasn't going to miss this event. I also put my journalistic neutrality on hold as I wore "Team Erichsen" T-shirts designed by the sister of the elite runner.
In only his third marathon, Erichsen bettered his time again, as he has done every marathon he has run, and finished 40th. Because of the unique layout of the course, which had loops to mimic the London marathon course at the Olympics this summer, I got to see him several times as he made his way through 26.2 miles.
Still, covering a marathon for our newspaper is tough. We really needed a team of reporters - I'm sure I could have found some willing workers if I tried - to have people out on the course, near the finish line and even somewhere above to watch the field other than ground level. And, it was a vacation for the Erichsen family as well as for me and my wife, so there were plenty of distractions.
A lot of activity was packed into a long weekend. Watching a local resident competing with the best of the elite runners in the United States was definitely the highlight.
My marathon didn't go as smooth as Erichsen's. I lined up on the starting line with a scar from a dog bite and the lingering effects from a cold I had come down with less than two weeks before the marathon, so I knew my training wasn't what I had expected. And, once I started, I realized where all those calories from cookies, candy and other extra food I consumed over the holidays ended up.
As I struggled across the finish line in nearly twice the time it took for Erichsen to cover the course, and, I'm sure, feeling a lot worse than he did, I can appreciate his accomplishment even more.
The pain will go away eventually and by the time you read this, I will be back to my normal routine, but I will have some good memories. It is always gratifying to share, at least in a small part, the experience of a local resident who makes his mark in the world.