Feb 28, 2020

“It’s awesome having the Trials in my hometown”

By Amby Burfoot

It was a hometown celebration Friday morning in Centennial Olympic Park, when 14 qualifiers for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon with Atlanta ties, including seven who run for Atlanta Track Club Elite, expressed their excitement about the chance to compete on familiar soil.

“It’s awesome having the Trials in my hometown,” said Allie Schaich, who grew up in Atlanta and now lives in Houston. “I’ve been having a great time showing my friends around the city.”

Another homegrown runner, Lindy Jones, 25, has deep connections to Running City, USA: her high school coach at Landmark Christian, Bill Thorn, is the only person to have completed the AJC Peachtree Road Race all 50 times it has been run.

A lieutenant in the Air Force, Jones’ father passed away several months ago, and her husband was recently deployed to Afghanistan. She’s coached by Lisa Rainsberger, who finished fourth in three consecutive Trials (1984, 1988, 1992).

Jones ran her first race as a 5-year-old, refusing to remain in her jogging stroller. Instead, she wriggled out, and covered the 5K on her own in 45 minutes. (“Then she slept the rest of the day,” her mother reports.)

Jones was 12 when she first met Thorn. Initially, she found him intimidating. “He was very serious,” she recalls. “He didn’t believe in messing around.”

Before long, however, she became a convert. “He was so inspirational in his own life and running,” she notes. “He was a Godly man totally dedicated to living healthy in every way. He didn’t believe in big egos. He believed in seeking constant improvement in your next race.”

One of Thorn’s favorite mantras has stuck with Jones through the years. “He used to say, ‘When the going gets hard, run harder.’ I’ll definitely be thinking of that during the marathon tomorrow.”

Laurie Knowles, of the Elite team, has needed plenty of inspiration to get to this point. On Saturday, at 42 and with two children, she’ll be running her fourth consecutive Trials. “They’ve all been different, and every one special,” she says. “During the race, I’ll be thinking how lucky I am to be here and to do this again. You never know how many you’ve got left. You have to enjoy every minute.”

Atlanta Track Club Elite coach Amy Yoder Begley has known Knowles for a long time. “Laurie and I were actually college teammates at Arkansas,” she notes. “Laurie always amazes me with what she can do.”

Two of the Club's Elite male runners, Wilkerson Given and Matt McDonald, both 26, are taking a serious shot at making the Olympic team Saturday. Given, who ran 2:11:44 at Chicago last fall, says he’s been preparing for the Trials from the day he started running 15 years ago. “I’m going to assess the competition as the race moves along,” he says. “I plan to cover any moves that are made and put myself in position for a top-3 finish.”

The Club's Elite coach Andrew Begley has been particularly impressed by the progress McDonald has made in the last year. As a Ph.D. student in chemical engineering, McDonald has managed to fit in consistent 135-mile training weeks while completing his studies. (He hopes to get his degree in August.) Last October, the 6’ 3” Princeton grad ran 2:11:10 at Chicago. “He surprised himself with that run,” notes Begley. “He probably could have gone faster the last couple of miles.”

On Saturday, McDonald will be leaving nothing in reserve. He lives in midtown, near the marathon course, and knows its hills, turns, and rough road sections better than anyone. More importantly, his mind is set on a supreme effort.

“I don’t think anyone has done more training miles than me,” he says. “I sometimes wonder why I’m not more tired, but the workouts keep going exceptionally well. I’m prepared for a slow pace if that’s what we get, and I’m prepared to run fast if the top guys decide to make it honest. No matter what happens, I want to be able to say, ‘I put myself out there, and I went for it.’”