Ryan PancoastThe following race recap was written by Ryan Pancoast, who traveled to New York City to watch the trials this morning. Ryan is an illustrator who maintains a studio in Stanford, Connecticut. Last weekend, Ryan set an almost 20 minute PR in his second marathon. For more information about Ryan, to see his online portfolio or to hire him for some custom work, visit his website at: www.ryanpancoast.com.

Wow. As I’m writing this, I feel as if I am in limbo, somewhere between amazement and sadness. The 2007 Olympic Marathon trials in New York City was both a testament to the strength of the human body, and a sobering reminder of its frailty. I don’t know how exactly to approach this race, or why I feel compelled to be so philosophical. But today has affected me in a way that has left me emotionally drained and curiously, ready to go for a run.

I should focus on the amazing athletic performance that I witnessed. The 2007 OT was the greatest race I have ever seen in person. I went into the city with my former coach from Bunnell High School, and we got to the west side on Central Park at around 7:15. The sun had not yet risen, and the air was cold; perfect marathoning weather in my opinion. I hoped that the rain would hold off, both for my sake, as I didn’t want to huddle under an umbrella, and also for the sake of the race. I felt that if it rained, the pack would stick together longer and the best marathoners may not make it to Beijing if the 26 miles turned into a kicker’s race.

We stood at the 2.5 mile mark with a fairly large crowd of supporters who had started to line the course. The Brooks-Hansons supporters were already there with their cardboard cutouts of their teammates, and many had painted their faces with the distinctive red and yellow checkerboard pattern. When the pack finally passed us, they were so fast and the light was so low, I didn’t see a single person I recognized; just a mass of humanity running at (a pedestrian) 5:30 a mile. We dashed across the park to see them 3 miles later, where the pace had significantly dropped, separating six men from the chase pack and the rest of the field. All the favorites were there for the first few laps: Ritz, Hall, Abdi, Meb, Browne, Culpepper. Leading the chase group was Sell, Fasil, and Kannouchi.

Front Runners at Olympic Marathon Trials

When we reached the East side of the Park for the second time, there was a group of ambulances down the hill about a hundred meters. I asked a guy walking up from that direction what was happening. "I don’t know, they have someone on the ground and they’re giving him CPR."

After a few dashes across the park, we walked to the 20 mile mark, where the crowd was pretty thick. After a some time, Ryan Hall comes screaming past our corner, having opened up a 30 second gap over three miles. It was one of those moments that made you go "Oh, shit." He didn’t just drop the hammer. He dropped the hammer on Olympic silver medalists, marathon champions, and his contemporaries. I don’t know whether that was the biggest surprise, or whether the most surprising thing was to see Dathan Ritzenhein (who tends to fade in races) trucking along right behind, also opening a gap on third place Dan Browne. Sell, meanwhile, had moved confidently into 4th, right ahead of Meb.

While the rest of the field raced past, we walked along the course toward the finish, watching as the mere "mortals" of these elite athletes pounded the pavement. They lacked the buisness-like look of the top 20, and looked much more like I felt at mile 20 in my marathon experiences. It pained them to go around the park for the final lap.

At 400 meters from the finish, we waited for the winner. Sure enough, Hall had dominated the field. He pumped his fist to the crowd and pointed to the sky, reminiscent of the finish of his AR in Houston. He looked fresh, and he looked intense.

Ryan Hall at the Olympic Marathon Trials

Ritz held on for second, visually in more distress than Hall. Finally, cresting the hill was Sell – who, in my opinion, had the best performance if you disregard Hall.

Due to security and the landscape of the Park, it took us a while to get to the finishing area. By then, the awards had been given out, and the athletes were milling around the changing tents. I caught glimpses of Abdi and Ritz’s coach Brad Hudson. A runner who I later guessed was Teren Jameson, was quivering under his thermal blanket. People started to assist him, and he broke down, wimpering and sobbing with complete abandon. It appeared as if he had completely lost sense of direction and couldn’t verbally respond to the people around him, and fortunately, the crowd found him a medic. I thought at first it was fatigue-induced dementia, but in retrospect, he may have been reacting to the tragedy that had unfolded – of which I was completely unaware.

The tragedy, of course, was that Ryan Shay had died. The ambulances at mile 5 were for him. I only learned this when I called my dad from home to get an update on the NYSCTC Championships. He had heard it on the radio. I can’t even attempt commentate. I’m shocked and speechless and saddened.

Emotional highs, and emotional lows. But I’ll end with a funny picture of my buddy Abdi.
Ryan Pancoast and Abdi Abdirahman

For my complete photo compilation, go here:

More about Ryan Pancoast can be found online at: www.ryanpancoast.com