Ben’s Olympic Trials Experience

It was the weekend we had all been waiting for, some of us for 4 years or more: The 2016 US Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles. Over 200 elite men qualified to run this race, having run either a sub-1:05 half marathon, or sub-2:19 marathon in the previous 24 months. My half marathon PR of 1:03:10 earned me a spot on the starting line on February 13 in downtown LA in what would be my 11th marathon, but first in over 2 years.

I remember watching the 2008 & 2012 Marathon Trials pass by, wanting to be there. 2016 was my turn, and I was grateful to be on the start list – healthy and ready to roll.

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My training build up was good but far from perfect – rather than the typical 3 month build up with continuous mileage over 100 miles per week, a nagging injury shortened it to only 8 weeks of solid training with less mileage. But I knew I was far more fit and prepared than I had been for any other marathon, or ever.

premarathondinnerAfter arriving at LAX on Thursday before the race with my wife Erin and my training partner Matt, most of the next 48 hours was spent resting and relaxing away from the excitement. The pre-race dinner under the wings of the Space Shuttle Endeavor was special and memorable (I was excited to blast off…haha). We also had to take care of logistics such as race HQ check in, uniform inspection (practically under a microscope), course fluids/Gu drop off, and a race technical meeting.


Everyone knew it was going to be HOT. The hottest Olympic Trials ever.

Thanks to an inflexible TV broadcast schedule, the race was set in stone to start at 10:06am with a forecast temperature in the low 70s…and rising into the 80s over the next 2+ hours. Less than ideal for a fast 26.2.

The course was made up of a total of 5 loops…one of them repeating 4 times, including 5 complete 180 degree turn-arounds…in the smog of downtown LA. Less than ideal for a fast 26.2.

So 160 of America’s fastest marathoners showed up to the start line. 105 made it to the finish line. I endured and survived, placing 17th overall in a lifetime Personal Best of 2:18:37 (5:15 average pace). Many seasoned marathoners and Olympians said this was the hardest marathon of their life. I would agree!

While it’s of course my dream to place Top 3 and qualify for an Olympic Team, I’m proud to have placed Top 20 among America’s best distance runners in a very challenging race…and thankful to be in a great place to build on for many races to come. Huge congrats to Galen Rupp, Meb, and Jared Ward in earning a trip to Rio with Team USA!

My keys to survival:

1) A solid race plan from my coaches – starting pace 5:10 instead of 5:05, then gut it out. You always have to respect the serious distance of the marathon, and even more respect for difficult weather factors

2) frequent hydration & Gu – drinking every 3.5 miles, Gu every 30mins

3) cold cloths on the course – these volunteers were MVPs that day

4) constant crowd support – I’d estimate I had over 50 family & friends spread all over the course screaming at me with flags and stickers and Major Payne signs and shirts and shenanigans. I couldn’t have done it without you! Ben Payne Fan Club

5) prayers from around the world! Countless friends watching the race from home and tracking me online pushed me to the end, especially when stopping sure sounded nice. Thank you for being there for me!

6) and finally…inspiration from my hero Louie Zamperini. Each loop we ran past the USC Track, home of a special Louie Z memorial. I reminded myself each time: “One moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory.”  

I was fortunate to make a couple new friends to run with during the course of the marathon – Malcolm Richards & Max King – which proved to be a huge help in staying focused and continually moving up the pack. Hats off to Max as he smoked me and 4 other guys over the last couple miles as I was hanging on for dear life in the last loop. Thankfully everyone else around me was running in slow motion too!

Also…thank you NBC for the priceless timing of your interviews at the finish line as I finished the race – I’m so glad many of you got a glimpse of me crossing the line and thanking the Lord!

Ben Payne OT Finish

So what’s next for me?

Outdoor track season! I’m excited to train hard to qualify for the Track Olympic Trials in the 10k – aiming for sub-28:15, well within reach.

This marathon also makes me hungrier for more…in the near future I’ll be looking to get on a fast course in good temperatures after a full build up to see just how fast I can go!

As for 2020 Marathon Trials? Meb says go for it 🙂

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