The 2020 Olympic Team Trials Marathon: Q&A with Atlanta Track Club’s Rich Kenah

On April 23, Atlanta was selected to host the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon. The race, which will determine the six athletes who will represent the United States in the marathon at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, is scheduled to take place on February 29, 2020. The bid to host was submitted by Atlanta Track Club, and we caught up with Executive Director Rich Kenah to provide some insight into the event with questions from the athletes and coaches who will be taking to the course for a shot to represent the USA.

Will the course be such that running on it will be possible during a training trip?
~ Ben Rosario, HOKA NAZ Elite leader

Hi Ben. Short answer, yes. Longer answer is as follows: Most of the course will be on open, city streets. No highways or private, inaccessible areas will be included in the course. With that being said, I suggest that athletes who come here on their own schedule not come with the expectation that they will be able to run the entire course in the street itself. They will need to utilize sidewalks and cross walks in some areas.

Atlanta Track Club is working on a plan to provide some traffic and lane closure support on select days in 2019 and early 2020 for those who want to do tempo and race simulation sessions. As we finalize these plans, we will make sure these details are circulated to the LDR community.

Rich – congratulations on Atlanta’s selection, and great to hear that Atlanta Track Club is supporting all athletes with travel support. What is your plan for athlete fluids and hydration, given Atlanta’s heat and humidity? Also, how do you plan to engage the Atlanta community (media, residents) to promote the Olympic Trials and bring out crowds and fans to support?
~ Kaitlin Goodman, 2016 Trials Qualifier in Marathon/10K/5K

Thanks, Kaitlin. We are excited to have this opportunity.

Here is a snapshot of the average weather for this time of year. Note that race day is February 29th.

Knowing that averages are just that – averages, we will plan a vibrant fluids programs for all qualifiers. This will include contingencies for warm weather (more supplemental fluids, ice, cooling stations, etc) and cold weather (keeping fluids in bottles from freezing, watching for ice on streets, etc). While we have not finalized the course yet, we do know it will include a number of long, relatively flat straightaways which we will likely use for the fluid stations. Finally, I would simply note, Atlanta Track Club knows how critical this area is to the athletes. We will make sure we have subject matter experts involved in our planning and execution of this race function and will provide transparency to the athletes so they know what to expect well ahead of time.

As far as local marketing and media, Atlanta Track Club has long standing partnerships with the AJC and other news outlets including the local NBC affiliate. They have all shown interest in providing extensive coverage before and during race weekend. Atlanta Track Club expects to have significant course support from its members (29,000), the running community (125,000 annual finishers in Atlanta Track Club Events), youth and high school track teams as well as the general public. In fact, we have an incentivized program called adopt-a-mile already in place that provides grants to non-profit groups who commit to bringing their groups out on the course to cheer on race day.

Congrats on the bid Rich. I believe it would help the athletes immensely if there was a 1.5-2 hr window perhaps 4-6 weeks out from race day on which the qualifiers could do a course preview run. Even if it were very early on a Sunday am (say 5:30/6 am – 8 am) when the streets are quiet when folks could come do a session. Curious if it might be possible to have a soft closure of the loop? Again way to go!
~ Pete Rea, ZAP Fitness Coach

Yes, plan on it, Pete. We will find a few select dates to provide traffic and lane closure support for athletes and coaches who want to do a workout session in Atlanta. Your suggestion of a Sunday AM is likely what we will shoot for. I would note that during that time of year, the sun does not come up here in Atlanta until well after 7am. So while the later we go, the harder the traffic challenges, I think it best to do these when it is light out. We will figure out the logistics with our team and APD.

Thanks for your congrats note. Stay tuned.

Would love to know what you anticipate the race time will be!
~ Sara Hall, 2017 USA National Marathon Champion

Great question, Sara. I expect a late morning start with the finish happening in the afternoon. But that remains an educated guess. I await details from NBC and USATF.

I loved that Houston hosted a preview of their course as the 2011 US Half Marathon Championships. Do you plan to host any US Championships in 2019 and even if it is not a championship race, would you consider hosting a preview race on a course similar to if not identical to the Trials course?
~ Esther Atkins, 2014 USA National Marathon Champion

Hi Esther. I am not sure we’ll be able to host a full on preview race on the course due to scheduling and resource challenges with the city, but we will provide select days/dates where we will invite athletes to town to train on the course. We will provide traffic and lane closure support.

The press release mentioned a significant commitment to revenue sharing with the participating athletes, via the USATF Athletes Advisory Council. That’s great! Please tell us more.

For far too long, athletes have not had visibility into the finances that drive the sport. Candidly, we looked to disrupt the status quo while providing a bit of an alternative approach to the business of marathoning, road racing and track & field.
A few things are clear to me:

  1. The Olympic Team Trials for the Marathon don’t make rain for the organizer. They tend to be a large expense with modest revenues.
  2. Athlete voices are increasingly heard by leaders of the sport but there is still not enough understanding and education by leaders or athletes about the challenges that each other face.
  3. If athletes know that incremental revenue exists when organizers, athletes and USA Track & Field work together as true partners, the likelihood of additional engagement by athletes, coaches and agents will increase.

With the above in mind, we have committed to share 40% of all local sponsor and hospitality revenues with the participating athletes. The balance will be used to offset expenses of staging the event. When we made this offer, Atlanta Track Club and the site selection committee had a frank conversation. We all know that the USOC and NBC control media dollars and major corporate relationships that touch the Rings. But I do think we will have some success in mining local dollars and are proud of the fact that athletes will, for the first time, share those dollars. We will let the AAC and LDR determine how those incremental dollars will be spread across the existing prize purse.

Will the men’s and women’s happen simultaneously, with a staggered start? What can you share about how spectator friendly the course will be?

There will be a staggered start. Our current plan (subject to change as we finalize the course) is to start the men first and the women second. This will reduce overlap between the two fields and allow strong NBC coverage of both. The course concept was developed with the spectator in mind with loops that pass by the start finish area multiple times. We have also included an out and back on Peachtree Street between downtown and midtown with the expectation that this will provide a loud, exciting cheer tunnel effect for much of the race.

Rich: You assumed the leadership position at Atlanta Track Club less than 4 years ago. Was hosting the USA Olympic Trials marathon a goal from the beginning? How does this event fit into the overall mission of the ATC?

No, the Olympic Team Trials – Marathon was not a specific goal from the beginning. In fact, we did not make the final decision to bid until the day before the bid deadline this past January. I can say that working to connect the disparate parts of this sport is a goal. The sport as a whole has underachieved in this area and we hope we can do our part to move this needle.

Atlanta Track Club is a 55 year old non-profit with a vision of impacting health and wellness through running and walking. We look to provide running and walking solutions to everyone in what we call the “running life cycle.” I believe we can and should harness the beauty and power of the country’s elite athletes to inspire the everyday runner. This is sort of a “duh, not a news flash” sort of comment. But it is easier said than done and a task we are not underestimating. When we looked at ways to celebrate Atlanta’s running community, we decided this was the right time and investment to make. Our expectation is that on Monday, March 2nd, 2020 coming off an entire weekend of celebrating running, we will have excited our member and participant base of more than 125,000 people, inspired local youth and high school XC and track teams, offered evidence to aspiring local elites that anything is possible and showcased Atlanta as a true running destination.


For the press release announcing the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon, click here


Have your own questions about Atlanta 2020? Post them in the comments below!

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