Hosts John Lofranco and Michael Doyle unpack who came and won big at The Marathon Project, one of the most intriguing elite marathons, well, maybe ever. And of course, they each also select three big losers on the day — those who had something at stake and failed in some capacity.
They discuss, sponsored athletes vs. working-class stiffs, (future) Olympians, Hoka (yes, the shoe company), and Cam Levins.
John Lofranco's big winners at The Marathon Project
Natasha Wodak, who ran the second fastest marathon in Canadian history in just her second shot at the distance (her debut was way back in 2013). She now has the third and final spot on the Canadian marathon team for the Tokyo Olympics. Crazy to think that the second fastest marathon time in a country's history is only good enough for the third slot on an Olympic team, but that's who the Canadian system is set up.
Ben Preisner, another Canadian who achieved a big breakthrough at The Marathon Project, running the fourth fastest time in Canadian history. The relative unknown now also holds the number two spot on the Olympic team.
Martin Hehir — an obvious pick because he won the race in 2:08:59. But Hehir's victory was somewhat improbable, as he's a medical resident and father of two young children, yet somehow found a way to not only train for a world-class marathon, but also knock this race out of the park.
Michael Doyle's winners
Working-class stiffs — those like Hehir and so many others in the field who work full-time jobs, and yet are capable of somehow training at the highest level in the world.
The shoe brand Asics because they scored another extraordinary performance by one of their marquee athletes in Sara Hall, who won the race. Importantly for the brand, she again wore the as-yet unreleased prototype Vaporfly killer and ran magically with it. Asics was also the big winner because Hall got to win and run fast, but didn't quite take the American record, which is held by another of its athletes, Deena Kastor. Win-win for the Japanese brand, that has struggled in its marketing efforts in America in recent years.
Team Canada. It will be the first time in history that Canada will send a full team of six athletes to run an Olympic marathon. And there are already a couple of very talented athletes waiting in the wings with a qualifying performance, as well as a slew of others who have the talent to put their names in the mix. A good problem to have.
John Lofranco's Marathon Project Losers
Cam Levins. Running a 2:12 is fine, but not what the talented marathoner came to do in the Arizona desert. He now has one shot left at qualifying for Tokyo, which is a lot of pressure for such a fickle distance, and one he's struggled to master since setting the Canadian record in his debut a couple of years back.
Sarah Hall. Hot take yes, but hear this out: "second fastest" American all-time will unfortunately fade in people's minds. At this stage in Hall's career, she's legacy hunting, and this was a prime opportunity missed. It's tough to say that someone who won the race actually "lost" it, but the goal was sub-2:20 and a record. She achieved neither.
Canadian marathoner Rachel Cliff, who was supposed to race on Sunday in Arizona in order to protect her spot on the Olympic marathon team and perhaps take back the national record (which she briefly had before Malindi Elmore came along and obliterated it). Instead, Cliff was unable to race due to a lingering issue, and got to helplessly watch Wodak take her spot. Now the pressure is on to deliver the performance of her life in the spring in order to make it to Tokyo.
Michael Doyle's Loser Picks
Cam Levins as well. No sense in piling on here, as the hardest person on Cam Levins is Cam Levins. Aside from a DNF, a 2:12 was the nightmare scenario for him — tantalizingly close to at least securing a qualifying time of 2:11:30, but way off his ambitions — and that's what he ended up with. This year in running has provided a great deal of perspective, including the reminder that the marathon is tough for everyone — even the GOATs.
The U.S. Olympic team, which opts for a straight trials marathon race. The podium finishers get the spots on the squad, without debate. Yes, every 2021 marathon team member is deserving, but ask yourself this question: if you were suddenly empowered to select the American Olympic marathon team, would you sub out one runner for Sara Hall? And hey, what about Martin Hehir? The answer is probably yes.
Hoka One One. This is a tough one because, going into the race, the company and its athletes were a clear winner. Hoka's crew at NAZ Elite were playing host to the race (they train in Flagstaff, just a couple hours north of where the race was held, and their coach organized the whole event), its best athletes seemed in peak form and were ready to contend for the win or key Olympic roster spots for Canada. The company certainly got plenty of juice from its relationship to the event (without evening paying to be the key sponsor — that was Brooks, by the way). But its carbon-plated shoe failed to deliver significant results, and came up somewhat flat under its athletes' feet compared to the performances at the front. Yes, the results were solid. Scott Fauble ran another 2:09, and Kellyn Taylor impressively salvaged her race for third. A tough call, but Hoka needed at least one sizzling storyline out of its Carbon Rocket X. After all, lest we forget that Hoka exists for one purpose only — and that is to sell shoes.