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More than 700 runners will compete for six spots on the United States Olympic Team on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. The top three finishers in the men's and women's Olympic Trials Marathon will secure a trip to Japan this summer.
Only a handful of athletes figure to contend for those six Olympic berths. For the rest, including more than 20 runners from the Boston area, it's a chance to compete on one of the biggest stages they'll likely ever appear on.
These are not professional runners, but they are professionals. They're lawyers, engineers, and some are parents — all juggling life with running 80 or 90 miles a week.
I found some of them at Harvard University's Indoor Track on a couple of recent weekday mornings before the sun came up. They were getting in some of their final workouts for the trials in Georgia.
Brian Harvey is a 32-year-old Cambridge resident. This is his second Olympic Trials, after finishing 32nd in the marathon race in Los Angeles in 2016. "It's nice having that experience going in," he said. "I think I learned a lot during that race. My life is very different now. I have a kid, but [I'm] still just as excited."
Harvey runs for the Boston Athletic Association team. Besides his family, he works full time at ZOLL Medical Corporation, where he's a biomedical engineer, hence the 6 a.m. workout. But he enjoys the balance between his work and his running.
"It's a little difficult, but the nice thing about running is that you can only really spend about two hours a day, maximum, so it's about making priorities, and it's something I love, so I'm willing to wake up early every day and get it in," he said. "That's really the reason why I do it."
Lou Serafini, 28, of Somerville runs and works for Tracksmith, a running apparel company. He says the job allows him to combine his love for running with work.
"While both are time-consuming, I'm very lucky with how flexible they are with me at Tracksmith," he said. "I don't have a traditional 9 to 5. I work a lot of weekend days with run clubs, and I just find the time to get my work done when I can, and I can still go meet my coach for a workout at noon and stuff like that."
Serafini will also be running the trials for the second time. He wasn't able to finish the race in Los Angeles four years ago. But that experience taught him a valuable lesson.
"Just because you're in shape doesn't mean you can go run the best race of your life," he said. "It's a marathon and you need to treat it as a marathon. I've been saying to everyone who asks me what my goal is for trials: My big goal is to finish."
To finish the trials marathon, you have to get to the starting line, and you do that by running a qualifying time in another marathon. For men, the standard is two hours and 19 minutes or less. For women, it's two hours and 45 minutes or less.
Like Serafini, 32-year-old Veronica Graziano runs with the Tracksmith team. She works as an attorney at Partners HealthCare and ran a 2:41 marathon in 2018 to qualify for Atlanta. Graziano is part of a huge contingent of women who qualified for the 2020 trials. There are over 500 — more than double the number of women qualifiers in 2016.
"A lot of women who maybe weren't competitive college runners after 2016 saw women just like them who were doing this, and that was the case for me," she said. "I had a friend who was always 5 minutes faster than me, and she said 'I'm going to do this,' ... We worked in New York together and she had a full-time, busy job and she did it. And I kind of said, 'Why not me?'"
So this is Graziano's first marathon trials. For 30-year-old Laura Paulsen, Atlanta will be her second, after a 59th-place finish in Los Angeles four years ago. She lives in Brookline and she's on the Boston Athletic Association team that will compete in Atlanta.
"I think it's just such an honor for people like me that have full-time jobs and tough careers, where running is basically a hobby on steroids," she said. "It's just a privilege to be able to compete. Basically, this is the highest level we'll get to. It means you can multi-task really well and have many things that mean a lot to you in your life that you're doing well at."
After this weekend, it will be back to work for these Boston-area Olympic qualifiers. But they all hope to come home with something special — an Olympic Trials Marathon finishers medal — even if they already have one.
"I actually don't keep most of my medals," said Brian Harvey, "but that's one of the only ones I've kept. So yes, it means a lot."
This segment aired on February 28, 2020.
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