ATLANTA — There is an old saying that goes with running the marathon distance of 26.2 miles: 20 miles is about halfway.

That was never more true than at the Olympic Trials Marathon on Saturday. On a brisk and gusty day, runners battled through a series of brutal, late hills and a stiff headwind in the final miles of a race through downtown Atlanta to claim one of three spots on the U.S. team that will compete in Japan this summer.

When it was over, Galen Rupp had run away with the men’s race for a second consecutive time, and Aliphine Tuliamuk had prevailed in a fiercely competitive women’s race with a time of 2:27:23 on the punishing course, less than a minute off her personal best of 2:26:50.

Rupp finished in 2:09:20, making his move with 10 miles to go, then breaking far away from his chasers with three miles left and cruising into the finish with a small American flag in his hand.

In so many ways, this was an Olympic Trials unlike any before. A race that usually draws a few hundred runners had nearly 700, thanks to a boom in elite female distance running. Also much of the discussion about distance running in the past year has been about those performance enhancing shoes, the Nike Alphafly and Vaporfly models, with thick soles and springlike steel shanks that have allowed runners to go faster than they ever have. To make sure the playing field was level and to achieve a kind of priceless stamp of approval, Nike even gave everyone running on Saturday a free pair of its shoes.

The giveaway created the awkward spectacle of runners ditching shoes from their longtime sponsors in favor of the Nikes. In the end, four of the six runners who landed on the podium ran in the high-tech Nikes, though Rupp, a Nike-sponsored athlete, said it wasn’t just about the shoes.

“You can’t just put these shoes on anybody and turn them into Superman,” he said.

Behind Rupp there was a fierce battle for the final two spots on the team, as Leonard Korir, Abdi Abdirahman and Augustus Maiyo fought with the surprising Jacob Riley, who did not compete at all in 2017 or 2018. Riley, who was some two dozen spots off the lead at one point, reached the fastest group with two miles to go and kicked in for second, at 2:10:02.

“I was just thinking, don’t get caught, because I have been caught before,” Riley said. He didn’t this time.

With a mile to go, Abdirahman, behind Riley, broke from Korir and even opened a 20-meter lead. Abdirahman, who is 43, ancient for an Olympic running competition, finished third, at 2:10:03, to earn a spot on Team U.S.A. for a fifth time. Korir would pull to within about four meters but could not get closer.

In the women’s race Molly Seidel shocked the field and finished second in her first marathon in 2:27:31, becoming the first U.S. woman to make the Olympic team in her debut marathon.

Sally Kipyego finished behind her, holding off the 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden to finish in 2:28:52. Kipyego will make her second appearance in the Olympics but her first competing for the U.S. She competed in the 2012 London Olympics for her native Kenya, running the 5,000 meters and placing fourth.

The top athletes in the women’s field remained in a strong and deep pack for most of Saturday’s race. It wasn’t until after mile 20 that Seidel, Tuliamuk and Kipyego made their moves. Seidel set the pace with Tuliamuk trailing closely behind, and Kipyego was about 20 seconds behind them. Until the final half mile, it appeared that Linden could overtake Kipyego, but Kipyego was able to hang on, even though later she said she felt miserable for most of the last three miles.

Seidel was as stunned as anyone to have broken through. She never ran 26 miles in training, and before the last six months of preparation, the only time she had run long distances had been in college, when she was doing research in Argentina and tried some long, slow trail runs.

“I had no expectations going in,” she said.

Rupp had spent the last year and a half dealing with injuries and coming back from surgery for Haglund’s deformity, a congenitally enlarged heel bone. Riley coincidentally had the same surgery, which involved temporarily detaching the Achilles’ tendon, smoothing the heel bone and then reattaching the tendon.

“It’s been a long road,” Rupp said. “I’m still not 100 percent.”

He could have fooled the competition, which realized with about a half-hour of racing to go that Rupp had the race won and there were only two spots to fight for. Trying to work with Riley to hold off Korir and Maiyo, who are teammates in a U.S. Army elite athlete program, Abdirahman kept pushing the pace to create a gap.

“It was magic,” he said, “I never saw the course. I didn’t study it. I just ran it.”

As one of the elder statesmen in the elite field, he could feel the crowd turning him into a sentimental favorite. Tuliamuk, too, said she drew energy from the thousands who lined the course and screamed for her.

“The cheering on the course was so loud,” she said. “A lot of the time, I felt like my ears were ringing.”

A handful of Saturday’s top finishers can tell similar stories of their rise to elite competition for the U.S. They were born abroad in East Africa — Tuliamuk, Kipyego, Korir and Maiyo in Kenya; Abdirahman in Somalia — and moved to the U.S. to attend college but then essentially never left. They live and train largely in the U.S., though Abdirahman and Kipyego have made occasional jaunts to Africa to train, as many runners around the world do.

“For me to represent this country is a privilege and honor,” said Kipyego, 34, who has long been one of the world’s top female distance runners. “I wanted to run for this great nation because of the privileges and opportunities that this country has afforded me and my family. And the best way to do that is to do it represent the country well.”

In Japan, they will join scores of athletes who were born in one country and will compete for another. Given where they started, they may be as surprised as anyone to be marching in the opening ceremony under the American flag, though perhaps not as shocked as Seidel or Riley.

Seidel, who had one of the great college running careers at Notre Dame, then struggled with disordered eating and hip surgery, was in a daze long after she crossed the finish line.

“I keep saying I don’t know what’s happening,” she said, a silver medal hanging around her neck.

Riley, owner of a similar silver medal, said he always envisioned making the Olympic team, even if he didn’t actually believe it would happen after having to sit out for two years with injuries. Now he will head to Japan this summer and race in the mountains of Sapporo, site of the marathon, which had to be moved from Tokyo because of concerns about heat.

“I tried to enjoy this,” Riley said of his last miles. “Unless something really incredible happens in Sapporo, this is probably going to be the greatest day of my running life.”

Aliphine Tuliamuk won the Olympic Trials Marathon with a time of 2:27:23, less than a minute off her personal best of a 2:26:50.

Behind her, Molly Seidel finished her very first marathon by claiming a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics in 2:27:31. She is the first U.S. woman to make the Olympic team in her debut marathon.

Sally Kipyego finished behind the two in 2:28:52. This will be her second Olympics, and her first competing for the U.S. She competed in the 2012 London Olympics, running the 5,000 meters and playing forth for her native Kenya,

The top athletes in the field remained in a strong pack for most of the race. It wasn’t until after mile 20 that Seidel, Tuliamuk and Kipyego made their move. Seidel set the pace with Tuliamuk trailing closely behind, an Kipyego was about 22 seconds behind. Until the final half mile, it appeared the Des Linden may have overtaken Kipyego, but she was able to hang on to third place.

Galen Rupp won a second consecutive Olympic Trials Marathon in 2:09:20. Rupp made his move with 10 miles to go and broke well clear of his chasers with three miles to go.

Behind Rupp, there was a fierce battle for the final two spots on the U.S. team as three athletes born Africa, Leonard Korir, Abdi Abdirahman and Augustus Maiyo, who have long been U.S. citizens, fought into the final miles with Jacob Riley. Riley did not compete at all in 2017 or 2018. Four years ago he ran 2:18 in the 2016 Olympic Trials and underwent Achilles surgery.

With a mile to go, Abdirahman and Riley tried to break from Korir and opened a 20-meter lead. Korir pulled to within four meters but could not get closer. Abdirahman is 43 and made his fifth Olympic team.

The fastest marathoners in the U.S. are taking turns leading the pace as the women’s race hits the 20 mile mark. Laura Thweatt led the pace for a handful of miles before Desiree Linden took the led. Then Sally Kipyego took a turn.

HOKA Northern Arizona elite teammates Kellyn Taylor and Aliphine Tuliamuk are on either side of each leader and seem to be trying to protect themselves from the wind. There are still more than 6 miles to go, and it’s still anyone’s race.

Sara Hall is a clear favorite to make the U.S. Olympic team with the fastest times for an American woman in the last year.

She ran the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 29, finishing with a time of 2:22. A week later, she defended her USA 10 mile title in Minnesota with a time of 53:11. She gave 26.2 another go on Nov. 3 at the New York City Marathon but did not finish because of stomach illness.

But for a real prediction, maybe it’s best to ask her daughters. In January 2019, they had written “Berlin — 2:22” on her bathroom mirror. Hall checked that off her mirror when she returned from Germany.

Her daughter Lily has predicted 2:21:10 for today’s race.

The men are through 20 miles. Now it’s down to a 10-kilometers, and it’s quickly becoming a race for third place, as Rupp is getting stronger and stronger and stretching lead.

Behind him though, the ageless Abdi Abdirahman, who lives in Arizona and roomed with Meb Keflezighi at the 2000 Olympic in Sydney, is about a half-hour away from getting on a fifth Olympic team.

His biggest concern has to be Leonard Korir, who is 11 seconds back and is very fast. But Abdi has so many marathons under his belt and Korir has just one.

The women have come through 16 miles in 1:31:02. Molly Seidel is currently leading the pack. So it’s seems worth noting … that this is her first marathon.

She qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with a time of 1:10:27 at the Rock ’n’ Roll San Antonio Half Marathon in December of 2019.

There were 14-women in the lead pack at the halfway point. That includes Kellyn Taylor, 2:24:29 marathoner who trains with the HOKA One Northern Arizona elite team. Her teammates Stephanie Bruce and Aliphine Tuliamuk are close behind.

The pace for the women is slow — they hit the halfway point in 1:14:38 — so we can expect a faster, and even more tactical, second half.

That may be a good thing for Kellyn. She’s a strong 5,000 meter and 10,000 meter runner, having placed third at the 2019 USATF Outdoor championship with 32:02.

About 15 miles in Galen Rupp decided he had enough. Running a 4:51 and a 4:57 for the next two miles, Rupp almost single-handedly reset the race.

With nine miles to go, Rupp has settled into a four-man lead group along with Abdirahman and two lesser known runners, Augustus Maiyo and a local runner named Matt McDonald.

Marathons don’t generally begin until mile 21, but at the moment it looks like Rupp is moving toward locking up a spot on his third Olympic team.

Jared Ward, who is tucked in a few seconds back of the lead pack after 15 miles, has never shown the speed that Galen Rupp and Leonard Korir have. But Ward came in sixth in the Olympic marathon in 2016. And he got there with a veteran’s understanding that there was no reason to go for the win at the U.S. Olympic Trials when third place would do. He finished 40 seconds behind Meb Keflezighi but more than a minute ahead of fourth place.

So what will he do today? Likely just hang around the lead pack as long as he can count the number of runners around him at mile 23.

At that point, it’s about who has the most gas left in the tank and Ward has proved he usually has plenty of gas — or at least enough to get him there.

Many of the expected favorites are in the women’s lead pack.

That includes Emma Bates. She burst onto the marathon running scene just a year and a half ago at the 2018 California International Marathon. She won in 2:28:29 wearing a shirt that said “Run for Camp Fire Relief.”

She set a new personal best at the 2019 Chicago Marathon, running 2:25:27.

Bates has been in the lead pack since the beginning of the race, coming through 9 miles at a pace of 5:39 per mile.

You may not have seen her in the spotlight as much as other runners, though. She lives on 10 acres about an hour north of Boise, Idaho. Their home does not have running water, they ave no cellphone service, and her neighbors include mountain lions.

That’s just how she likes it.

The men have completed the first loop and there’s a guy named Brian Shrader who is having a lot of fun out there, leading the way, about 50 meters ahead of a chase pack.

Shrader, has never broken 2:13, so it’s hard to see him hanging on to this lead. Running alone and chasing a pace that is four minutes ahead of your personal best usually doesn’t work so well.

So who should you pay attention to? Keep an eye on Scott Fauble, who is in that lead pack following Shrader. Fauble is fearless — he was leading the Boston Marathon after 22 miles last year and seemed unintimidated by the Africans who surrounded him. Then they surged and he could not, though he finished in 2:09:09.

He battled back and leg muscle strains in the second half of last year and missed his tuneup half marathon with the flu in January. But his team, NAZ Elite, posts all his workouts and on February 15, he ran 15.14 miles at 5:07 pace at 7,000 feet. If he runs the race he ran in Boston, he makes the team.

Tierney Wolfgram, a 16-year-old cross country phenom, is in the top pack after two miles. She qualified for the trials by running the Twin Cities Marathon in 2:40:23, some 20 minutes slower than Jordan Hasay, who is on her tail.

Her current pace of 5:39 per mile would have her finishing in 2:25:57.

Wolgram is the youngest woman in the field at the trials.

It took a little more than three miles but the chalk is moving into position. Rupp and Leonard Korir are settling in just behind the leaders.

They are running about 4:55 miles.

Born in Iten, Korir is the hot new thing in U.S. marathoning. He ran his first 26.2 in Amsterdam in the fall and put up the 2:07:56, the fastest ever American debut. He runs for the U.S. Army and didn’t do a tuneup so his health coming in was unclear.

He clearly has wheels but Amsterdam is flat and fast. This is not a speed race — it’s a championship event where third is the same as first and 4th is the same as 50th, which makes it a puzzle for Korir and anyone else capable of going low. He has run a 59:51 in the half-marathon. If you are someone who is not naturally as fast, like Scott Fauble or Jared Ward, you are terrified of Korir running away from you, but also skeptical that his speed can hold up on a hilly grinding course.

The women are off. This is the biggest field the race has ever seen, with 450 women toeing the start line in Atlanta.

The women entering the race with the fastest times include Jordan Hasay, Sara Hall, Emily Sisson, and Kellyn Taylor. But it would be foolish to count out Sally Kipyego, Emma Bates, Molly Huddle or Des Linden. The question is who can handle the conditions — a windy, hilly, chilly course. It will be a tactical 26.2 miles, one that could go to any of the top runners in the field.

Expect to see quite a race behind the elites too. About 80 percent of the runners who qualified for the trials in Atlanta did so with a time between 2:37 and 2:45, known as the ‘B’ qualifying standard.

Abdi Abdirahman is 43. He’s made the Olympics four times and has ran as fast as 2:07:42.

If there is anyone who is not afraid of the moment it’s Abdi, who ran 2:11:34 in New York in the fall. so it was fitting that Abdi went right to the front after the gun.

The wind was doing a number in his singlet, so he quickly gave way to Luke Puskedra, who came through the first mile in 5:04 into the wind even though he retired recently but showed up in Atlanta anyway. After Puskedra it’s a bunch of runners having fun who won’t likely be there at the end.

Nike gave each runner who qualified for the U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials their newest Alphafly Next% shoes. Eilud Kipchoge broke the two-hour marathon barrier wearing a similar version of the shoe.

The only catch? The runners only received them a day or two before the race. So will runners take the risk of trying a new shoe during the biggest race of their lives?

Some were debating the question just minutes before heading to the start line.

Regardless, the swoosh is everywhere as many seemed to be sticking to an older version of the Vaporfly. An analysis by The New York Times found that the advantage these shoes bestow is real — and larger than previously estimated.

“We said we wanted to give a party, and everybody is coming.”

Those were the words of Rich Kenah, executive director of the Atlanta Track Club, host of the Olympic Marathon Trials.

For organizers, the race with nearly 700 participants is something of a logistical nightmare — because so many of the runners have customized fluids waiting for them along the route, which means roughly 4,000 bottles organized at fluid stations that are five blocks long. The bottles are organized by color and number to make sure each runner ends up with the proper liquid — assuming they don’t blow away.

It’s seriously windy in downtown Atlanta on this brisk morning, with 19-mile -per-hour gusts forecast from the northwest. The course includes three roughly eight-mile loops so the runners will have the wind at their back as much as they have it in their face. But as any runner will tell you, the harm the wind does to tired legs feels much more sever than any assistance it provides.

The streets of Atlanta will be particularly crowded today as nearly 700 runners — about 480 women and 215 men — are expected to compete.

That’s a huge number, reflecting changes in rules, innovative shoe technology and a sea change in women’s running. Amateur women are running faster than ever, and, through communal networks online, showing others how to do so.

Alongside the few dozen professional runners who are expected to compete for a spot on the Olympic team by finishing in the top three, there are hundreds of amateur runners from around the country.

They are accountants and anesthesiologists, mothers and coaches, teachers and television producers. Some are participating in their first Olympic trials, and some in their fifth. Some are still in college. Some are in their mid- and even late 40s. At least one is still in high school. Many are pulling one another along with calls of “I did this, so you can, too.”

Everyone has the same question around this race: Who do you like?

To borrow a strategy from horse racing, let’s start with the favorites, or rather the proven veterans.

Here are two sentences that are going to sound very strange together. Galen Rupp has been fighting injury and battling back from surgery for much of the past year. Galen Rupp is the closest thing to a lock to making the Olympic team.

To not believe in Rupp is to not believe in someone who in the sweet spot age-wise for a marathoner (he’s 33) and who has won an Olympic silver and bronze medal in the 10,000 meters and the marathon. He also ran 61:19 in his tuneup half-marathon earlier this month. That is very solid and faster than his top competition. Rupp has focused completely on making the Olympic team. Don’t believe that? At last fall’s Chicago Marathon, he dropped out after 23 miles with a calf strain. That takes discipline and is a tip-off to what Rupp’s priority was for 2020 — getting to the Olympics.

On the women’s side Des Linden knows how to find her way into the top three in a trials marathon. She’s done it twice before. But to do it a third time she is going to have to find a way to run better than she has run since she won Boston in 2018, and she hasn’t come close lately to the personal best she ran in Boston way back in 2011.

She has often complained of being tired the past year, which may have something to do with her increasingly busy schedule as a running celebrity since her win in Boston. Linden was on the fence about running the trials. If she isn’t having a great day, she could back off and save herself for Patriots’ Day, or she might just dig deep and tear the heart of anyone who thinks she can keep her from the podium.

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