Gwen Jorgensen isn’t letting go of her marathon goals. Her timeline is just changing.
Heel surgery forced Jorgensen, who converted to distance running after winning the Rio Olympic triathlon, to pass up the Feb. 29 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and focus on the track and field trials in June in the 10,000m and, probably, the 5000m.
She made the decision after recent talks with her coach, Jerry Schumacher, following a difficult recovery from late May surgery to correct Haglund’s deformity.
“The decision was basically coming to the conclusion with Jerry that, if I went to the marathon trials, I would just be hoping to qualify instead of confident in my abilities,” said Jorgensen, who returned to workouts four weeks ago and is up to 70 to 80 miles a week in training, but not the 100-plus necessary ahead of a 12-week marathon build-up. “I talked to Jerry, and I said, look, I still want to do the marathon. That’s where my heart is, but I also don’t want to do it if we don’t think I’m going to be ready. He thinks that I’ll be ready for the track trials.
“I believe I will make the team on the track.”
Jorgensen was arguably the most dominant triathlete in history in the Rio Olympic cycle, winning a record 13 straight top-level events — going undefeated for nearly two years — en route to becoming the first U.S. gold medalist in the event.
Then in 2017, she had baby Stanley and, having accomplished every triathlon goal, announced a sport switch with a goal to win the Olympic marathon.
She moved from Minnesota to Oregon. She ran one marathon, placing 11th in 2:36:23 in Chicago in October 2018 after a weeklong fever. Then she began feeling heel pain. She tried to train through it but hasn’t raced since.
“I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent recovered, but I walk around and I no longer have a limp,” said the 33-year-old Jorgensen, who still hopes to win a World Marathon Major or an Olympic marathon, but now in the Paris Olympic cycle. “I have a lot more good days than bad days.”
Meanwhile, U.S. female marathoning boomed the last few years. Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon (and since retired). Des Linden won the Boston Marathon (and hasn’t committed to racing trials).
Jordan Hasay, Sara Hall, Emily Sisson and Kellyn Taylor, all bidding for their first Olympic team, broke into the top nine on the U.S. all-time marathon list.
Jorgensen has never focused on the track as a professional athlete, but there is more of an opening for an Olympic spot than on the roads.
The U.S.’ two fastest 10,000m runners in this Olympic cycle, Sisson and Molly Huddle, are both expected to race the marathon trials. Generally, runners who make the Olympic marathon team pass on the track trials. But stars who don’t finish in the top three at marathon trials often turn to the 10,000m, and there are several accomplished women who will not make the marathon team of three.
Jorgensen is optimistic. Largely because Schumacher, who leads the successful Bowerman Track Club, believes in her. Also because of her seventh-place finish at the 2018 USATF Outdoor Championships 10,000m, which she entered as a complement to her marathon work, coming off an altitude stint that she called the worst training of her life and having been affected by recently stopping breast feeding.
“I remember going into that thinking, I’m not prepared, I shouldn’t do this race,” Jorgensen said. “I was actually kind of happy how that race went.”
Jorgensen said Schumacher has not told her when she will return to racing. She will have altitude training in early January, which usually means a meet in mid-February.
One thing Jorgensen is sure of: she will not return to the sport that she dominated as recently as three years ago.
She said she never considered it in the difficult last year. Not once when she did swim and bike workouts because her heel would not allow her to run. Not when asked by her husband, Patrick Lemieux. Nor when asked by other family members.
“The answer is always, I’ve never thought I wanted to go back to triathlon,” she said. “Which is good. It means I made the right decision in wanting to do this.
“In triathlon, I reached my potential, I achieved all my goals, and in running I haven’t.”
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