Fast Women: Lauren Hagans wins Grandma's Marathon
Catching up with new mom Brenda Martinez
Issue 242, sponsored by New Balance
In her debut, Lauren Hagans runs like a marathon veteran
Much of the pre-race publicity leading up to Saturday’s Grandma’s Marathon centered on Dakotah Lindwurm’s attempt to earn her third-straight victory. The local media mostly ignored NAZ Elite’s Lauren Hagans, who was making her marathon debut.
And early in the race, Lindwurm made herself the story, jumping out to a lead and running ahead of course record pace. But every once in a while, the camera would pan out and viewers would catch a glimpse of the women running in the chase pack behind her, made up of Hagans, Carrie Verdon, Grace Kahura, and Gabi Rooker. At 10K, Lindwurm led her chasers by 21 seconds, but by halfway, which Lindwurm hit in 1:12:48, her lead was down to 10 seconds.
The women’s race didn’t get much air time during the second half, but somewhere in the 16th or 17th mile, the chase pack broke up as Hagans struck out on her own, in gradual pursuit of Lindwurm. Twenty miles into the race, Hagans had cut Lindwurm’s lead down to four seconds, and in the 21st mile, Hagans caught Lindwurm. She didn’t immediately make the pass, but a couple minutes later, around the 21-mile mark, Hagans began to pull away.
One of the most impressive aspects of Hagans’ marathon debut was her even pacing. Conditions at the start of the race were great, but things got tougher as the temperature rose. Hagans was rock steady as she ran 1:12:58 for the first half, and then recorded the same split for the second half. The 36-year-old is fortunate to be part of a team where she’s surrounded by fantastic marathoners, including Grandma’s course record holder Kellyn Taylor, Aliphine Tuliamuk, and Steph Bruce. But getting good advice and actually executing a strong marathon are two different things.
As Hagans approached the finish line, Kara Goucher, who was doing commentary on the broadcast quipped, “She was born to be a marathoner, it just took her 36 years to realize that.” Hagans finished in 2:25:56.
After starting out as an 800m and 1500m specialist at Baylor and gradually working her way up, it does seem that Hagans has found her event, or at least added another strong one to her repertoire. Since joining NAZ Elite early in 2020, Hagans has gradually worked on her strength, and it’s paying off now. Hagans’ 15-year professional career has been full of ups and downs, including a stretch of injury last year that made her question whether her best running days were behind her. But Saturday’s race suggested that in some ways, she’s just getting started.
Though a three-peat wasn’t in the cards, exactly two months after finishing 26th at the Boston Marathon in 2:33:53, Lindwurm bounced back well to take second at Grandma’s in 2:26:56, despite dealing with kidney stones three weeks prior to the race.
Rooker, 35, held on to take third in a two-minute personal best of 2:27:38, the latest chapter in an incredible running story. She was previously a serious gymnast and didn’t run her first marathon until 2021, when she ran 2:54:57 at Grandma’s. One year later, also at Grandma’s, Rooker lowered her time dramatically, to 2:34:59. And in December, she broke 2:30 for the first time, running 2:29:44 at the California International Marathon. With each race, Rooker takes another step closer to the elite ranks.
Jessica McClain (formerly Tonn) took fourth in 2:29:25. After going through halfway in 1:15:06, she came back in 1:14:19. McClain ran a 2:33:35 marathon last year, but the course was too downhill for it to count as an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier. But her four-minute PR secured her spot at the Trials with plenty of room to spare.
And another athlete who has excelled in the marathon after moving up in distance, Kathy VanDehy (formerly Derks), finished fifth in 2:29:45, taking nearly three minutes off her PR. VanDehy, who was a 400m and 800m specialist at UW-Stevens Point, also negative-split the race.
Kenya’s Kahura, who was in the chase pack early on, finished sixth in 2:30:14. Verdon, who was also up there, had a tough second half and finished 12th in 2:34:44. Verdon hasn’t quite run to her potential in the marathon yet, but there’s no doubt that if she sticks with it, she’ll get there.
Jenna Fesemyer won the wheelchair race in 1:47:20, despite dealing with a bloody arm for the last 20 miles of the race, due to chafing from her racing chair’s wheel.
Maggie Montoya won the accompanying Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in a 40-second PR of 1:09:26, breaking the course record held by Goucher. Coincidentally, both Montoya and Hagans grew up in Arkansas and ran for Baylor, but they didn’t overlap at the school.
Many women lined up for the marathon with hopes of running 2:37:00 or faster and qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. As is the case with most marathons, only a small percentage of those with ambitious time goals hit them. The marathon produced seven new Trials qualifiers: McClain, Breanna Sieracki (10th, 2:33:26), Ashlee Powers (11th, 2:34:06), Dot McMahan (13th, 2:35:22), Maddie Offstein (15th, 2:35:51), Caroline Cole (16th, 2:36:09), and Lexie Greitzer (17th, 2:36:10). And the half marathon produced one: Jaci Smith (second, 1:11:27).
Sieracki, the mother of a 16-month-old, didn’t run her first marathon until after she became a mom. Grandma’s was her second marathon, and she PRed by nine minutes. And McMahan has one of the best stories in the race. At age 46, she qualified for her fifth consecutive Olympic Marathon Trials, running her fastest time since 2015. She was less than four minutes off of her PR of 2:31:48, which she set in 2011.
By my count, the total number of Trials qualifiers is now 129. A year ago at Grandma’s, Caitlin Kowalke missed qualifying for the Trials by one second, so it was tough to see her miss by 23 seconds this year. But on the right day, she clearly has a qualifier in her. (Results | TV Broadcast)
Thanks to New Balance for supporting Fast Women this month
I love when I can share sponsor benefits with Fast Women readers and followers, and I’m currently running a contest to give away a pair of New Balance shoes of your choosing. If you have an Instagram account, you can enter here before noon ET today.
I’ve been writing a lot about my favorite trainers, the Fresh Foam X 880v13, and the FuelCell SuperComp Trainer v2 (available for preorder), which I’m intrigued by. The former doesn’t have a carbon plate, and the latter does. If you’re curious about when and how to use carbon-plated shoes in your training, I thought this podcast episode, released last week by physical therapists Kate Mihevc Edwards and Kacy Seynders, was great.
New mom Brenda Martinez is optimistic that recent surgery will extend her racing career
This feature is sponsored by New Balance.
New Balance professional runner Brenda Martinez gave birth to her daughter, Socorro "Coco" Belen Handler, on February 28, and she says she wouldn't trade the experience for anything. “This is probably one of my proudest moments, being a mom,” Martinez told Fast Women by phone last week. “I kind of trip out every day, like I can’t believe me and my husband made this extension of us, but she brings a lot of joy to our lives. Looking back, I’m like, ‘I should have had more sooner.’ I love it, it’s very rewarding.”
When it comes to proud moments, Martinez, 35, has many to choose from, including earning a silver medal in the 800m at the 2013 World Track & Field Championships, making the 2016 Olympic team in the 1500m, and mentoring high school runners through the free camp she started a decade ago.
Though it’s rewarding, parenting has already come with its share of challenges. Shortly after Martinez arrived in the delivery room, she tested positive for Covid, which meant she had to throw out her birth plan. The first three days of her life, Coco, her father, Carlos Handler, and Martinez were stuck in quarantine at the hospital. In addition to having a fever and chills during the delivery, Martinez lost her voice, but she had a relatively smooth recovery after her first, poorly-timed bout of Covid.
The first month was a challenge, too, as Coco struggled to latch and Martinez worried about her milk production slowing down. But she sorted it out. “There’s definitely a learning curve and I think I just over-thought it in the beginning,” she said.
And 10 weeks after giving birth, Martinez underwent surgery on her right Achilles. Though the timing was unusual, it also made sense. She had been dealing with Achilles problems off and on since 2016. Before she got pregnant, she knew that if she wanted to continue in the sport, she needed to do something about it. She began consulting with doctors—each of whom had wildly different opinions about what she needed. Before she settled on a plan, she learned she was pregnant, which put a halt to all imaging.
But once Martinez had recovered from childbirth, she was eager to move along with the surgery, partially because she knew taking care of a baby while recovering from surgery would only get tougher once Coco becomes mobile.
An MRI showed that her Achilles was partially torn, and the surgery revealed that there was also thickening in the tendon and a bone growth—Haglund’s deformity—so her surgeon, Dr. Kenneth Jung, took care of that as well. Once her Achilles is healed, her doctor doesn’t expect she’ll have any more issues.
Parenting on crutches, with a cast, was tough. Handler had to stay home from work to help Martinez, because she was unable to carry Coco. Things got slightly easier when Martinez graduated to a boot, but she was still on crutches and couldn’t put a lot of weight on her foot. “I literally just camped out in my living room and I had everything that I needed for her,” Martinez said. “I had her changing station on the couch, I had her rocker right next to me. We made it work, but it was super humbling that I couldn’t walk and hold my own baby.”
Martinez has been doing a variety of therapies to help facilitate the recovery of her Achilles, while also trying to remain patient. “It’s been a time to just rest and enjoy [Coco], and I think it’s benefitting her, too,” she said. “I think it’s made our bond a lot better.”
Recently, Martinez has been testing out walking without the boot, and last week, she did her first post-surgery mile with a shoe on, walking a mile while pushing Coco’s stroller. Martinez hasn’t competed since the 2021 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials, but she hopes to return to racing at the elite level. “I still feel like I have a lot to prove to myself, that I can do more on the track,” she said. “For the longest time, before I even thought about having surgery, I thought I’d switch to the roads and that I couldn’t handle the track anymore. But the doctor says I should be good to go, so I think I want to do some track races and maybe slowly transition to the roads.”
If all goes to plan, Martinez is hoping to run some longer road races in the fall, race a couple times indoors, and then focus on the 2024 outdoor season. As far as the event she’ll focus on, she says she’s going to play it by ear, depending on how her training is going.
Martinez is still coached by Joe Vigil, 93, who faxes her a training schedule each month. Handler serves as her on-site coach, and they report back to Vigil. Martinez says Vigil, who has coached her throughout her entire professional career, is still constantly learning and figuring out how to integrate new ideas into her training.
Between being a new mom and undergoing surgery, Martinez is taking a year off from hosting her camp for high school kids this summer, but she plans to continue giving back in that way for as long as she can. Martinez hasn’t thought too much about what she’ll do when her running career is over, because there are so many moving parts that will go into that decision. For now, she’s focused on raising Coco and seeing what other running goals she can check off. “It would be nice to have Coco see me run when she’s old enough to understand what I’m doing,” she said.
Other News and Links
Olympic gold medalist Tori Bowie died from complications of childbirth, according to her autopsy. Bowie’s former agent, Kimberly Holland, told NBC News that she was concerned about Bowie’s health during her pregnancy. The autopsy also said that Bowie, who was 5 feet, 9 inches, weighed only 96 pounds when she died. Following the heartbreaking news, two of Bowie’s relay teammates, both of whom had their own harrowing experiences with childbirth, spoke out about the Black maternal health crisis. According to the CDC, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women. Allyson Felix helped write an op-ed for TIME, and Tianna Madison started building a database of resources to help pregnant Black women.
USATF confirmed that Keira D’Amato, Susanna Sullivan, and Lindsay Flanagan will represent the U.S. in the marathon at the World Championships in Budapest in August. I got a fair number of DMs asking how they selected the team, so I’ll mention that they went down the descending order time list. Anyone faster who isn’t on the team gave up her spot. Some top U.S. women (and women from other countries) will instead target World Marathon Majors and other races where they can collect appearance fees and run fast times. But the U.S. is sending a fantastic team, thanks to the depth of talent in the marathon.
Kennesaw State 800m standout Sarah Hendrick announced that she’s stepping away from the sport, saying she began experiencing race anxiety a year and a half ago.
Last week, I shared Ali Feller’s Patreon, for those interested in supporting her as she fights bilateral breast cancer. She now has a GoFundMe as well. (FWIW, GoFundMe’s platform fees are much lower than Patreon’s, so she’ll get a greater percentage of what is contributed there.)
The Women’s Running Coaches Collective is looking for an executive director to work remotely, 25–30 hours per week.
Ethiopia’s Birke Haylom, 17, won the Oslo Dream Mile and set a world U20 record of 4:17.13. (Imagine the attention if an American high schooler ran that fast.) Americans Cory McGee and Nikki Hiltz ran very well, taking second (4:18.11) and fourth (4:18.38), respectively, and moving to third and fourth on the U.S. all-time outdoor list. Third placer Jessica Hull set an Oceanian record of 4:18.24. Women tend not to run the mile as often as the 1500m, so the records and all-time lists in the event tend to be a little softer. According to World Athletics’ scoring tables, a 4:00.00 1500m is the equivalent of a 4:18.25. So though McGee still hasn’t broken 4:00 in the 1500m, she has now run a sub-4:00 equivalent in the mile. Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet won the 3,000m, an event that is contested even less outdoors, in 8:25.01. Americans Alicia Monson (fourth, 8:29.43), Weini Kelati (fifth, 8:32.50), Elly Henes (10th, 8:36.86), and Emily Infeld (11th, 8:41.29) ran well, with everyone except Monson setting a PR. (Results)
Emily Mackay won a great 1500m race against Helen Schlachtenhaufen at the Elliott Denman New Jersey Invitational, 4:01.52 to 4:01.55, as both dipped under the World Championships standard. Mackay, who has been making huge jumps with nearly every race, PRed by 5.51 seconds. (Results)
Sinclaire Johnson got a late start to her outdoor season, but she looked good in winning an 800m/1500m double during Nike Outdoor Nationals, which, cool idea, included a handful of pro races. First she won the 800m in 2:01.14, and then she won the 1500m, which was scheduled to start only 40 minutes later, in 4:05.79.
Slovenia’s Anita Horvat ran 1:58.73, a personal best, to win the 800m at the Paavo Nurmi Games. South Africa’s Prudence Sekgodisa finished a close second in 1:58.87. (Results)
Great Britain’s Melissa Courtney-Bryant won the 1500m at Meeting Stanislas in a PR of 4:00.45. (Results)
Roberta Groner finished a close second at the NYRR Queens 10K, running 33:41, which is an American 45–49 age-group record. Ethiopia’s Fantu Zewude Jifar won the race in 33:36. (Results)
Utah high school sophomore Jane Hedengren had a breakout race to win the mile at the Brooks PR Invitational, 4:35.69 to 4:35.87, over Tatum David (race video), and three days later, she ran another big race to win the Nike Outdoor Nationals two mile in 9:54.38.
At New Balance Nationals Outdoors, Angelina Napoleon won a good 2,000m steeplechase battle with fellow New Yorker Sheridan Wheeler, 6:19.53 to 6:20.80 (full race video). Napoleon’s time was the second-fastest time ever by a U.S. high school girl, behind only the national record (6:18.41) that she set one week earlier at the New York state meet. Also at her state meet, Napoleon won the 800m in a meet record 2:03.97 and she high jumped 5 feet, 3 inches. Her high jump PR, set earlier this month, is an impressive 5 feet, 6 inches. Napoleon is headed to NC State in the fall. I’m running out of space to say more about the high school national meets, but here are all the NBNO results, and kids these days are fast.
This video of Allie McLaughlin winning the Broken Arrow Sky Race 23K, accompanied by her dog, is great. (Harley, the dog, only joined her at the end. And now I’m wishing more races involved having one’s pet join them at the end.)
Nikki Hiltz was great on the Ali on the Run Show. Because Lululemon doesn’t make spikes, Hiltz can race in any spikes they want, so it was interesting hearing them talk about that. I also enjoyed Ali’s episode with MK Shea, the B.A.A.’s director of professional athletes, and it was interesting to hear Shea say (in the last five minutes) that Emily Sisson is going after an American record at Sunday’s B.A.A. 10K.
It was fun getting an update from Nia Akins on Figureitoutable. Akins mentioned that during altitude camp, she and teammate Marta Pen Freitas made a music video and now I’m curious to see it.
On I’ll Have Another, Olivia Baker talked about coming back from an injury she sustained over the winter, and she also addressed the Atlanta Track Club’s impending coaching change. Baker had a lot of praise for coaches Amy and Andrew Begley and said the change was more about philosophical differences than performance.
Additional Episodes: Abby Nichols on Lactic Acid | Grayson Murphy on the Sub Hub podcast (starting at the 33:25 mark) | Kara Goucher on Running For Real | Gerda Steyn on Marathon Talk (she joins at the 30:45 mark) | Nell Rojas on A to Z Running
Once again, I’ve run out of space to include everything I’d like to include here! Thanks so much to New Balance for supporting Fast Women and to everyone who helps keep this newsletter going via your support on Venmo and Patreon.
I hope you all have a great week.