The Chicago Marathon will sound off Sunday morning, with international elites Mo Farah, of Britain, and American Galen Rupp toeing the line on the men’s side and Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei headlining the women’s race.
Just back of them will be hordes of Americans with their eyes on edging the Olympic Trials Marathon standard. Among them will be two dominant runners who call Jackson home.
On the men’s side, Matt Chorney has a vision of breaking 2 hours, 19 minutes to earn a spot in his first Olympic Trials. Likewise Sam Diaz will be honed in on clipping 2:45 to secure her spot.
“I’m feeling good; it’s been an adventure training for this,” Chorney said. “Things are really good. It’s been the most consistent, highest-quality training I’ve ever laid down in the last 14 months or so.”
Chorney last seriously raced half marathons in the spring, when he raced the distance twice and each time clocked around an hour, 9 minutes. Training was the focus over the summer, but that didn’t stop him from dominating the racing scene while the weather was hottest. He won the Jackson Hole Half Marathon in June, the Fourth of July 10K and then the Cache Creek 18K a week later.
Diaz meanwhile recently completed her first 30-kilometer race in McCall, Idaho, not long after a stellar showing in the August Rendezvous Hillclimb, where she set the women’s course record en route to taking the title.
Sunday’s marathon will be the first time Diaz tackles the distance, after a lifetime competing mostly in middle distance races, which were her bread and butter while an athlete at the University of Nevada.
She’s now been in Jackson for five years, though her team, the Idaho Distance Project, is mostly composed of athletes from Idaho.
The 30K was an effort to move comfortably into longer races, chiefly getting used to taking in calories as the race plugs on. Now just days away from the marathon, the California product is less nervous, and more eager to take a stab at proving she belongs in an elite field.
“It’s kind of fun being in a situation where I’m completely clueless,” she said. “I’ve never run a marathon. I really have no idea how I’m going to feel. It will be fun to test my limits and see how I feel as the race goes.”
That’s not quite the case for Chorney. As dominant as he has been in races around Jackson, Sunday will mark his return to the Chicago Marathon after five years away.
He laughs now recounting his first 26.2-mile race in the Windy City, but he was in no shape to laugh once he reached the final six miles of the race last time.
“It’s taken five years to come around to wanting to do another one,” he said. “Those last six miles, I’m going to run right by the spot where I just exploded last time.
“I’ll go back and either way, it doesn’t matter what kind of fitness I have, it’s going to hurt regardless.”
But that first marathon was more a “check the box” endeavor than a truly competitive outing, he admits. He’s had over a year of some of the best training he’s compiled in his running life, with summer peaks of 90-mile weeks, and Sunday’s race will be a realistic shot at notching what once felt like a pipe dream.
“This is probably the first time it’s ever been somewhat of an opportunity to go after it,” he said. “I’m not going in like I have to hit it this time or it’s the end of it, there are plenty of marathons after this. But this is physically and mentally and maturity-wise my best opportunity to go after [the standard] in a realistic way.”
Qualifying for the trials is very much at the forefront of Diaz’s plans come race time. With the Olympic Trials Marathon happening in February, she’s already entered in a December marathon in Sacramento, California, as a backup plan if Sunday doesn’t go her way.
“It’s a long time to keep focused and keep the demons at bay,” she said of the distance. “If I miss it, I’ll be pretty heartbroken.”
As confident as Chorney is for his own race, he’s perhaps more sure of Diaz’s ability to tackle hers. He’s quick to point out he doesn’t want to be too confident on someone else’s accord, but having been around Diaz’s training as she steadily adds distance to her race repertoire, he feels she’s ready for a breakout.
“I think she’s in stupidly good shape; she can light the world on fire,” he said. “She’s definitely ready. She’ll do it.”