Kayla Atkinson's (formerly Hale) first attempt at the full marathon resulted in hitting the Olympic Trials B standard of 2:45. Atkinson competed at this weekend's Houston Marathon and finished in 2:41.45, good enough for 11th overall, and the third fastest American in the field. The journey to get to that point wasn't exactly easy.
Atkinson was a young phenom during her days at Holy Trinity. She won over a dozen state championships combined in track and field cross country both as an individual and with her team since she was a 6th grader. She went onto earn a college scholarship at Duke University. The fatigue of running and the drive to succeed started to wear on her. Her husband, a multiple state champion, and Foot Locker National finalist in his high school days, was coming off his peak running moments, while she was learning to love running and be healthy again.
"I just had a lot of negative feelings and it's been a process," she said. "Last year, I let Brian write a training process for me to train for the half and I was doubtful and negative in some ways. I had a revelation that I just wanted to go for it see what happened."
The race was a moment, a chance for her to find that spark once again, but she knew it didn't define her. Atkinson wanted to train hard and most importantly run free. After competing in the half marathon, she knew she was ready to compete in the full 26.2 mile distance.
"It felt like good timing in my life and I felt like I was prepared for it," she explained. "It was the most fun I ever had training.'
Brian was more than a husband through out the process he was also a coach.
"That's been the most fun," Atkinson added. "We both set goals to get the trials times and we have the same workouts. He's planned so much of my training and helped me believe when I was in doubt or worried. He's been an amazing supporter while also training for his goals."
Also helping her on Saturday was Olympic medalist and American Record Holder Deena Kastor who paced Atkinson and several others for more than half the race. She calls running with a distance legend like Kastor a moment she won't ever forget.
"I'm pretty sure having Deena Kastor pace me through 17 miles of the marathon will be a running highlight for the rest of my life," she said. "She is an amazing runner and an amazing person and for her to give back to us in that way is phenomenal. I definitely did my best to soak that experience up and live in the moment for every step."
The Olympic Marathon Trials date and location has yet to be set for 2020. Atlanta, Houston, Chattanooga, and Orlando are the four cities who have put in bids. Should "The City Beautiful" be the recipient, it would be a homecoming of sorts. However, with busy life schedule including a husband in medical school, she isn't making any commitments for what's coming next.
"I haven't thought much about it," she said honestly. "The goal was to get the time which was in the realm of possibility and to qualify. I don't know what's going to happen in two years let alone four months. Saturday was an amazing day, but it doesn't change my plan. I'm just excited to run faster if I can."
She definitely hopes to do more marathons in the future, whether its destinations the couple want to see in their lives, or a moment to run fast. Houston was a chance to do both and also give back to hurricane relief in the process.
"We're raising money for an organization called Samaritan's Purse," she noted. "Seeing the world a little bigger and getting out of a bubble. We've both seen in our careers underserved populations and a service mindset is something we want in our life."
They thought the Houston Marathon would be a perfect place to use a passion for theirs and combine it with a greater purpose.
"With everything happening with the hurricanes and the fact that the race was in Houston, we are raising money for hurricane relief in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico," she added. "It's been cool to use running in a bigger way and to see how people have been so supportive."