Olympic trials: Why these Oklahoma marathoners are a team in a highly individualized sport
Catherine Lisle couldn’t always see Kristen Radcliff.
But they never lost touch.
Back in December, the women went to California to try to qualify for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials. They train together in Oklahoma City, and their pace is very similar. But as tends to happen in races, they got separated.
“Hey,” Lisle would call out regularly, “you’re still there, right?”
The answer would come quickly.
“Yep,” Radcliff would holler, “still here.”
In a sport often thought of as solitary and individualized, these women are a team. They support each other, motivate each other, help each other, and this weekend, they’ll do just that at the U.S. Olympic trials in Atlanta.
Women, regardless of circumstance, aren’t always supportive of other women.
But that’s not this pair's reality.
“It is very special and unique,” Lisle said of her camaraderie with Radcliff. “I’m very thankful.”
Their friendship is a big part of the reason they’ll be at the trials.
Back in 2018, Radcliff won the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. The Forgan native ran at Oral Roberts a decade ago, and soon after her marathon win, she heard from her college coach. They chatted for a while before he brought up an idea.
“Maybe you should try making the trials,” he said.
The Olympic trials back in 2012 happened to be during Radcliffe’s senior season, and she set a goal of qualifying in the steeplechase. She fell just eight seconds shy of the needed time.
Her coach knew that had been Radcliff’s goal — why not try again?
She started rolling around the idea and decided to adopt workouts designed by her college coach. She wanted to see how that might affect her times, and when she ran the 2019 Memorial Marathon, she knocked nearly four minutes off her best time.
But she still needed to shave six minutes to hit the trials qualifying mark of 2:45:00.
That’s when she brought her training partners into the loop. For the past few years, Radcliffe has run regularly with Ashley Carreon, Kristi Coleman and Lisle, and while Carreon runs more half marathons, the other three are marathon regulars. Radcliffe asked Coleman and Lisle if they wanted to adopt the same workout plan and try for the trials.
They agreed — then saw the plan.
“Oh, that's a lot of miles,” Lisle thought. “That's a little quicker than I wanted to run, too.”
Even though Lisle is a four-time winner of the Memorial Marathon, training to qualify for the trails wasn't easy. Lisle is a stay-at-home mom to three kids. Radcliff marvels at how she balances her life and her running, which sometimes involves training well before sunrise.
“She is probably one of the hardest working people I have ever met,” Radcliff said. “She’s waking up at 4, leaving some babies in the bed and a husband.”
But Lisle is convinced she has it easier than Radcliff, who works in the medical field as a business development consultant.
“Her life, balancing work and this,” Lisle said, “I have more opportunities throughout the day to go run. When I get up, it's like, 'Kristen already went today. It's my turn. I need to go.' I know that she will do what she says she's gonna do.
“It's just such a motivator.”
The women targeted a December race to attempt qualifying for the trials. The California International Marathon is known to be flat and fast, a race lots of marathoners use to run career-best times.
They got to Sacramento and realized about a hundred women other women were there trying to make the trials, too.
The support they'd given each other training in Oklahoma was mirrored in what happened during the race. Runners encouraged each other, not only in words but also in deed. They shared drinks when water stops were jammed, gels and food when they had extra. Every second counted, and everyone did what they could to help each other.
But, of course, Lisle and Radcliff were most mindful of each other.
After Coleman fell back around the 16-mile mark, Lisle and Radcliff stayed as close as possible. The last mile, Lisle started to kick, and Radcliff, who admittedly doesn't have the same finishing speed, cheered her as she went.
Lisle crossed the finish line in 2:43:57, well under the qualifying mark — but her thoughts quickly turned to Radcliff.
“I was just almost desperate to see her,” Lisle said. “I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, what if she doesn't come? What if something happened?'”
Eventually, Lisle saw Radcliff, who crossed the line in 2:44:38.
“It was just this crazy party at the finish line,” Radcliff said.
Now, the two friends are headed to Atlanta for the trials. They know there will be women who've run a marathon more than 20 minutes faster than they have. Distance running experts say this is one of the most competitive fields for the U.S. trials ever.
But Catherine Lisle and Kristen Radcliff are still excited. Yes, being at the trials is huge — only about 200 women made the field — but every bit as significant is the chance to do another race together.
“I'm just so glad that I get to have her with me,” Radcliff said. “You have your family and stuff, but someone physically right next to you, that woke up with you at four or ran with you really late at night, it's just really nice.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
Here’s a look at runners with Oklahoma connections who are expected to compete in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials Saturday in Atlanta:
Name, age, marathon best time
Stephanie Andre, 36, 2:41:50: Set a course record winning the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon last year. Didn’t take up distance running until 2012, giving up smoking shortly thereafter to qualify for Boston. Bixby resident is among the state’s top marathoners.
Catherine Lisle, 35, 2:43:49: Four-time winner of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Graduated from Enid High School before running at OU. Married to Stu Lisle, also a marathoner, and a stay-at-home mom to Evelyn, Ruby and Calvin, all under the age of 7.
McKale (Davis) Montgomery, 35, 2:40:50: Won 2013 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Graduated from Woodland High School, then ran at TCU. Now an assistant professor of nutritional science at OSU and mom to a toddler.
Kristen Radcliff, 31, 2:44:38: Won 11 state titles in track and cross country at Forgan High School, then ran at Oral Roberts. Won the 2018 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Works as a business development consultant at SSM Health Oklahoma-St. Anthony.
Jaci Smith, 23, 1:10:42*: Edmond North High School graduate who finished her college eligibility at Air Force last year as a five-time All-American. Now a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force assigned to the World Class Athlete Program.
*-Half-marathon best time; runners can make the marathon trials with a qualifying half-marathon time.
Know a trials qualifier with an Oklahoma tie who isn’t on our list? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.