This is such a big moment for Kieran O’Connor that his daughter didn’t want to miss it.
So she hustled herself into the world at 2:17 on Wednesday afternoon and took a deep breath, her first. A day later, her dad was on the other side of the country, in Los Angeles, primed to do a little hustling and deep breathing himself.
The 28-year-old Scotia native will be among just 168 men competing in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials today, as will another former Section II runner, Niskayuna High School graduate Lou Serafini.
The top three runners from this race will represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. O’Connor and Serafini bring no fantasy to L.A. that they’ll be in that group, but simply making this stellar field is a lifetime achievement for many runners.
For O’Connor, it’s even more of a whirlwind because he became a new dad on Wednesday, when his wife, Zyra, delivered six pounds, five ounces of Caoimhe Margaret Cortez O’Connor at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Caoimhe, pronounced “Keeva” in the traditional Irish language, wasn’t due until Feb. 24.
Mom and baby are fine; dad, on the other hand, will be experiencing a little bit more than the typical runner’s high today.
“It’s been a busy, busy, busy week,” he laughed over the phone on Thursday afternoon, shortly after arriving at his hotel in L.A. “She couldn’t have picked a better time to be born. It would’ve been just terrible if it had happened when I was out here.
“Everybody’s healthy and happy. It was a smooth pregnancy, and my wife Zyra was insistent that I be here.”
The Olympic Trials race, which will start at 1 p.m. (Eastern time), is an improbable landing spot for O’Connor, as it is for Serafini, based on their high school and college running careers.
O’Connor, who ran for Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School, wasn’t even an intercollegiate runner as an undergrad at the University of Notre Dame.
Serafini, meanwhile, was a strong runner for Niskayuna and Boston College, but never envisioned being a marathoner and has catapulted himself into Trials-caliber fitness and ability off just two career marathons.
O’Connor used the expression “playing with house money” after qualifying for the Trials last fall, and Serafini echoed that phrase on Thursday.
“To be honest, I’m very mentally at ease,” O’Connor said. “Being here is such an honor, no matter what happens. I’m very loose.”
Both runners qualified for the Trials by hitting sub-1:05 at the Philadelphia Rock ’n’ Half Marathon on Nov. 19, Serafini in 1:04:31 and O’Connor in 1:04:38.
Since then, O’Connor said his training has been going well, and the heat shouldn’t bother him. Temperatures are supposed to be in the 70s when the race starts and above 80 when they finish just over two hours later.
He won the Flying Pig Marathon (2:28:02) in Cincinnati in 2011 and was the eighth U.S. finisher (2:30:09) and 22nd overall at Boston in 2012.
Among those he and Serafini will face are 2004 Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi, the 2014 Boston winner who was seventh overall at the 2015 New York City Marathon and fourth at the 2012 Olympics; Dathen Ritzenhein, who was ninth at the 2008 Beijing Games; and Galen Rupp, 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000 meters who will be making his marathon debut.
Followers of the Stockade-athon 15k in Schenectady should recognize names like past Stockade-athon champions Fernando Cabada and Tim Chichester on the men’s side, and Maegan Krifchin in the women’s race.
“These are the best runners in the U.S., so nobody’s going to notice me,” O’Connor said. “It’s just a fantastic opportunity and experience. I’m definitely in good shape to mix it up and take some scalps, but there’s no pressure.”
Serafini, just a few years out of college, feels the same way, and appears to be on the verge of a breakout performance, based on his training and recent race results.
“I just did a 3k a couple weeks ago just for fun to see where I’m at, and I ran a 20-second PR from college,” he said.
He jumped into the Vermont City Marathon in 2014 after being asked to help a friend marathon-train and did well enough to qualify for Boston, where he ran a 2:27 last year in just his second career marathon. That was also off just two training weeks that would be considered long-mileage (100); heading into the Trials, he has cranked out some weeks in the 120-125 range.
“It’s pretty surreal to be on the line with these guys,”
Serafini said. “I don’t have any real time goal, but I hope to be around 2:20 or a little under. But if I’m in the mix, rubbing elbows, I’ll be really excited about that.
“I’m going to soak it all in and get used to being on that stage. I won’t have any shot to be in the top three, but four years from now, who knows. That could be a possibility. I never would’ve imagined myself being here when I was in college.”