Inside the US Olympic Marathon Trials with Frank Lara


, by Fabienne Lang

Frank Lara at the US Olympic Trials. Photography by: Jan Figueroa

Step into the world of competitive running as we dive into an exclusive conversation with Frank Lara, one of three Strava team members who made it to this year’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Join us as we find out how Frank and Team USA performed.

“Every step felt like a very sharp twinge. But I told myself that I was almost there, that I had to keep pushing,” recalls 28-year-old Frank Lara, a professional runner for the Roots Running Project and one of our very own Strava employees.

Frank is talking to me about his race at this year’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, describing his final four miles.

Every four years, the U.S. Olympic Trials decide America's Olympic representatives. This year, over 300 athletes, including Frank, raced through downtown Orlando, Florida, aiming for a top-three finish in the Marathon Trials to secure a spot on Team USA for the Paris Games in August.

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Understanding the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

To join the 2024 Marathon Trials, athletes must have qualified in a USATF-certified marathon or half marathon in the qualifying window between January 1, 2022, and December 5, 2023. Male runners must have achieved a time of 2:18:00 or under in their qualifying marathon, or 1:03:00 in the half marathon, while women had to run in under 2:37:00 for the marathon, or 1:12:00 in the half.

Athletes were automatically invited to the Marathon Trials if they placed first at either the 2022 USATF Marathon Championship or the 2023 USATF Marathon Championship, earned an individual medal in the 2022 World Athletics Championships Marathon or 2023 World Athletics Championships Marathon, or were a member of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Team.

Frank’s qualifying race was the 2022 Houston Marathon, which he ran in 2:11:32.

From Middle School Track to Olympic Marathon Trials

Frank's path into running is as sweet as it is inspiring. It all started in middle school, where he found himself drawn to “the track team because my crush at the time had signed up,” he chuckles. “I wasn't very good at first," he recounts his humble beginnings in the sport.

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After realizing he could run year-round on the cross-country team, he switched to the sport in High School. One memory stands out in Frank's mind: his first day of cross-country practice, where a 30-minute run left him exhausted. "I couldn't believe people ran that long," he laughs now, reflecting on how far he's come since that start.

That day marked the start of his lifelong passion for running. He quickly soared to victory as the cross-country state champion in High School – “one of my proudest races,” Frank beams. Throughout his college years, he consistently qualified for the 10,000-meter run at the NCAA championships.

Photography by: Jan Figueroa

Now, balancing his time between his role as a Senior Technical Support Representative at Strava, his professional running career with the Roots Running Project in Colorado, and his sponsorship with Altra Running, Frank has crafted the perfect formula for success. His rigorous training regimen has propelled him to new heights, culminating in his qualification for the U.S. Marathon Team Trials.

Inside the Trials

This year’s Olympic Marathon Trials weren’t only highly competitive, they presented unexpected challenges. With a 10:10 a.m. EST start for the men and a 10:20 a.m. start for the women, the athletes, including Frank, raced in the sunny, warm temperatures of Orlando, climbing up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius) with 59 percent humidity. Despite taking place on February 3, the Team Trials’ conditions pushed these athletes to their limits.

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“I kind of hit a wall at about 22 miles. Several people had dropped out because it was so hot and I’d never run a marathon in those conditions before,” Frank explains. “I tried to run hard at that point, but my calves would seize up at the same time. So, I would pull back from my top speed and try again a few minutes later, taking off again, but it would happen again.”

The heat proved to be a formidable opponent, causing numerous Olympic hopefuls to falter or withdraw due to debilitating cramps, echoing Frank's own struggles.

Yet, amidst the tough conditions, what resonated most with Frank was the atmosphere of the Trials. “It was a really cool experience because everyone there just loves running,” he says. “I think about 15 to 20 people go into this race thinking they want to win this thing or be in contention for it, and I also think that a lot of people just go to have an awesome race.”

He particularly cherished sharing the moment with his teammates from Roots Running: “I think we had the second biggest group of runners who had qualified for the Trials. So it was really fun to be there with such a big group. During our warmup, for example, we all ran together, which was cool. We also had many supporters who had all come to cheer us on.”

Photography by: Jan Figueroa

Reflections and Learnings

Despite the warm weather and painful cramps during his Olympic Trials run in Orlando, Frank’s biggest regret on that day is a technical one. “The race provides bottle support every four miles on the course. I had my own bottle that I had mixed the night before to make sure I get my calories, electrolytes, and hydration during the race,” he explains. “I grabbed it too early and immediately realized my mistake.” Frank ended up holding his bottle and running with it for a while, his confusion slowing him down marginally.

Despite this setback, Frank finished the marathon in 2:14:55, an impressive 19th out of nearly 200 men. Connor Mantz (2:09:05) and Clayton Young (2:09:06) secured Team USA spots for Paris, with one more to be decided in May. In the women's race, Fiona O'Keeffe (2:22:10), Emily Sisson (2:22:42), and Dakotah Lindwurm (2:25:31) secured their spots.

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“It’s weird to leave and realize it wasn’t quite enough,” Frank says. “However, I come away from this knowing I put a lot into it, and, thanks to technology like Strava and my competitor friends being on there, I know what their training looks like. In terms of intensity, I know it’s very comparable to what I’ve been doing, which gives me a lot of encouragement.”

“After each marathon, I know instinctively what to change for the next one. In the next four years I’m going to be a lot stronger,” he says looking forward to the next Marathon Trials.

As Frank continues his journey towards the next Olympics, he contemplates future challenges, including a possible entry into the 2024 New York City Marathon. "I'm a big fan of hills, so I’m excited to see what happens there," he grins, hinting at more thrilling races to come.

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