NEW HARTFORD — One moment New Hartford’s Annemarie Tuxbury was enjoying the thrill of competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Then, seemingly overnight, her world, as that of all Americans, was turned upside down.
Tuxbury competed in the Olympic Marathon Trials on Feb. 29 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 25-year-old former standout at Northwestern Regional 7 High School and then Bryant College qualified for the trials by finishing as the second woman at the Vermont City Marathon earlier this year in a time of 2:44:17.
Tuxbury finished the trials marathon in a time of 2:39, which placed her an impressive 35th out of 390 finishers. When you consider she came into the race with the 418th fastest time of 512 qualifiers, which ranked her way back in the pack at the start, it was a very impressive showing and one that has energized her.
“I was really pleased with my result. I was one of only around 10 women who set a personal best. I knew the course was going to be hilly but it surpassed what I could have ever imagined for a marathon. I have my sights on the 2024 Olympic Trials.”
Then the Trials morphed to a new reality.
Tuxbury works full-time as a data analyst and programmer at Warren Rogers, in Middleton, Rhode Island, where she monitors underground storage tanks at gas stations across the U.S. With the Covid-19 crises, she is now working from home.
“My work was able to seamlessly move to completely remote. I am staying with my parents during this time along with my younger brother, who live mainly in Fairfield County. I live alone normally and it just didn’t seem like a good idea to remain in complete isolation and not see anyone for what could be months. The hardest thing for me is being home but not being able to visit my grandparents or go for a run with my sister, things I normally do when I am at my parents’ home. Also there is just an additional stress (the virus) that hangs over your head that you can’t do anything about.”
Her advice to others? “Stay home unless your job requires you to leave, stay safe, wash your hands. The virus is very concerning and something everyone needs to take seriously. Among adults my age and a little younger the message is not getting across. Some people just think that since they will most likely recover fine from it, it is no big deal. But it is important to protect others by protecting yourself.”
Going back in time a bit to happier days, Tuxbury’s training approach for the Trials was “consistency and to have my hard days really hard and my easy days really, really easy.” She explained, “I initially had big plans of hitting some high mileage. But I dealt with some lower leg issues early in my training and had to shift my mindset to get to the line healthy, which meant keeping my mileage in the lower 80s. We were lucky enough to have mild winter weather, but with the exception of the weekends every run was in the dark after work. Every week it was checking off all the boxes: long run, two workouts and a medium long run with easy runs the other days. I didn’t worry about how fast everything was, just getting the work done and staying healthy.”
Mentally preparing for the trials was different than other races, for the former CIAC Class M cross-country champ. “Most races I generally don’t have many people around me and I am very uncomfortable running in a pack of people. I was ranked way back in the pack, which is tough to get excited about. I had to prepare myself to have hundreds of women around me, to be in a pack and to run my own race even if that meant being mid pack of 500 women.’
She also had to prepare to not rely on “splits” (times) due to the challenging course that had not a single flat section. Her goal was to get into “2:35 marathon shape” knowing that she would likely not run that kind of time on the brutal Atlanta course.
“This was a big goal that got me excited to train every day. I thought a 2:35 effort would place me in the top 50 because 67 qualifiers had run under 2:36, but not everyone was going to show up, not everyone was going to finish, and not everyone was going to run their best. I just had to bring my ‘A’ game.” And she did.
Tuxbury wanted to “keep out of trouble” as the race unfolded, what with so many fast women vying for position. During the course of the first loop, which was 8 miles long, she positioned herself in the top 50 and leading a pack of women. With 25-mile-an-hour winds, tucking in behind people might have been better strategy. But Tuxbury likes to run in front of a pack and control the pace. She spent the second 8-mile loop in the same place for the most part, with her place fluctuating between the upper 30s and mid 40s. Her splits stayed consistent with 5:40s on the downhill miles and 6:10s on the uphill miles.
“Around mile 21 my legs all of a sudden felt destroyed, they were screaming at me. The last two miles had the steepest hills and the wheels really came off for me. I felt like I was walking. I looked behind me and saw a ton of women right behind me. I was expecting like 50 people to pass me since I was going so slow. Turns out everyone was experiencing the same thing and I actually passed a couple of runners over the last mile.”
Tuxbury said the best part of the Trials experience “was having my family there. When I finished, their reactions meant so much to me. They got it. They understood what it took for me to get to this level and to run this race. Having my parents, sister, brothers, my brother’s girlfriend and my coach make the trip down to Atlanta made the experience so much more memorable and made me realize how lucky I am to have so many supportive people. I will remember finishing and seeing my sister and my mom, who was crying, and giving my mom a hug as we were both so happy.” The Atlanta Track Club’s execution of the event was flawless, she added.
Tuxbury is continuing to train but “very differently” at the moment due to the current national and local health situation. She took a week off and spent another week with limited running. “The focus is going to be on maintaining a decent level of fitness and not look to make any fitness gains. I do not want to do anything that would suppress my immune system under these circumstances. I am really focusing more on strengthening exercises, core work, and stretching. It is important to bring running back to the basics and to do it for stress relief and the joy of lacing up my sneakers and going for a run. The time will come again to turn on my competitive spirit and it will still be there.”
Tuxbury believes postponing the Olympics is a good thing. “While it is unfortunate, especially for some older athletes and those who were in peak form for this year, it is the right decision. I think it would be putting athletes’ health at risk to have them to continue to train at such a level as it really makes you susceptible to getting sick.”
Ideally, Tuxbury would like to run a marathon this fall, but that goal is dependent on a “lot of uncontrollable factors.” She believes she can run around 2:32 with a good buildup. “It may not happen this year but I think it’s in me. In 2021, I would really like to run some road races on the USATF Road Circuit in the spring. Also, I would like to see what I could run in a track race and see if I could come close to qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the 10k or steeplechase. But that is a long shot.”
But, who knows, qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials was once a long shot as well for Annemarie Tuxbury. She sky now seems the limit for her.