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When elite runners from around the world toe the starting lines of the men's and women's marathons at the World Athletics Championships on July 17-18, respectively, in Eugene, Oregon, Colin Mickow and Sara Hall might have the best stories of the bunch.
Tune in for the men’s race at 6:15 a.m. PT on Sunday, July 17 and thee women's race 6:15 a.m. on Monday, July 18. Both will be broadcast via livestream on NBC Sports platforms.
Mickow is a 32-year-old full-time financial analyst for an organic food distribution company and unsponsored elite runner from suburban Chicago who admits he didn't really like running much when he was younger and actually stepped away from the sport after modest college success. The 39-year-old Hall, on the other hand, is a longtime ASICS-sponsored pro who has become one of the most accomplished distance runners of her generation after an All-American career at Stanford.
While Hall is nearing the swan song of her career, she's still among the sport's elite -- as evidenced by her (since broken) 1:07:15 American record in the half marathon in January and the 2:20:32 marathon personal best she set in late 2020 -- Mickow is just starting to find success in the marathon after running his first one less than three years ago.
"It wasn't something I expected," says Mickow, who owns a 2:11:22 personal best from The Marathon Project race in 2020. "After college, I just went and got a normal job in finance, which is what I got my degree in. I wasn't getting calls from anyone to pay for running after college, so I just worked and stayed in decent shape. When I started running more and I did that first half marathon, I thought, 'I'll try to win some small local races. That would be fun.' But it's obviously become something more than that.”
The men's race begins at 6:15 a.m. PT on July 17, while the women's race will start at 6:15 a.m. the following day. Both will be broadcast via livestream on NBC Sports platforms.
Mickow will be joined on the U.S. team by Galen Rupp, who earned bronze in the marathon at the 2016 Olympics and placed eighth last year in Tokyo, and 39-year-old Kenyan-born Elkanah Kibet (2:11:15) of Colorado Springs, who placed 15th in the 2017 world championships marathon in London. For Rupp, a native of Portland, Oregon and with a 2:06:07 personal best, the world championships marathon will be one of the fitting final scenes of a long, illustrious career.
Hall, who has been training in Crested Butte, Colo., headlines a powerful U.S. women's team that also includes 29-year-old Emma Bates (Boulder, Colo.) , who was second in last fall's Chicago Marathon 2:24:20, and 37-year-old Keira D'Amato (Richmond, Va.), who rekindled her career in her mid-30s after taking time off to start a family and work. D'Amato, who broke the American record with a 2:19:12 breakthrough in January, was only named to the U.S. team two weeks ago after last year's Olympic bronze medalist Molly Seidel withdrew with a hip injury.
"Obviously to medal would be an absolute dream come true," Hall says. "That's the kind of stuff I dream about. On paper, I'm not a favorite to medal, but I have found that it's about preparation meeting opportunity, and that's what it's going to take for me to be successful."
The favorite in the men's field is Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa (2:04:45), the defending world champion from the 2019 world championships in Doha (2:10:48), as well as a past winner in New York City and Boston.
His Ethiopian teammates Tamirat Tola (2:03:38), Mosinet Geremew (2:04:00) and Seifa Tura (2:04:29) should also be contenders, as well as Kenyans Lawrence Cherono (2:03:04) and Geoffrey Kamworor (2:05:23), Uganda's Jackson Kiprop (2:08:28), Japan's Kengo Suzuki (2:04:56), Brazil's Daniel Do Nascimento (2:04:51) and Dutch runner Abdi Nageeye (2:04:56).
Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 world champion with a 2:17:08 personal best, is the favorite in the women's field. The 27-year-old Kenyan set a world record of 1:04:02 at the Istanbul Half Marathon in 2021, won the Chicago Marathon (2:22:31) last fall and the Nagoya Women’s Marathon (2:17:18) this spring.
Her Kenyan teammates Judith Jeptum (2:19:48) and Angela Tanui (2:17:57) are also viable medal contenders, as are Ethiopia's Gotytom Gebreslase (2:18:18), Ababel Yeshaneh (2:20:51) and Ashete Bekere (2:17:58), Israel's Lonah Salpeter (2:17:45) and Japan's Mizuki Matsuda (2:20:52).
The World Athletics Championships Marathon Course
Both the men's and women's marathons will be run on a mostly flat spectator-friendly 14K looped course that starts and finishes at the University of Oregon's Autzen Stadium while also sending runners along portions of the Willamette River and adjacent to Pre's Trail, a recreational jogging path dedicated to late American running star Steve Prefontaine.
"My focus is how deep can you go and how much can you get out of yourself on race day," Hall says. "To really be present and enjoy the atmosphere are the biggest reasons I'm doing this race, just to get to experience running for the USA on home soil."
Mickow is the rare example of an elite runner who found his knack in the marathon long after college. He was a good track and cross country runner for the University of Illinois from 2008 to 2012, but never made it to the NCAA championships in either sport. He remained relatively fit once he entered the working world in 2012, but he didn't compete for six years until he ran a small half-marathon in suburban Chicago in 2018.
In his marathon debut, he turned in a respectable 26th-place finish (2:14:55) at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. That effort qualified him for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Atlanta, where he ran a strong race and finished 15th in a 2:13:45. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic later that year, he lowered his PR to 2:11:22 with a 12th-place showing at The Marathon Project.
He typically logs 50 hours a week, either at the Naperville, Illinois, office of KeHe Distributors or from his home in semi-rural Oswego on the outskirts of Chicago's western suburbs. On top of his job, he often runs 140 to 150 miles a week in training. That typically includes 12 to 18 miles in the pre-dawn hours before work, then 5-6 miles almost every day after work, plus long 20- to 26-mile long runs and marathon-specific workouts on weekends with the Second City Track Club in Chicago.
Mickow isn't concerned that he's not a medal contender, but he'll wear his Team USA singlet with pride and hopes to have the opportunity to run a new PR. (And, in theory, anything can happen. At the first world championships, another unsung runner from the University of Illinois, Marianne Dickerson, was the only runner to chase eventual champion Grete Waitz and held on for the silver medal.)
"I was never a huge fan of running earlier in my life. I just kind of did it because I was good, but I didn't like the training that much," says who is married and a father to a baby boy named Finn. "I really don't know what changed in me, but I just started to like it more, especially as I started to experience some success in marathons."
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