Over the past two years, three alumni of the College – Rachel Hyland ’09, Lauren Johnson ’01 and Lauren Philbrook ’09 – have qualified to run in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles. At the College, all three women competed on the cross country and track teams and were coached for all four track seasons and at least one cross country season under the auspices cross country Head Coach Pete Farwell ’73. All three plan to compete in the February trials.
“It’s very rare that three would qualify for one year,” Farwell said. “I’m not sure there would even be three who qualified from a top notch Div. I scholarship school in the same year, and I would be shocked if any other Div. III school has ever had three runners – [male or female] – make the trials and run in them.”
Of this year’s three Eph qualifiers, only Philbrook has qualified for and competed in the Olympic Marathon Trials beforehand. Her speedy time of 2:39.47 in the 2012 trials in Houston earned her 39th place, 36 short of qualifying for the Olympics. Besides Philbrook, only top distance runner Caroline Cretti ’06 has qualified and ran in the U.S. Olympic Trials, according to Farwell.
“My experience in 2012 was so much fun,” Philbrook said. “It was great to meet runners from all over the country and have a chance to see the pro runners in action. In 2012. I had only run one marathon previously, so I was just hoping to run a little better than my first one.”
While at the College, all three runners achieved several accolades for their performances in both cross country and track. Hyland earned All-American honors in her sophomore cross country season and Philbrook earned All-American honors in her senior cross country and track seasons. As a senior, Philbrook earned a national title by winning the 10k at the NCAA Div. III Outdoor Track & Field Championship Meet and, as a sophomore, Johnson won the 1999 New England Outdoor 3k race. Philbrook and Hyland also served as co-captains for the cross-country team in their senior seasons.
Since heading out of the Purple Valley following graduation, all three women have pursued running as a major hobby by joining club teams. Johnson currently runs for Nike’s Bowerman Track Club Elite, while Philbrook and Hyland have run for the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) under the coaching of Terry Shea.
“I’ve been in touch with all three [Eph qualifiers], but I don’t coach or give them specific training advice anymore,” Farwell said. “Often, after Williams, some of our top runners will latch onto club teams that give them a whole new environment to work in.”
According to Hyland, it is hard to compare her experiences on running at Williams with her current experience at BAA.
“At Williams you race frequently and see the entire team every day, sometimes twice a day, and you eat so many meals together,” Hyland said. “In fact, that is probably why there are so many couples on the team. Now, I am lucky if I can get together with running friends and teammates one to two times per week.”
For these women, running represents both a way of life beyond college and a way to meet friends with shared interests.
“My post-college life has been largely focused on my development as a Spanish teacher and coach at Phillips Academy,” Hyland said. “I actually think that running and having a balanced lifestyle has allowed me to be a better teacher.”
She added, “Running has also helped me keep in touch with friends, many of whom ran at Williams, and form new friendships within the running community in Boston.”
For Philbrook, much of the same is true. “In my post-collegiate life, running has been so valuable as stress relief, as a part of my routine that I can take with me anywhere I go and as a way to meet new people,” Philbrook said. “I’ve been so lucky to have such fabulous running buddies throughout the years.”
Although all three women have pursued running as a major hobby, none have pursued it as a primary career. Johnson is currently the Director of Community Impact at Social Venture Partners, a non-profit specializing in “engaged venture philanthropy,” and Hyland teaches Spanish and coaches cross country and track at Phillips Andover Academy. Philbrook serves as a Human Development postdoctoral fellow at Auburn after having completed her doctorate in Human Development at Penn State. Philbrook was actually scheduled to visit Williams and give a Neuroscience Colloquium talk on sleep when Storm Jonas blocked her flight from D.C. and prohibited her from coming this past week.
These women share another trait in common; they all married fellow alumni of the College who were also athletes during their careers in Williamstown.
According to Hyland, this pattern is more than just a coincidence. “I think the fact that all three of us married Williams alums goes to show that athletes understand other athletes,” Hyland said. “When you have a time consuming hobby like running marathons, it helps to have a partner that is supportive … [who] can keep you company on runs or workouts.”
According to Philbrook, the closeness of the Williams community and the entry system also seemed to facilitate this development as she and her spouse were in the same entry. “I felt continually amazed at Williams just how wonderful everyone was, so I can see how lots of people end up marrying each other,” Philbrook said.
Looking forward to the Olympic Marathon Trials, Farwell notes that running, unlike other sports that are relatively difficult to continue after college, remains accessible to anyone who chooses to pursue it.
“Ultimately, we try to give [our runners] a good foundation of not just learning to work out hard but also to understand what kind of workouts they’re doing and why,” Farwell said. “Just like a professor who is graduating a student from Williams, we hope that when our runners leave, they will be better equipped to know how to coach themselves if they continue to compete.”