It was the greatest 10,000-meter race ever. Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana ran 29:17.45 to win the Olympic gold medal and set the world and Olympic records in the women’s 10,000 meters. Ayana wasn’t the only runner setting records: Finishing behind her, seven other runners set national records, including Saucony athlete and two-time Olympian Molly Huddle.
On a cloudy morning at Olympic Stadium, Huddle set out on the bright blue track with 36 other runners in her first Olympic 10,000-meter race. It’s clear Huddle’s thoughts were racing as fast as her legs.
“At the start I thought, ‘Get ready to hang tough.’ At two miles I thought, ‘Oh man, they’re not messing around.’ At 5K I thought, ‘Keep your eyes ahead of you; try to grind out 73 (seconds per lap),’” Huddle explains.
Huddle had a plan and 25 laps to carry it out. This was not the time for running on empty; her thoughts were overflowing with race strategies and Olympic dreams.
“I knew the race would go out fast and it did—I ran through 3,000m in 8:54 and 5,000m in 14:55. The splits in the 10K were hard to comprehend,” she says. “I knew it would be a race for the ages when the pack was actually accelerating after going through the 5K well under 15 flat!
“I knew I couldn’t red-line and just hope to hang with them. When I realized I could not hang on, I tried to focus on reeling in the next woman ahead of me and not slowing down. My plan was to run 15:20 for the second 5K. With that I could at least get the American record and hopefully catch some more runners ahead of me.”
Though Huddle started the race with 36 other Olympians, the pace of the top group left the field spread out and in some cases, lapped.
“It was a lonely last 5K for me and hard to reconcile trying not to get lapped while also trying to stay on pace for the American Record,” Huddle adds.
When it was all over, Huddle had broken an eight-year-old American record in the 10,000. Her time of 30:13.17, good for sixth in the event, was more than 9 seconds better than the 30:22.22 mark set by Shalane Flanagan at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
My dream was not to finish 6th at the Olympics. I was disappointed to not be closer to 4th or 5th,” says the 31-year-old athlete. “I enjoy the wild race among competitors over the last two laps but I fell off too soon to do that.”
Huddle’s Olympic finish now gives her the American outdoor records in both the 5,000m and 10,000m. She has held the 5,000 record since 2010, lowering that mark to 14:42.64 in 2014. Molly’s 10,000-meter Olympic time shattered her personal best of 30:47.59 by 34.42 seconds.
Huddle, who has lived in Providence since graduating college, qualified for Rio by finishing first in the 10,000 at the Olympic Trials with a time of 31:41.62. She also won the 5,000, becoming the first woman to sweep the 5K and 10K at the U.S. Trials or any U.S. track championship meet. Huddle elected to run only the 10,000 in Rio because she wanted to start training for her first marathon, which comes in November at the New York City Marathon.