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After a gritty effort at the Olympic Trials marathon, Megan Youngren looks back and ahead

Ultra-distance events are next for pioneer marathoner Megan Youngren, who spoke with Outsports this week.

Megan Youngren
Photo by Amelia Gapin

Nearly 700 runners stood at the starting line at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon February 29. 29-year-old Megan Youngren was among them. Her quest began not as history to be made, but from a simple question to be answered.

“It was a progression of looking at something amazingly hard and saying ‘I wonder if I can do that’?” she said on this week’s edition of The Trans Sporter Room podcast.

Youngren took a look back to what propelled her from the trails around her hometown of Soldotna, Alaska to a windy Saturday in Atlanta, Ga., where she achieved a goal on the pavement. She pushed through wind gusts of up to 35 miles-per-hour to finish the Olympic Trials Marathon in a solid 2 hours, 50 minutes and 43 seconds, ending up 230th out of 390 women who finished the course.

She was 23 minutes behind the trio of Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel and Sally Kipyego, who will represent the USA in Tokyo at the Summer Olympics, which now have been postponed until the Summer of 2021. Youngren did blaze a trail into American sporting annals as the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympic Trials Marathon, and the second trans athlete ever to compete in a U.S. Olympic Trials competition in the gender in which the athlete identifies.

Megan Youngren (left) contesting the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Atlanta February 29th. She finished in 2:50:43 and became the first transgender athlete to compete for an Olympic spot in the marathon, and joined race walker Chris Mosier on the list of trans athletes to compete in a U.S. Olympic Trials event.
Photo by Amelia Gapin

The road to make the show hit some turbulence leading up to the trials race. Despite putting forth a trials-qualifying effort at the California International Marathon in December 2019, she was not cleared to race at the Olympic Trials by USA Track and Field until 5 days before the event.

“That last Sunday before the week of the race, I sort of had this feeling that i wasn’t going to race. Before that, I wasn’t going to believe that I was going to get to run until I was on the starting line,” she said. “But,” once there, “It did sink in that I was going to race.”

Her trials experience ended with her entering the record books. While Youngren downplays the historical significance, she notes the impact being on the grid will have on generations of trans athletes to come. When asked about the recent, controversial debates over transgender athletes in high school, and specifically noting the current federal lawsuit filed over the issue in Connecticut, Youngren places why her effort in Atlanta mattered in a sharper focus.

“I feel really bad for the trans girls that have been, like, ‘hey I want to compete,’ and then being put in the position of instead of just going out there and working, they have to defend themselves personally. And I can’t imagine the strength that it takes to get out there and say, I’m going to transition in high school and I like running and I’m going to run and have that happen,” Youngren said. “Hopefully, my having been out like this means that they won’t have to deal with this as they move into their 20s and move into sub-elite competition, or deciding to compete in events under the umbrellas that I’ve been under. I hope that my being out means as they move into this realm that it’s less of a headache.”

Terry Miller, left, and Andraya Yearwood
Youngren declared hopes that her effort at the trials will help make sports more accessible for young transgender athlete like Terry Miller (left) and Andraya Yearwood (right) and notes how strong they’ve had to be to compete.
“Changing the Game”

Since returning from the trials, Youngren has been adjusting to the current “new normal” of the COVID-19 crisis. “For the first few weeks I was back and realizing that I’ve traveled through the Seattle airport twice, and you get that, in the back of your head, when your nose runs a little bit or you get a tickle in the back of your throat, and you’re like, ‘Oh no, am I sick?” she said. The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t changed her life all that much. “But for now, I am well stocked, and I’m very isolated, but like everybody else, there is a thought process of, what am I going to do if I get sick?”

She been working her way back into training with an eye toward the next goals, which includes going beyond 26.2 miles in the immediate future. “I’m looking at doing a 50-miler this June,” Youngren noted. “Then perhaps a 100-mile race next year, and then perhaps I’ll cool back down to go back to the marathon.”

“I want to see if I can get faster. I’m not sure how much faster I can get,” she continued. “But as someone I met at the marathon trials, who was 42, said to me, ‘Don’t tell me you’re done getting faster. That’s a load of crap.’”

Click here to check out this week’s edition of The Trans Sporter Room and find out about Youngren’s loyal running partner — her dog — and her obsession with the newly-released VR game, Half-Life: Alyx. You can also subscribe to the show on Apple’s Podcast page as well as on Google Podcasts and Spotify, and wherever you’ll find Outsports podcasts. Plus you can follow the podcast on Facebook and Twitter.