The 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon took off at high noon last Saturday in the streets of Atlanta, Ga. Over 700 runners, including the largest women’s field in trials marathon history, fought through 26.2 miles for 6 coveted berths to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Alaska’s Megan Youngren did not get one of those golden tickets to Tokyo, but she did become the first transgender athlete to compete for an Olympic spot in the marathon, and the second trans athlete ever to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials in the gender in which the athlete identifies. She joins trans man Chris Mosier on that list. He competed in the the 50km race walk Olympic Trials last month.
Youngren wound up running a solid 2 hours, 50 minutes, 27 seconds and finished 230th place. Her effort was 23 minutes behind women’s winner Aliphine Tuliamuk, but Youngren said after the race that the experience was worth the long trip south. “I’m so thankful for everything that just happened,” she told the Peninsula Clarion after the race. “It was a good race with a lot of amazing support. Everyone was super cool who knew anything about my story, or when I told them anything about it.”
For 28-year-old Youngren, this race was destination in a trek that started by accident. She took up running in 2013 to lose weight from an illness and to stay in shape as she moved ahead in her transition. She ran and skied the areas surrounding her hometown of Soldotna, Alaska, a town of 4,000 situated within the Kenai Peninsula. Her first marathon was the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks 2017, a 26.2 mix of road running and trails running, that piqued her curiosity.
“I’m a trail runner, so it was in my wheelhouse,” she told the Anchorage Daily News. “The whole me-doing-a-road-marathon was like an aside.”
She did that first Equinox in a little more than 4 hours, 48 minutes. The next year, she finished in the top ten and took nearly an hour off her best time. In 2019, she pivoted from the trails to take a shot at the trials, and a 2 hour-45 minute qualifying time to get there. Throughout the spring and summer she attacked the 26.2-mile distance. In a series of marathons, she took minutes off her personal best on a dash for the qualifying mark.
In December 2019, at the California International Marathon, Youngren ran the distance in 2:43:52, safely under the target to get her to Atlanta, and her chance at Tokyo. The drama didn’t end there, however: She was cleared to race at the Trials only 5 days before the event, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
According to USA Track and Field, Youngren was asked for medical records in a phone call, where she also learned she was approved to compete. Throughout the process to qualify for the Olympic Trials race, she had been subject to the current regulations of the International Olympic Committee and the International Amateur Athletic Federation. The regulations mandate a continuous level of serum testosterone below 10 nanomoles per liter for a 12-month period. A recent Sports Illustrated article reported that Youngren’s levels are at 2 nmol/L, which is still below the new, more stringent, limits that IAAF imposed in October.
“I have done everything by the book and I can show that.” Youngren told SI.
The record books on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon will show she’s made history. While she downplays her accomplishment, Youngren appears to be keenly aware of the impact her performance has on other trans athletes, amid the derision they’ve received recently from coast to coast and around the world.
“I’m the person who’s here,” she told the Anchorage Daily News. “I’d rather not have the next person who comes along have to deal with this.”