All told, 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 United States Olympian Molly Huddle.
On a 66-degree, cloudy morning at Olympic Stadium, Molly set out on the bright blue track with 36 other runners in her first Olympic 10,000 meter race. It’s clear Molly’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 73s (seconds per lap)."
Molly 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 3,000 meters in 8:54 and 5,000 in 14:55. The splits in the 10k were hard to comprehend. 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.
I had expected Almaz Ayana (eventual winner) to run close to 30 minutes and string things out. I thought her pace would cause a few of the other women to blow up worse than they did, especially since it was faster than I had even predicted."
Though Molly 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."
When it was all over, Molly had broken an eight-year-old American record in the 10,000-meters. Her time of 30:13.17, good for sixth in the event, was more than nine 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. I enjoy the wild race among competitors over the last two laps but I fell off too soon to do that. We had done a good 10k workout before I left for Rio where my husband Kurt dragged me through 1.5 mile reps working down to 72 seconds per lap so that gave me confidence I could handle a fast pace to a degree. Also, I have been dropped off a fast pace in many diamond leagues so I have learned to go out hard and then push home alone."
Molly’s Olympic finish now gives her the American outdoor records in both the 5,000 meters and 10,000. 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.
"That’s an amazing 10,000 record. I always thought that was a ridiculous time Shalane ran. So, I’m definitely proud to have gotten that.”
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 wants to start training for her first marathon, which comes in November at the New York City Marathon.