Bennett Grimes knows he won’t be the fastest man at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. He may just be the happiest, though.
Bennett Grimes smiles and looks out a rainy office window in Seattle as he reflects on qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials and how his training is going. He’s quickly approaching what will arguably be the biggest race of his life, but the thing causing him the most stress right now is finding the right words to describe his joy.
“I’m not scared about the pain. I’m not scared about it being hard,” he says, taking sips of water from a green Nalgene bottle. “I’m going out there to have an amazing experience. When I cross the starting line, I’ll be ecstatic. I think that will be it.”
For Bennett, an All-American collegiate runner who graduated from Western Washington University, making it to the Olympic Trials has been a longtime dream of his, but you’d never know it unless you asked him. And maybe that’s because his goals have evolved as his running has: steadily upward and realistically. The high school version of Bennett knew he was fast early on, and his goal then was to run in college. So he went to college and quickly earned All-American honors in cross country his freshman year. He adjusted his goals and told himself he wanted to run after school. Bolstered by another successful year of running, he soon put qualifying for the Olympic Trials in his crosshairs. He didn’t know what event he wanted to run, but he knew that qualifying for the trials was the eventual and– for the time being– pinnacle next step in his running. When exactly he would make an attempt at his goal was to-be-determined, but he first turned to the roadmap laid out by his dad, three-time U.S. Olympic Trials competitor–twice in the marathon– Danny Grimes, and enlisted his help.
“I wanted at that point in time to beat everything that he did. I’m not as talented as he was,” the younger Grimes chuckles. “It takes a while for you to realize that, but I realized it. I changed my goals from being better than him to running the Olympic Standard in a running event.”
He’d spend the next couple years figuring out which event that would be, weighing options and testing himself in events like the 10,000-meter run while living life outside of the run, too. He got married a couple summers ago, traveled through Europe and he began putting emphasis on his career when he previously may have put more time into running. At work as a product line manager at Brooks Running Company, Bennett oversees delivering amazing gear to runners. The Brooks office is where Bennett is now, thinking about– and smiling because of– what running means to him. “I fell in love with running because it was meditation, getting outside to experience the world.”
As time went on and races were run, physical strength and stamina leaned him toward the marathon, an event which, at the time, he’d yet to run. But just as much as physical strength and stamina helped him in longer distances, those mental attributes counted for just as much on the road to reaching his dream.
“[Bennett] enjoys the process as much or more than the achievement of the goal,” says his dad and coach Danny. “This allows him to work for goals for long periods of time and stay motivated by the training itself.”
Giving it Your All
Achieving his dream, which, if you’re counting, was a five-year journey, came down to the 2015 Houston Marathon, his debut and also his only marathon to date… at least until Feb. 13 at the trials. Houston is the marathon that got him to his dream, but it would be almost a year after running it that he would realize that.
In January of 2015, the men’s standard for qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials was 2-hours, 18-minutes. Bennett’s final time at Houston: 2-hours, 18-minutes, 47-seconds.
47 seconds separated him from the dream of his running career. If you do the math, which is easy but still painful now, 47 seconds over the course of a marathon comes out to running an average of less than 2 seconds faster per mile.
The Houston Marathon went wonderfully for Bennett until mile 21. That’s when “the wheels came off.” After consistently running 5-minute, 13-second miles for the majority of the race, the gist of miles 21-26.2 comes down to a few missed splits and cramps. During those final miles, he could see the time racking up on his watch, but he was still confident.
“God it makes me want to cry,” he says, having to pause as he recounts the last five kilometers of his race. “That’s funny dude.”
“You can feel people cheering, you can feel the finish. I saw a crowd and thought ‘I look like I’m running so slow to them.’ I almost felt embarrassed I was running slow.” That was just before the last mile. Several minutes later, Bennett made one final turn and looked up to see the clock read “2:18:12.” 35 seconds later, he crossed the finish line and blacked out.
A Dream is Still a Dream
For a long time, Houston was difficult for Bennett to talk about. The emotions of a big race like a marathon run high for most runners, but a goal five years in the making for Bennett was hard to let go of. The experience of Houston and sorting through it was made more difficult by a foot injury that kept him from running a half marathon as a backup, secondary option to qualify for the trials; it was an injury that kept him from running for more than a year.
He’d barely started running more than a few days a week by Dec. 11 last year when he got an email from a coworker. Subject line: “F YEAH!”
“My coworker Valerie was the first person that shot me an article from Let’s Run,” he remembers. “She wrote ‘F YEAH’” in the subject line and pasted the article in the email and wrote ‘You’re in.’ I told her ‘I’m not for sure in.’”
For her part, Valerie Weilert remembers sending the email, though she glances over the subject line when she recalls it. “I was super stoked for him! Like, you’re in, this is going to happen!” she recalls. “I knew how hard he’d worked for it, and now he’s in. He’s living the dream.”
After reading the email and the article, Bennett called his dad who told him he was 98 percent sure he qualified. Bennett still wasn’t convinced by the odds, wanting total and undeniable confirmation before letting himself entertain the idea of running in the trials, and by default, the idea of having achieved his dream.
“When I found out Bennett made it to the trials I was very happy and excited for him but I must say I was not more proud or less proud of him,” says Danny Grimes. “I am proud of him because of who he is not the goals he achieves. I know he deserves this race and feel very excited he will get the experience.”
Even after an old coach from Western Washington University sent him a link to the USA Track and Field site announcing the standard change and the page where he could sign up and declare himself to run, he still didn’t believe it was going to happen. For a goal to turn so suddenly from a dream to an achievement was exciting but almost difficult to fully understand in the moment.
Bennett only let himself get excited when he saw his name on the list of new entrants that were buzzing around on running websites in the wake of the standard change. He now looks back and can recall those lists clearly, though, like the list he’s on in Track & Field News of the year’s top unaided marathons, “It’s the one with Ashton Eaton on the cover.”
“Qualifying for the trials sounds glamorous and exciting, but truly, everything that led up to achieving that goal was anything but glamorous and exciting,” says Bennett’s wife Blair. “The time commitment, the pain, the tedium of training are the realities of achieving this kind of goal. I am excited for him and proud of him that he accomplished this goal, but it only confirms everything I already knew about him.”
Running for the Love of It
The hard part of achieving his long-term dream is done for Bennett Grimes. It may have taken a hard-run 26.2 miles to get there, but qualifying for the Olympic Trials is something this runner can check off his list. The next thing on it: Have fun.
The excitement for Bennett, like for so many other runners, is in the running, not necessarily the achieving. Smiles come frequently and daily to him when he runs in preparation of the big race. For him, “Running provides time with his closest friends, it provides physical activity, an outlet for stress, a connection to nature and the outdoors, time alone and time to think,” says Blair.
“I’m just happy now,” Bennett thinks aloud, back in the office in Seattle. “I feel lucky that for whatever reason, I held on at Houston to run 2:18:47. I could have blown up and not finished. I kept grinding and it paid off. I just want to get to Los Angeles and be in the best shape that I can be and feel good about my race.”
Dreams, it turns out, are more than a distraction from the tough parts of running, they’re fuel for it. Dreams and the love of the run– at least for Bennett– are the reasons for getting out the door. And for runners everywhere, loving the run is just one joyful truth that echoes across the world, one step at a time, for 26.2 miles or for two miles, for first time runners and longtime runners, for runners searching for their own achievement, whatever it looks like… or feels like.
“When I get there, being on that line, running with people that will go and represent our country, I’m going to feel cool. And proud of myself,” he finally says. “And no matter how this race finishes, if I do not finish, I’m happy. I’ll finish this race, and I’ll be happy. My success was getting there. My reward is getting to run it.”