The 2024 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials are set to take place on February 3 in Orlando, Florida.
For Gazelle Elite team member Noah Steffen, the path to the Trials was anything but linear. Stuck in a difficult injury cycle as a collegiate runner, his race day performances were nowhere near a reflection of his training and commitment to the sport.
“I never really had too much success in college, I was All-American once in cross country but, other than that, my career was pretty up and down. I was running a lot of mileage, like 90-100 miles a week, and never really performed like I was running 100 miles a week,” said Steffen.
Learning to slow down and listen to his body made all the difference in his race-day performances. Shifting the focus from consistently running fast to maximizing recovery (with the help of Gazelle Elite coach, Sam Butler) not only made running feel better but allowed Steffen the opportunity to find more joy in the process.
“Sam was a huge help. When we started training he reminded me that I don’t have to run everything super fast all the time to be successful.”
Results speak for themselves: Steffen qualified for the Olympic Trials (in his second-ever marathon), shaving about 11 minutes off of his previous time (2:27:51), placing second overall (2:16:59) at the 2023 Bayshore Marathon.
“Why I Sucked in College”
Originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana, Noah attended Grand Valley State University where he ran track and cross country for 5 years. In 2019 he was a USTFCCCA All-American in Cross Country for the Lakers. Currently based in Grand Rapids, Noah has been training for half and full marathons since he graduated from Grand Valley State University.
Grand Valley is a running powerhouse. GVSU has consistently produced some of the best runners in the country. Their cross-country and track teams are regularly ranked among the top in the nation, and the university has won numerous NCAA Division II championships.
“Everybody wants to run really hard,” explained Steffen.
“I fell in love with Grand Valley from the first time I came to campus. None of the other visits I went on were even close. The team atmosphere was amazing and the amenities and the facilities at GV are top-notch.”
Frustrated by an injury cycle and performances that weren’t reflecting his level of dedication, Steffen found inspiration from an article shared with him by GVSU’s head coach, Jerry Baltes, titled “Why I Sucked in College”. Written by LetsRun.com’s co-founder Weldon Johnson, the article vulnerably dissects the impact that overtraining and other hardships can have on a collegiate athlete.
In a career-altering move, Steffen silently vowed to approach practice with a refreshed mentality. He completely transformed his approach to training; competition with others was reserved for race day and recovery became sacred.
“I was getting dropped in all of my workouts, kind of on purpose. I would do aerobics alone and I was racing a lot better. Obviously, it didn’t look like that in practice, but I was running significantly better than I was before.”
Steffen’s newfound training philosophy translated into faster racing, and with post-collegiate running dreams still very much top of mind, he knew it was important to connect with a team of like-minded individuals. Gazelle Elite is a running team created in collaboration between Gazelle Sports and adidas to amplify and celebrate racing throughout our community in West Michigan and beyond.
“Having an elite team supported by the running store in Michigan, particularly in West Michigan, and having that community around you is super important,” said Steffen.
Proudly coached by GVSU Alumni, Sam Butler, this roster of Michigan-based athletes specializes in long-distance running and racing on and off the track. Learn more about the team on the Gazelle Elite Page.
The Olympic Trials will be Steffen’s debut race in his Gazelle Elite x adidas kit and Coach Butler will be making the trip down to Orlando to support.
“This has been an incredible build for Noah over the course of the past 12 weeks. We learned a lot about what works for him during his qualifying build this spring and for the Trials, we were able to dial in to just about everything that keeps him challenged, healthy, and of course, elevates his fitness throughout,” said Butler.
“We’re aware of the various scenarios that day may bring in Orlando, FL, and we’ve mentally and physically prepped ourselves for them all. In each of those scenarios, however, I think Noah is going to surprise a lot of people that day. Everything adds up, we both have a lot of confidence in that. It’s going to be a really special opportunity for him and for the beginning of this program on race day.”
Chop Wood, Carry Water
Running the Olympic marathon trials is a dream come true for many elite runners. It's a chance to compete against the best of the best and earn a spot on the Olympic team and there are plenty of variables to consider in this high stakes 26.2 mile race.
Steffen prefers to keep things simple, aiming for progress over perfection. His training is in the tank, his race day shoes are picked out (adidas adizero Adios Pro 3) and he has his fuel plans ready to go.
“Fueling is critical during a marathon, you just have to do it,” he said.
Another part of marathon preparation includes coming to terms with the inevitable discomfort of those final miles. Endurance athletes enter the pain cave, often coping using distraction and other techniques.
“Something I just tell myself with things get tough is: chop wood, carry water,” said Noah.
A reference to the popular Zen Buddhist dictum that before enlightenment, one must chop wood and carry water, and that after enlightenment, one must chop wood and carry water.
“The meaning behind it, for me, is to just go out there and do your job. Just work.”
Follow Noah’s Journey on Gazelle Elite's Instagram.