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St. Petersburg runner heading to Olympic Trials

Keara McGraw

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Christina Welsh is one of only five St. Petersburg residents who have ever qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon trials. Photo provided.

The 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon is set for Feb. 3 in downtown Orlando, with 190 of the nation’s elite long-distance runners competing for six spots on the U.S. team for the upcoming Paris Olympics (July 26-Aug. 11). 

The marathon course will start with a 2.2-mile stretch through the downtown business district, followed by three 8.8-mile loops to the Milk District and back. The race will kick off at 10 a.m., two hours earlier than initially planned, to mitigate potential heat hazards.

Among the competitors is Christina Welsh, a Ph.D. Marine Biology student at the University of South Florida and a St. Petersburg resident. Welsh, 27,  former college track and cross country athlete, began her marathon career after college. Even though she was an avid runner, Welsh didn’t immediately set her sights on qualifying for a major race. “My first marathon was a 3:29,” she said, “so running the Olympic trials wasn’t on my radar at all back then.” 

After running a marathon in 2 hours and 44 minutes in June 2021, she realized that the women’s qualifying time of 2 hours and 37 minutes might be within her reach.

Welsh qualified for the trials in January 2022 with a two hour and 33 minute race at the Chevron Houston Marathon. She has been training with the support of local running groups, learning that progress in the sport isn’t always linear. She’s learned to take the ups and downs of each race and use them as an opportunity for growth. 

“The local running community is great here,” Welsh said. “I run with the Outta Pocket Track Club a lot. Being able to run with other people and participate in the social aspect of running makes it easier to get out for 6 a.m. runs in the summertime.”

As many athletes from other parts of the U.S. are now beginning to acclimate to the Florida weather, Welsh has a home-court advantage, often training along the scenic downtown St. Pete waterfront and The Pier. She said she doesn’t mind the heat – and is grateful not to have to navigate snow and ice throughout the winter training.

Many of the athletes competing Feb. 3 hold full-time jobs in addition to running 100+ miles a week. Compared to many other professional sports, there is little financial support for runners, who often rely on brands and local running stores for apparel and shoe support. Welsh credits ON Running and Tracksmith for their support along her journey – and her boyfriend, who she says often joins her on his bike during her long training runs and has been very patient throughout her exhaustive training days.

Welsh is one of only five St. Petersburg residents who have ever qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon trials. To qualify, female athletes must run a 2:37 Marathon or a 1:12 half marathon; for the men, it’s 2:18 and 1:03, respectively, between Jan. 1, 2022, and Dec. 5, 2023. The trials will be streamed live on Peacock Feb. 3 at 10 a.m., with a taped delay on NBC at noon.

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