We had a feeling about Aliphine Tuliamuk, who won the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday, donning one of her trademark crocheted beanies (in red, white and blue, naturally) after crossing the finish line. Tuliamuk, 30, will be headed to her first Olympics in July 2020. Our hunch was born out of an amiable chat in January 2020 in which she shared her story, and even then, she was obviously visualizing a successful race. Naturally, demand for her beanies has soared since her victory (but don’t go looking for them on Etsy– they’re sold out).
“The beanies/headbands are sold out as of now,” the Flagstaff-based runner, who trains with the NAZ Elite squad, posted on Instagram. She promises to get back to crocheting to fill orders, but it may take a few weeks. As Trials winner, she is now much in demand by sports media.
Read in retrospect, Tulaimuk’s comments seem uncannily prescient. When asked what she thought about her chances in Atlanta, she replied, “I think my chances are petty high. I checked out the course, and it’s a very hard course. The fact that it’s a marathon and the course is hard means it’s anyone’s day. The fastest athlete on paper might not do well on that course. I’ve done well on pretty hard courses before … Anyone who gets up that day and feels good and is healthy has a chance.”
She also told us, back in January, about her plan to have her boyfriend hand her a beanie with 100m to go at Trials, if she finished in the top three. “If I make the team, I’ll have my boyfriend hand me a beanie with 100m to go. I’m just dreaming!” (Tuliamuk has since shared that the beanie she was wearing at the start accidentally came off when she took off her long-sleeve and was lost, no doubt picked up by a very lucky fan.)
8. Somewhere between 5&6 miles, I looked around, most everyone had ditched their extra layer, I thought “ok don’t be too stubborn and a weirdo”. As I was taking my long sleeve off, my beanie came off too and dropped on the road, too late to get it back, I hoped I wouldn’t freeze
— Aliphine Tuliamuk (@mamaZoeCherotch) March 2, 2020
Tuliamuk’s best result prior to Saturday was a third-place finish at Rotterdam in April 2019 in 2:26:50, which qualified her for the Trials just a few weeks into the qualification period. (She also ran New York in November 2019, wearing one of her beanies in a big race for the first time, at her teammate Kellyn Taylor’s suggestion. It was her first marathon after recovering from a femoral stress fracture sustained after a race in Boston in June 2019. She finished 12th at NYC, in 2:28:12.)
Much has been said about Atlanta’s hills, which lent a degree of difficulty to this race comparable to courses like Boston’s, which has been known to stymie the most talented of marathoners (especially in bad weather). Proving Tuliamuk’s point, on Saturday, none of the most-touted names in U.S. women’s marathoning finished in the top 25: Molly Huddle, Emily Sisson and Sara Hall all DNF’d (Huddle and Sisson will now try to qualify in the 10,000m) and Jordan Hasay finished 26th. Des Linden came closest, finishing fourth and missing making her third Olympic team by a heartbreaking 11 seconds.
The beanies grew out of that period of recovery last summer. “Six to eight weeks of no running, that drove me crazy!” Tuliamuk said. “The first day I watched movies. That was longest day of my life. I didn’t know how I was going make it through six to eight weeks.”
She told us she and her boyfriend, cyclist Tim Gannon, drove to a yarn store, since she wanted some supplies to braid her hair, as well as to make him a bag for carrying burritos on long rides. She got home and started making the bag, and somehow found herself crocheting a hat.
“I watched tutorials on YouTube, and I really enjoyed it,” she said. She started experimenting with different styles, finally figuring out one style that crocheted up quickly and that looked good. “I have never stopped crocheting since July,” she said. “In the beginning it was just something to take my mind off things. I would stay up until 3 a.m. and see how many I could make in a day.” Tuliamuk started sewing her branded Allie T Resiliency Beanies labels onto the hats, and found they sold even better on her Etsy shop.
Tuliamuk grew up in a very large family in Kenya (her father has four wives, an accepted practice in her culture; she has seven full siblings and numerous half siblings), earning an athletic scholarship to Iowa State University upon finishing high school, and later transferring to Wichita State University, from which she graduated in 2013. One of her brothers is a student-athlete in Missouri. She became a U.S. citizen in 2016. She was sponsored by New Balance for a year before joining NAZ Elite and Hoka One One, which is also Taylor’s club. (Steph Bruce is another teammate. Taylor finished eighth and Bruce sixth at Trials.)
The runner finds crocheting calming and meditative. “It’s probably too relaxing,” she says. “In the thick of marathon training, I should be able to rest more, take more naps, but I get so excited about crocheting, I completely forget about naps, and before I know it, it’s time to do my second run … Every time I post, I get a bunch of orders. I’m swamped with orders, and then I get more orders. My boyfriend reminds me, ‘This is not your biggest job! You’re a professional runner!'” She can make a beanie in a little over an hour, and she has now sold around 400 of them. (Her headbands are also very popular.)
The resiliency part comes from what she’s learned as a pro athlete whose livelihood depends solely on racing and winning: “Being injured is a big knockdown, and you can easily beat yourself up and get depressed during injury,” she said. “I developed a new hobby that was both exciting and satisfying. Each day, I focussed my energy on how many beanies I could make, how many styles I could learn. It was very satisfying to see the final product, and this truly distracted me from my injury.”
Of course, now that she’s training for Tokyo (the Olympic marathons will actually be held in Sapporo, 800 kilometres north of Tokyo), Tuliamuk’s Etsy customers will have to learn patience, since she will have to get serious about those naps.
Tuliamuk’s teammates in the marathon will be Molly Seidel and Sally Kipyego, and in the men’s marathon, Galen Rupp, Jake Riley and Abdi Abdirahman.