Megan Youngren becomes first openly trans athlete to compete in marathon trials

Megan Youngren never ran a mile above seven minutes throughout the 26.2-mile course in Atlanta. Alexandra Sizemore

Megan Youngren swore she heard her name shouted by roadside fans Saturday during the U.S. Olympic team trials in marathon.

"Then I realized I was running next to another Megan for a lot of the beginning of the race," she said, laughing.

Still, Youngren believed some of those fans were indeed cheering for her throughout the 26.2-mile competition. On a windy, sunny day in Atlanta, the Alaska native became the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the marathon trials in U.S. history.

"Everyone that came up to me or talked to me was supportive," Youngren told ESPN.com on the phone afterward. And while she did not qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she finished in 2 hours, 50 minutes, 27 seconds, good enough for 230th in the 390-racer women's field -- the biggest ever. "We were just all there to race and we did."

"It's always weird when someone comes up to you and says, 'Hey, I read about you. I heard about you.' But then also goes, 'Good work. I'm glad you're here.'

"It's gratifying. It's totally bizarre, also, because I'm just some person."

Youngren, 28, first started taking hormones in 2011, when she was in college. She came out the next year as transgender and finalized the paperwork for her transition last year. She received a phone call from USA Track & Field officials in the days leading up to the race to confirm her spot.

"They asked for my medical history in the case that World Athletics wants it. I sent it," she told the Anchorage Daily News before the race.

USATF follows the same rules that the International Olympic Committee does for trans athletes. A transgender woman must show a certain low level of testosterone, a threshold Youngren easily fell under.

Youngren began running in 2014 to lose weight and improve her health. She ran her first marathon in 2017, finishing in 4:48 on a tough course in Fairbanks. From there, she was hooked.

She qualified for the trials with a 2:43 at a marathon in Sacramento, California, in December.

Since then, Youngren has been featured by local media, as well as Sports Illustrated, People.com and other major outlets.

While she takes pride in being the first openly trans person to compete in the marathon trials, she didn't set out for Atlanta with that as a goal.

"That wasn't why I started running, but I'm not going to back down because a few people are going to be jerks," Youngren said. "I worked hard to be here just like everyone else."

Though Youngren did receive some negative feedback on social media, she said she had felt nothing but support on the ground in Atlanta in the previous few days.

"Everything has gone so well," Youngren said.Aliphine Tuliamuk was the surprise winner of the race at 2:27:23. Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel and Sally Kipyego will represent the American women at the Tokyo Olympics.

Youngren ran at a 6:31-per-mile pace and never clocked a mile over 7 minutes. She said she "left it all out there" in blustery conditions and on a hilly course.

"I appreciate so much everyone [from USATF] being so helpful and trying their best in a complicated situation," she said. "I also appreciate how much work went into putting on a race like this. And you know what? I had a blast."

Youngren said she would celebrate Saturday night in Atlanta with a dinner out. But only if her legs weren't too sore to get her out of her hotel room.