ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Sam Geha '14 qualifies for U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon at 10 a.m. Saturday (Feb. 3) in Orlando, Fla.

By Noell Barnidge
For Sam Geha, Benedictine Military School Class of 2014, running the race of his life has resulted in the opportunity of a lifetime. At 10 a.m. Saturday (Feb. 3), Geha will be among the nation’s elite male and female long-distance runners competing in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon, on a course through downtown Orlando, Fla., to qualify to represent Team USA in the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.

Geha, 28, qualified to compete in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials when he ran the Grandma’s Marathon in 2 hours, 17 minutes, 25 seconds June 18, 2022, in Duluth, Minn. Saturday, he will be among approximately 200 hopefuls competing for one of only three men’s roster spots on Team USA.

“We have somewhere around 200, maybe a bit over, runners who have qualified so far but there are only going to be three men who represent the U.S. in the Olympics in Paris,” Geha said last Saturday (Jan. 27) from his home in New York City. “Everybody at the race is going to be competing for three spots. The top three get to go.”

The U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon will be available to watch live at 10 a.m. (Eastern) on Peacock and NBC streaming platforms. Tape-delayed coverage on NBC begins at noon. Both viewing options will feature full coverage of the marathon from start to finish.

Thus far, the highlight of Geha’s running career is qualifying to compete in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

“Qualifying for the Trials came after the toughest marathon training cycle I’d ever experienced,” said Geha, who recently was promoted to Vice President: Lead Strategy Analyst at Citi Global Wealth Investments. “I was working full-time in a new, demanding job, studying to complete an MS in applied economics from Johns Hopkins University, battling recurring injuries, and working with shorter mileage and fewer workouts over fewer weeks than I was used to. But I trusted the training, nevertheless, and it all paid off in the race of my life. My coach, (former Savannah resident) Tomilyn Thornberry, and I worked harder than ever to yield nearly a 2-minute PR (personal record) and qualify comfortably under the standard.”

Geha is a triplet, with brothers Andrew and Jared, to parents Hilary and Oliver Geha. All three Geha brothers graduated from Benedictine Military School in 2014. Their younger sister, Maddie, graduated from St. Vincent’s Academy. At Benedictine, Geha was a three-time Savannah Morning News All-Greater Savannah Boys Cross Country First-Team selection. He also was a three-time Savannah Morning News All-Greater Savannah Boys Track and Field First-Team selection. Geha placed fourth at the 2013 GHSA Class AA Cross Country State Championships and made good on a pre-race Facebook post in which he promised to shave his head if he finished in the top 15. In 2012, he was the Region 2-AA Cross Country champion.

A member of the National Honor Society while at Benedictine, Geha earned an athletic scholarship to attend Elon (N.C.) University, where he competed in cross country races during his freshman (2014) and sophomore (2015) seasons before moving to Germany to study. Geha earned a bachelor’s degree in international business from Elon in 2018. He attended the ESB Business School, Reutlingen University, in Germany, where he studied international business, international management, and economics from 2016-18. He earned a Master of Science in applied economics from Johns Hopkins University in August 2022.

“I moved to New York in 2019,” Geha said. “I knew I wanted to continue running because the running community is fantastic. I ran in college a couple of years before studying abroad. And I didn’t think I’d get into marathoning until close to my 30s but, to be honest, the running group that I joined (Dashing Whippets Running Team), in which I made most of my best friends, everybody was marathon training, and I was like ‘Alright, why not just dabble in it.’ And I gave it a shot. I debuted at the Philadelphia Marathon in November 2019, and it was way better than I thought it would be for the distance and also the time that I ran. I thought ‘Maybe I’m graduating from 5K to the marathons pretty well. Why not keep this up?’ I kept racing and I kept getting faster, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, what if I actually have the time to hit the Olympic Trials qualifying time? That would be huge.’ I started working with a longtime friend of mine, Tomilyn Thornberry. She’s my coach now. She used to be a local Savannah runner, too. She was a teacher at St. Frances Cabrini. We’ve been working together since November of 2020 and the races I’ve done have all been progressively better. The race that I hit my qualifying time, at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., was just … that was mind-blowing. It was then that I realized if this is what a huge training cycle can get, I’m just super-thrilled to get it. It was a big PR for me. I qualified for this race in June 2022. And getting back into shape for it is a big commitment. Training cycles last about 16 to 18 weeks so there’s a lot of work that goes in. It was a long time coming. After marathoning for what’s been, now, close to four years, it was about time. I felt like I was able to adjust to the distance and the rigor of the training really well. It’s culminated into something that’s truly awesome, the chance to go to my first Olympic Trials race. I’m really grateful for that.”

Geha’s first marathon was the Philadelphia Marathon, which he ran Nov. 24, 2019, and finished 10th overall in 2:24.43. In 2021, he broke 2:20 in a marathon for the first time at the Strider BQ Marathon Invitational in Chesapeake, Va.

Geha ran his first Boston Marathon on Oct. 11, 2021, and finished in 2:28.09. On Nov. 6, 2022, he ran the New York City Marathon in 2:46.01. On Nov. 5, 2023, he ran the NYC Marathon again and finished in 2:29.50.

“Running here in the city and being part of the community has been huge,” Geha said of New York City. “But I also have a full-time job so finding the time to put into running is a lot of work. It’s a challenge. But it’s also been a great joy. It’s not just a chance to explore the city and make it feel more like home but it’s a great hobby to keep. And the fact that marathoning is so popular here, which I didn’t expect, you’re part of a group that treasures it together so it makes the experience of training for a race like this even more fun. Every single race that I’ve had the opportunity to train and compete in, I’ve been part of a training group that’s been comprised of most of my good friends. Even though I might workout solo, I still get to see people all the time. It’s a conducive environment for that.”

Geha was married May 27, 2023, in Savannah. His wife, Sarah, also is an avid runner. Sarah was born and raised in New York, but Sam said, “It was her idea to get married in Savannah. She didn’t have to twist my arm about that. Visiting Savannah for the first time in April of 2021, she was like, ‘Yeah, I love it.’”

“We met in the running community,” said Geha, who noted that Sarah runs daily. “She’s on the team (Dashing Whippets) now. At the time that we met, she wasn’t running for my team. She was running for another track club in Brooklyn. But after we started dating and we got engaged, she was like, ‘Yeah, I might as well join your team.’ That’s the beautiful thing, having my partner for life share the same interests. We met in the running community so there was that understanding. She’s a marathoner, too, so she understands the rigor, the patterns for a training cycle and the disciplines, too. She also has a love of competition as well, so there’s nothing that I have to explain to her about life as a distance runner. She gets it. And it’s a really beautiful thing. I’ll tell you, coming back to this serious training after we got married, it took a long time. We really enjoyed the down time.”

Geha has spent the last 16 weeks intensely training for Saturday’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

“You take the start date of the marathon, subtract two weeks because there’s a bit of a wind down, what we call a ‘taper period’ two weeks before the race and that’s basically getting your body fresh and recovering from all the miles and the workouts you put in to have somewhat fresh legs on race day,” he said. “But you actually subtract somewhere between 14 and 16 weeks, total, from the race day because that’s as long as a training cycle is, including that two-week buffer period. I have a race on my calendar, and I work with my coach for about 16 weeks. I’m putting in about 90 miles (running per week). And that’s typically at the low end for men who run competitive marathons. I literally can’t put in any more than I’m doing right now because of my job and just life in general. A lot of guys, when they train for these races, they put in a lot of miles. I think 90 is typically on the low end. The average is about 100.”

What has kept Geha running all these years?

“It’s been the competition,” he said. “I also love the routine, building a disciplined rigor around weeks of training, whether that be for a 5K race at BC, the build-up to achieve the end goal was something I always felt at home with. But running itself is kind of a sport, there’s just something about it. How do I explain this? The competition, really, with 5Ks it was exciting because even over the course of 15-to-18-to-20 minutes, you’re battling it out over 3.1 miles. Racing is hard. But with the marathon, it’s not just the physical competition of it but it’s a strategy game as well. As the old saying goes, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint.’ It’s true. There’s a lot that goes into preparing your body, physically, but also there’s a lot to staying with a pack of guys, not losing focus on how your body is feeling. You’re training yourself from a nutrition standpoint. You fine-tune your body with a sleep schedule. It’s really just been the discipline of training but also there’s the thrill of the competition that keeps me in it.

“And after all these years, starting off with 5Ks at BC to running in college, I love just racing in general,” Geha continued. “Having that as an end goal with weeks of hard work, it just makes the payoff all that sweeter. That’s something I can’t really describe. Racing in general, it was so much fun running 5K races at BC. And then in college the stakes were higher. And now it seems the pressure of a formal team is absent because it’s not my every day, my everything I live and breathe, like it was in college. But marathoning is just fun. It’s a strategy game and the competition of it is way different than what I’ve seen with 5Ks and 10Ks. And even on the track, too. I used to love running the mile but marathoning is a whole different beast. But it’s comfortable in terms of how I approach a training cycle and get my body in peak shape to put it all out on the course on race day. It’s a different kind of monster, entirely, but I love it.”

Geha credits retired Benedictine teachers Bill Curley and Alex Lowry, his cross country coaches as a Cadet, with giving him a solid approach to running.

“Everything I’m doing now, the foundation was set when I was running under Coach Curley and Coach Lowry at BC,” Geha said. “The discipline of the workouts, knowing how to differentiate easy days from hard days and not throw all the effort out in one concentrated effort every single time, they really taught me how to understand the nuances in competition, and just how delicate of a balance training should be, and also just how to enjoy racing. Running cross country and track at BC was fun but it was also super-competitive. But it was that way because my coaches gave me a tangible goal to work towards, and to understand that all the work you’re doing right now, it will pay off it you actually give it the opportunity to do that.

“In college it was taken to the next level,” Geha continued. “It was something I really enjoyed. I ran cross country and track at Elon for two years. It was like everything I learned in high school was accentuated but the competition was like nothing I had ever seen before. My coach right now (Thornberry), she has taught me the fine nuances about marathoning and how much different of a beast that is than just training your body on a track or for a cross country 5K. It’s a lot. But I will say that it definitely got started at BC.”

Geha said he is ready for Saturday’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials. He knows the chance is slim to secure one of the men’s team’s three available roster spots. But he plans to continue running in the future.

“From where I am, marathoning, I’m actually still on the middle-young end,” he said. “Marathoners peak in their 30s and they’re still good into their early 40s. The masters’ marathoners, who are 40-plus, are really, really good. But I’d say in terms of my own development, I’m definitely on the early side. I’ve only been racing for a couple of years. And as a 28-year-old, objectively, my best years are still coming. I feel like I’m just finding my stride so to speak. My qualifying race went way better than I expected. It was a big PR when I ran 2:17. I dropped by personal best from 2:19. The faster you get, the harder it becomes to PR. I’m fortunate to have qualified for the second-highest level there is. The highest being the Olympics.”

Contrary to what you might expect, this is not the best Geha has felt going into a race.

“Every marathon buildup has been different, even if I follow the same formula, dedicate the same number of weeks, do the same workout,” he said. “My body does not feel as good as it has before the race of my life (June 18, 2022, in Duluth, Minn.) The best I’ve felt was three marathons ago. But it’s all different in terms of perspective. I understand it’s all about trusting the training. I’ve put in the mileage. I’ve put in the intense workout efforts. Letting the running marinate with my day job, to the rest of life going on, it’s impossible to operate in a vacuum like that.

“I feel really good,” he continued. “The last couple of weeks have been awesome in terms of finishing the buildup. I ran the New York Marathon in November, which was another terrific racing experience before really focusing in on building up for the (U.S. Olympic) Trials marathon. It’s all come together really well. I just couldn’t expect to have it feel like an A-plus, in terms of physical condition. But I do feel really good. Now that I’m winding down toward race day, my body is recovering from all of the weeks of effort that I’ve put in. This time next week (Saturday), I should feel like there’s a really solid spring in my step and everything will come together super-nicely.”

Forward, Always Forward!