With two miles to go in Sunday's U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in New Jersey, Ed Eyestone and Mark Conover were running side by side heading toward to the finish in Liberty Park. Eyestone still didn't dare let himself sneak a peek at the field they had left far behind him, afraid somehow of what he might see, but Conover peeked for them, then reported to Eyestone.
"We're on the team," he said.Conover and Eyestone were virtual Olympians. And that was enough for Eyestone, as it turned out. A short time later, thinking of the extra $25,000 he could earn, Eyestone started to pull away from Conover, but, "I had shooting pains in my left hamstring and calves," he said. "It was really scary. If I cramped, there was nothing I could do. I'd have to stop."
So he slowed and decided not to worry about first place. "I just wanted to make the team, so I played it conservatively," he said.
With a mile to go, Conover surged slightly and wound up winning the race with a time of 2:12:26. Eyestone was second in 2:12:49 and Pete Pfitzinger third in 2:13:09. First place was worth $50,000, second $25,000 and third $20,000.
"I'm on cloud 9 and will be for a while," said Eyestone from his hotel room Sunday evening. "When you start running, there's always another step to go, but the Olympics is the top of the pyramid."
Eyestone had worried about this race like few others during his career. The night before the race, "I was very nervous; I slept two hours, tops."
Eyestone had good reason to be anxious. He had run only two marathons in his life _ Houston in 1984 and Boston in 1987. Boston ended in disaster. Running with the leaders through 19 miles, he "hit the proverbial wall," and faded badly to finish 19th with a time of 2:19:19.
"I had Boston in my head the whole way Sunday," he said. "Everything after 19 miles was in the Twilight Zone. That's where everything fell apart last time."
But this time Eyestone held up. "I had a gut feeling I had a good marathon in me," he said.
Eyestone and Conover, who will both will run in next month's Salt Lake Classic, ran with the pack through 15 miles. Eyestone made the first move, opening a 30-yard lead at one point, but "I discovered I didn't like running alone into the wind," he said, and the pack quickly caught him. At 18 1/2 miles, Conover, running in only his second marathon, moved and Eyestone went with him. The lead was theirs for good.
Eyestone and Conover threw in several sub five-minute miles to leave the pack behind. They ran side by side for nearly the rest of the race, taking turns breaking the steady headwind they battled the entire race and exchanging bits of talk along the way.
"This was a lifelong goal _ to make the Olympic team," said Eyestone, who also will attempt to make the U.S. team at 10,000 meters in this summer's U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
Eyestone was one of four Utahns running in Sunday's race. Paul Pilkington finished 17th with a time of 2:19:39, Anthony Sandoval was 23rd in 2:22:37 and Criss James 59th in 2:33:06. Paul Cummings didn't enter the race because of a foot injury.