And now for Part II of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. On the distaff side, we have another wide open race, depending upon what Joan Benoit Samuelson does. Her post-pregnancy woes have been many. And speaking of mothers, here comes the Utah contingent. Six, count 'em, six Utah women have qualified to compete in Sunday's trials, which will be held in Pittsburgh.
All six Utahns have at least two children, which means it has been tricky getting to the Trials and to that level of competition. Working around mealtimes, rising before dawn, squeezing in an afternoon run during naptimes, running with the children in tow (and, in one case, a horse), all have managed to reach the level of fitness necessary to crack the trials' qualifying mark of 2:50.Utah's qualifiers have at least two more things in common: All have scored their personal records on the fast St. George course; and all of them are late bloomers.
Here's a closer look at the Utahn's who will compete in Sunday's Olympic trials:
CHERYL HARPER (Personal record: 2:40:12, St. George, 1987) After bombing the Osaka Marathon a couple of months ago (3 hours plus), Harper fired her coach who is also her husband, Hawk. Not to worry, the marriage isn't on the rocks. It was Hawk's idea. "She wouldn't listen to me," he says. "We had to do it to get her training up to what it should be." So they hired Ed Eyestone, who last week finished second in the men's Olympic trials marathon race.
Eyestone has bumped Harper's weekly mileage from 50 to 80 and has put her on the track for regular interval sessions. Harper thinks it has made a difference.
"I'm in real good shape, I think," she says. "You never know for a marathon."
The 26-year-old Harper, the fastest Utah-born female marthoner ever, has improved dramatically the last couple of years or since giving birth to two children. She frequently trains with her next-door neighbor, Kathy Matson (see below), but given their domestic situation that means running at 5:30 or 6 a.m.
"I get used to working around the kids," says Harper. "I try to get a babysitter as little as possible. I just believe in staying home."
As for the trials race, she says, "I'm just going to run my own race. If I run in the 2:30s, I will be extremely happy."
KATHY MATSON (PR: 2:46:28, St. George, 1985) Matson delivered a big surprise on March 6 when she won the huge Taiwan Marathon (8,404 entries), beating masters record holder Gail Scott, among others, and setting a course record in the process all this just eight months after having a baby.
"I ran Taiwan to see where I was in my training," she says. "I didn't plan to run that hard. It's going to be hard to come back (for the trials race) so soon."
Like her neighbor, Matson, 28, is another one who has come on strong in the past two years. A competitive runner since 12, she quit after an unspectacular career at BYU, complaining of burnout. She took up the sport a couple of years and a couple of babies later "because I hate to be out of shape and overweight."
The mother of three children, Matson must rise as early as 5:30 a.m. to do her morning run; she sneaks out again later in the afternoon when the older kids are at school and the baby is asleep.
"Running is something I do to keep happy without interfering with my family," she says.
She ran her first marathon in 1979 while attending BYU and finished in 3:16. She has dipped under 2:50 at St. George, New Jersey and Taiwan, all since giving birth.
"I don't know if having a baby has made me stronger, but I have matured a lot and that plays a big role in it," she says.
COLLEEN HOFFMAN (PR: 2:45:16, St. George, 1984) Hoffman, a district sales manager for Pac-com, a Salt Lake equipment leasing company, manages to be a mother, a breadwinner and a serious runner all at once. At 35, she has become one of the state's most enduring, prolific runners since taking up the sport 10 years ago. She ranks among the fastest Utahns ever at a number of distances, most notably 10,000 meters, and she is a former St. George Marathon champion.
This will be Hoffman's second Olympic marathon trials race, and possibly her last. Her training has been hampered by tendonitis in the hip "It feels like a rusty joint," she says. Given her current state of health, she talks of giving up the marathon and concentrating on the shorter races but after the trials.
"This is something I want to do, so I'll run in spite of myself," she says. "If I run under three hours, I'll feel good under the circumstances."
DEBBIE HANSON (PR: 2:48:37, St. George, 1987) Hanson, who lives in Pleasant Grove, didn't take up running until she was 28, didn't try a marathon until 30 and didn't become "serious" until 32.
"In the last 11/2 years I've been really serious," she says. Serious meant getting a coach Olympian Paul Cummings. "He's been great," she says. "I wondered if I could do better. Almost everything since then has been a personal best."
Under Cummings Hanson chopped her marathon from 3:20 to 2:59 to 2:48. She ran a 2:52 in Houston last year, but it might have been her best race, considering the heat and humidity.
She has no modest aims in Pittsburgh. "I'd like to hit the low 2:40s," says Hanson, who manages 80-mile training weeks around two children.
DEBBIE WAGNER (PR: 2:48:59, St. George, 1987) When Wagner trains, it's often a family affair. Her daughter and son ride their bikes with her around the backroads of Draper while she simultaneously runs and tows a horse, thus accomplishing at least two tasks at once: training herself and the horse.
Her first love is the sport of ride and tie "Horses need about double the training mileage people do," she says. Wagner's second love is mountain racing. So what is she ever doing in the U.S. Olympic Marthon Trials, "running with with the big boys," as she puts it?
In last year's St. George race Wagner knocked eight minutes off her PR and qualified for the trials. "I really surprised myself," she says. "I was just hoping to break three hours."
All this and she's 37 years old. "As I'm getting older I'm getting younger," says the former collegiate downhill ski racer from Wisconsin.
Wagner, who teaches P.E. at Churchill Junior High she sometimes runs with her classes "to set an example" has done five marathons, dropping from a 3:26 debut to 2:48. She admits, "I feel like a little fish in a big pond . . . I'd just like to break three hours."
VALERIE STEPHENS (PR: 2:49:16, St. George, 1987) In 1979 Stephens watched the Deseret News marathoners run down the Pioneer Days Parade route and decided she wanted to finish a marathon. That was 16 marathons ago. In the meantime she has cut more than an hour off her time, and she has done better than just finish the Deseret News race she's won it the last two years.
Not bad for someone who was only "a little above average" as a high school runner and never competed while attending BYU because "I never thought I was good enough."
Stephens, 28, is nothing if not persistent. She continued to train and race during pregnancy, once running a 40-minute 10K when she was seven months along. Ten months after giving birth, she finished the St. George Marathon in 3:04.
"I used to focus on running, but now my primary focus is my family and running comes second," she says. "I barely get enough training to get by. I admire Kathy and Cheryl because I know what they must go through."
Stephens, who has a master's degree in social work and is employed part-time at the Salt Lake Rape Crisis Center, must do her running at 6 a.m. By 9 p.m. she is in bed. Injuries have forced her to back off her training recently, but, persistent as she is, she'll be in Pittsburgh on Sunday.