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Some Trials Runners Just Rolled With the Goals

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It is often said that the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon are all about 1-2-3. But for many athletes on the streets of Houston today, it was about something else.

For instance, Linda Somers Smith of Arroyo Grande, CA, wanted to run under 2:40. Linda Somers Smith was a 1996 Olympian. That’s 16 years ago. She is 50 years old now.

Goals may change, but athletes still darned well want to meet them. And Somers Smith did just that yesterday, running 2:37:36 to pulverize the U.S. 50-54 age group record of 2:47:50 previously held by Joan Samuelson. And in finishing 28th she crossed the line ahead of 124 women – all of them younger.

At 47, four-time Olympian Colleen de Reuck has a goal, too, and it wasn’t to make a fifth team. It wasn’t even to break an age-group record, except maybe the age-group record for graciousness and enthusiasm. As usual, de Reuck, of Boulder, CO, was more interested immediately after the race in how everyone else was doing, expressing delight when she learned who had made the team. When she finally got around to talking about herself, it was with self-deprecating joy.

“It was fantastic support, with American flags flying everywhere,” she said. Oh wait, that’s about how great the crowd was.

“I didn’t feel so good and my hamstrings are killing me, but it was just a wonderful race.” There, finally, sort of. De Reuck was 35th, in 2:38:52.

Caroline White’s goal was to explore the distance a bit further. Or maybe to leap tall buildings in a single bound. A high school pole vaulter, she went on to the Air Force Academy and the Air Force Parachute Team, advancing through the ranks to become a jumpmaster. A Rhodes Scholar finalist, scuba diver and mountain climber while at the Academy, the 26-year-old from Colorado Springs won her division in an Idaho Ironman and then finished 12th in her age group at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. In 2009, she first qualified for the Trials, then lowered her time to 2:37:32 at the 2011 Boston Marathon.

White finished 34th in 2:38:43, and was encouraged. “I need to get on the track and in four years I’m really excited to see what happens.”

As it turns out, fate gave White another goal near the end of the race. “I could see Colleen,” she said. “I started running competitively a few years ago and she’s always been an idol of mine. I said to myself, ‘today’s the day I get to run down Colleen.’ That really pushed me.”

Then there’s the men.

Michael Wardian, an ultramarathoner, is known as a prodigious racer. Whether it’s the grueling 135-mile Badwater ultra in the grueling heat of Death Valley or the famed 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa, the 37-year-old father of two from Arlington, VA, is up for it, early and often. It’s not unusual for him to run a marathon on Saturday, then head straight to the airport in his running clothes and change in the men’s room before hurrying to catch a flight to his marathon on Sunday.

At least this weekend he won’t need a plane.

Wardian wasn’t overly thrilled with his 2:21:50 finish in the Trials, but never mind. “Hopefully I can run a little better in the Houston Marathon,” he said afterward.

Josh Cox, 36, doesn’t race as often as Wardian – does anyone? – but his distance goals are nonetheless impressive, with his resume including the U.S. 50K record. A one-time competitor on “The Bachelorette,” Cox placed 14th in the Trials, in 2:13:50, but is already looking ahead.

“I definitely want to take a chance at the 50K world record and 100K world record,” he said, even before he had a chance to sit down.

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