You don't expect to find a former USA Marathon champion using a citizen's race like last weekend's MDRA 7 Mile for a final, big race tune-up, but sometimes a small race is just the ticket for a big-time runner.
It was for 2003 USA Marathon champ Sara Wells (pictured). She clocked a second-place-overall 40:29 over the hilly Hopkins course to prep for the 2007 USA Women's Marathon Championship to be held in conjunction with the Boston Marathon a week from Monday.
"I was having trouble getting into other races due to conflicts in schedule and this one finally worked out with my schedule," Wells told DtB. "I guess I was using it for a number of reasons with the primary reason being to get in a good hard race before Boston. The fact that it was a nice hilly course was an added bonus!"
The Boston course, it almost goes without saying, is known for its hills -- the famous, uphill Heartbreak Hill as well as the quad-blasting early- and late-race downhills ones. Wells admits her goal for Boston is fairly modest for a 7th place finisher at the 2004 USA Olympic Marathon Trails who owns a 2:33:15 personal best:
"Get a qualifying time for the trials!"
"Honestly," she explains, "that is the main goal. I was not so smart when I ran Twin Cities last fall so now I need to play it safe and just make sure I can get the time. That way I will have something to train for after graduation!"
At TCM, the 2006 USA Championship, she finished 23rd in 2:54:07 after going through the half-way mark in 1:17:39.
Wells, 28, who will earn her doctorate in physical therapy in May -- and will marry in June -- has had to juggle national-class running with graduate study for the last three years. That, plus a spell of injuries has made the recent past more challenging than her initial post-collegiate success.
"I feel that the demands of school have been the most limiting factor when trying to compete at the level I had been prior to entering the doctoral program in 2004," Wells said. "There were a few injuries thrown in which made it even more difficult to train. I guess the impact the injuries would have was much more significant because finding time to cross train and get the proper treatment was a challenge. It was much easier to focus on school and put running on the back burner during this time."
"However, I have been injury free for a good period of time, knock on wood, but have not been able to return to the same level of training as I had been prior to school. There are just so many things going on in my life right now including planning a wedding, finishing up a final research project for school, completing my final clinical rotation, and studying for the board exam, that I am not able to get in the high mileage that I was before the other marathons. I have been consistently getting around 65-78 miles a week, which includes a long run on the weekends of 18-24 miles."
But Wells has already come back a long way from her low-point.
" ... that had to be during my second year in school when the course load was tough and I was battling plantar fasciitis," she said. "I was ready to throw in the towel with running, then try to pick it up again when I was done with school, if I still had it in my heart. I discussed these feelings with Dennis [Barker, Team USA Minnesota Coach] and he was more than understanding. He said that he still believed in me and he is probably the reason I continued to give it a shot."
"Now the end is in sight and I am so excited!"
Not a bad way of looking at things when you have 26.2 miles to go.
Photo courtesy of Team USA Minnesota.