Olympic dreaming | SierraSun.com

Olympic dreaming

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunGia Mandy trains in Glenshire for the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials, which will be held in Boston on April 20. Mandy qualified for the race after placing sixth with a time of 2:43:50 in the Houston Marathon last month.

Between races and her daily routine, Gia Mandy figures she’s run tens of thousands of miles in the past decade. Yet, she had never tackled 26.2 miles in one outing.

There’s a first for everything.

At the prodding of her sponsors, the 29-year-old Glenshire resident tossed aside her apprehension, bucked up to the challenge and took on the historic distance at the Houston Marathon last month.

“My sponsors wanted me to do a marathon,” she said. “I never thought I was fit enough. But with the (Olympic Marathon) trials coming up, I thought it would make a good goal.”

After 10 weeks of preparation, during which she traveled to Auburn and Reno to get in marathon-specific training on pavement, Mandy proved fit enough to meet her goal.

Remaining true to form, she excelled in the Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, finishing sixth with a time of 2:43:50 ” more than 3 minutes ahead of the 2:47:00 cutoff.

Recommended Stories For You

It wasn’t easy. By mile 22 ” one mile beyond the farthest distance she had ever run, Mandy said ” her body began to rebel.

“My body had had it. I was totally finished,” she said, explaining that her calves absorbed the brunt of the punishment. “The last straight-away was about three-quarters of a mile, and I was just staring at the clock. I was really relieved I made the cut time. It was the hardest run of my life ” and I’ve had a lot of bad runs.”

Just none that lasted 26.2 miles, as Mandy’s extensive racing background includes shorter-distance trail runs, half marathons, snowshoe races and triathlons.

Despite her lack of experience running such a distance, she averaged 6:18 per mile overall ” this with a strong headwind that Mandy said slowed everyone’s time by a good two to three minutes. During the first half of the marathon, Mandy said she averaged 6 minutes per mile before slowing to her target pace of about 6:08. Struggling through “excruciating” pain the final stretch added several seconds to her average time.

“My calves were just finished,” she said of the final four miles. “I was hanging on for dear life.”

Once across the finish, Mandy said she walked straight back to her hotel to nurse her aching calves, which remained sore three weeks after the race.

So far, Mandy is one of 175 athletes to qualify for the Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials, which will be held in Boston on April 20 ” one day before the Boston Marathon. The qualifying window stretches from Jan. 1 to March 23, in which time an athlete must complete a USATF-sanctioned marathon within the 2:47:00 cutoff time.

Although Mandy showed she could keep pace with some of the nation’s most elite distance runners, she said she doesn’t plan to abandon shorter-distance races, which remain her specialty.

“I don’t even really consider myself a marathon runner. I guess technically I am, but I don’t identify with that yet,” Mandy said. “I’ve always put off long races because I didn’t want to become slow. My hope and plan is to go back to running shorter, faster races while sprinkling in marathons.”

For now, however, she’s in full marathon-training mode.

Starting this past week, Mandy said she began to ratchet up the distance of her runs, putting in a total of 70 miles in six days. From here on, she’ll range between 80 and 100 miles a week. She said she doesn’t run 25-plus miles in single training sessions because her goal is to train her legs to churn quickly. And aerobically, she’s right where she needs to be.

“I was taking it easy until this week. Now I’m bumping up the miles and lifting weights, and skate skiing a couple times a week,” Mandy said. “I also just bought a treadmill, which helps with a kid (2-year-old daughter Ella).”

As far as her expectations entering the trials, Mandy said she’s not banking on a top-3 finish, which would earn her a coveted spot on the U.S. Women’s Marathon Team headed to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. While she said she’d be happy placing in the top 10, she acknowledged that anything is possible.

“I’m not counting it out. I never count anything out,” Mandy said of making the U.S. team. “I’m going to run my own race that day and not get sucked into anything going on. If the cards fall my way, it might happen.”

But it’s more likely in 2012, she said.

“I’m a realist. What happens at the trials happens, but I have to be realistic about my body, and I think that by 2012 my body will be much more mature,” Mandy said.

“I definitely have my work cut out for me. But I love it.”

Mandy, who moved to Truckee with her husband Gary in June, placed first among women and 16th overall (35:37) in the Squaw Mountain Run this past summer, and was the first woman ” sixth overall (4:46) ” to finish the Firecracker Mile in Truckee on the Fourth of July.

She also won the Nike Half Marathon in San Francisco at the end of September, and took first in the XTERRA USA Championship 10K trail run in Incline Village the same month.

Running competitively since the age of 20, Mandy joined the U.S. National Triathlon Team while attending University of Colorado. Due to injuries and chronic fatigue from overtraining, she got out of professional triathlon racing in 2003, after which she and Gary moved to Hong Kong because of Gary’s job as a commercial pilot. (Gary also raced professionally as a triathlete.)

In Asia, Mandy dominated the racing scene, placing second only once in four years while winning every other race she entered ” mostly shorter-distance events. She said she still holds the 15K record in Hong Kong.

Mandy also raced half marathons during a three-month stint living in South Africa.

After moving to Truckee, Mandy started teaching yoga for infants and children. She also teaches an infant massage class and is the head coach of Girls on the Run ” a self-esteem and healthy lifestyle program for girls ages 8-11.

For more information about Mandy, her programs and her future goals, visit http://www.giamandy.com.

Where: Boston

When: April 20 (day before the Boston Marathon)

Course: The Trials will not be run on the traditional Boston Marathon course; it will be a loop course covering Cambridge and Boston with the traditional Boylston Street finish.

To qualify: Complete a USATF-sanctioned marathon in 2:47:00 or faster

Mandy’s Houston Marathon time: 2:43:50

Standards: 2:39:00 or faster is “A” standard, 2:39:01-2:47:00 is a “B” standard. “A” standard runners are given complimentary accommodations.

Qualifying window: Jan. 1, 2006-March 23, 2008

Women qualified: 175 (not all have registered)

Who qualifies for the U.S. Women’s Marathon Team: The first three women across finish line.