Saturday, January 07, 2012

She's The Top Of The Heap

While the Buzzard hasn't finished compiling his full list - he has made his choice as his Open Female Runner Of The Year.

Carrying on from her fine 2010 campaign, Sarah Graves of Ballantine (NE of Billings) had a breakout year in 2011.  She was the Buzzard's Open Female Runner Of The Year for 2010; but, was ranked behind the Overall and Master ROY Nicole Hunt.  Given her 2011 season, there was no such question of Sarah being the best of the best of the Montana Women.

Let's look first at her top performances from inside the borders of the Treasure State:
  • 1st @ Wulfman CDT 14-K Trail (68:34) (# 3 Time on Course)
  • 1st @ Women's Run 2-Mile (11:33)
  • 1st Overall @ Beartooth Run 8.4 Mile (84:48) (2,000' elevation gain)
  • 1st @ MT Marathon (Billings) 1/2-Marathon (79:05)
  • 3rd @ MT Cup (only :33 out of 1st Place)

Great Picture of Sarah (in Yellow Brooks gear on right) as she finishes her 2-mile win at the Montana Women's Run.
To her left is US running legend Joan Benoit Samuelson winning the 5-mile race.
But, where Sarah really shined in 2011 was at the Marathon distance at 4 different races across the country.  In a snapshot, here's what she accomplished over the 26.2 miles:
  • Houston Marathon - 1/30/11 - 2:47:21 - 16th Woman
  • Eugene Marathon- 4/30/11 - 2:46:20 - 6thWoman
  • Philadelphia Marathon - 11/19/11 - 2:46:24 - 6th Woman
  • California International Marathon - 12/4/11 - 2:44:25 - 16th Woman
All by themselves, those are some prety top level performances.  She's running in some pretty elite company at that level.  And, her 2:44:25 at CIM in December is really something, especially considering that it came just 2 weeks after her race in Philadelphia.  But, what's the most impressive part about that Sacramento race - by running under 2:46:00, Sarah qualified for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials - where she will be the only Montanan (male or female) to compete.

Collectively, that set of performances puts her at the top of the Buzzard's list for Montana women in 2011.

But, I would be remiss if I didn't talk a bit more about Sarah and her journey to the Trials.  With one week to go before the big race, I visited with Sarah by phone to get a little more insight into her efforts over the last 5 years to run on the hallowed ground of American Marathoning.

The race is scheduled to be held next Saturday (January 14th) on a multiple loop cource in and around downtown Houston.  The runner's will do a first loop of 2.2 miles around downtwon, followed by three 8-mile loops along the Allen Parkway.  The men start first (7:00 a.m. Mountain Time) with the women to follow 15 minutes later.  Same day TV coverage will be on NBC from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Mountain Time.  (Not sure if there will be any live on-line video coverage; but, Runner's World & Running Times will be doing live web coverage.)

Sarah first started trying to qualify for the 2008 Trials.  She missed the 2008 standard by just 61 seconds at the 2007 St. George Marathon; and, had a couple of other efforts in the 2:52 range.  Starting in 2009, she began her quest to meet the 2012 Qualifying Standard of 2:46:00.  Her first attempt was at the 2009 Twin Cities Marathon, where she ran 2:47+, just missing again.  She then made several attempts in 2010 running between 2:48 and 2:52.

Then she really went after the mark in 2011, coming Oh-So-Close on 3 occasions.  She missed the time by 1:21 in Houston, :20 at Eugene and :24 at Philly.  But, she just didn't want to close out the year thinking "Why didn't I give it one more try."  So, with just two weeks of recovery, she packed her bags and headed off to Sacramento for the December 4th California International Marathon.

After Philly, she spent a couple of days walking around the City of Brotherly Love to give her legs some post race rest.  Then, she did some easy running, with just one 10-mile run before Sacramento.  She was relying on her solid base fitness to get her through the last chance effort.

At Sacramento, their were around 50 women all with the same thought in mind - hit the Q-Time.  With that in mind, race organizers set up a pacing effot to get the group through halfway in 1:22 (for a finishing goal of 2:44:00).  A group of about 30 hit the mark just right - 1:22:11.  The group stuck together pretty well through about 35 Kilometers; the, it was everyone for themselves.

Sarah held on just right, coming through the second half in 1:22:14 (perfect, even splits) to hit her 2:44:25.  The big group helped tow her along to the great finish time, with 14 women running between 2:43:48 and 2:44:51.  In total, 29 women qualified to make the trip to Houston.  Sarah clearly made the right choice in making one more attempt to qualify - and, she clearly picked the right race.

Via the California International Marathon site (, you track down some cool photos of Sarah in the race and at the finish line.  Try this link and it may take you right to the search pictures section of the official race photographer -

Since Sacramento, Sarah took several easy days.  Then got back into the training groove with several 18 - 20 mile long runs, togeter with several tempo efforts.  She says that her legs are feeling good and she thinks that she's pretty well recovered from her Philly and CIM efforts.  (And, she clearly has the ability to sustain several hard efforts in short windows of time.)

She head to Houston this coming Thursday; and, would love to score a new PR - although she was coy about divulging any specific race or performance goals.

So, from The Muddy Buzzard and all of Big Sky Country - good luck.  Run Hard, Run Fast, Run Happy.  We wish you the best of luck as you line up with the best women in the US at our Olympic Marathon Trials.

See you on the roads, tracks and trails

The Muddy Buzzard

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