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Richmond, 2006

Vic Dorr, Jr. Nov 12, 2006 – Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond, Va.

Maureen Ackerly’s victory in the women’s portion of the 29th SunTrust Richmond marathon was achieved more with heart than legs and feet.

Ackerly, a 37-year-old Richmond attorney and mother of two, conquered lightheadedness, persistent cramping in her calves and unseasonable heat and humidity to win yesterday’s 26.2-mile race through the streets and neighborhoods of Richmond. Her time (2:53:14) was nearly three minutes faster than that of her closest pursuer, 34-year-old Russian Elvira Kolpakova.

“At around 16 miles I remember thinking, ‘Uh-oh. This has a chance to get really, really ugly,’ ” Ackerly said.

So visibly was she laboring in the latter stages of the race, she said, that friends and relatives following on bicycles “were literally encouraging me just to put one foot in front of the other. Basically, they said, ‘Just go as far as you can.’ ”

She dug deep at this juncture for inspiration that was uniquely female. Ackerly, racing a marathon for the first time since giving birth to her two children – now 3 years and 17 1/2 months – re- called her preparation for childbirth. “Everybody said, ‘Oh, well. If you’ve run a marathon, you’ll certainly be able to handle labor.’ ” Her mantra yesterday: ” ‘Look, you’ve been through labor twice. You can certainly handle this.’ ”

Ackerly hoped to run yesterday’s race in 2:47, thereby satisfying the ‘B’ qualifying standard for the U.S. Olympic Trials. She and her husband/coach, Ben, aware that optimum performances were unlikely in yesterday’s warm, humid conditions, left open the possibility of bailing out early in the race and trying for a 2:47 in cooler, drier weather.

Ackerly chose to trudge onward, she said, because “more than anything else, I wanted to make my family proud of me. That’s probably more important to me, even, than going to the Olympic Trials. When you’re in love with your coach and your support group calls you, ‘Mommy,’ and they’ve all done so much to make something like this possible – all you want to do is try to pay them back.”

She received at least one other bit of compensation: the $2,500 winner’s check.

The race began poorly for the new champion. She trailed Kolpakova by a wide margin in the early going but rallied to pull even near Mile 12. She said her husband advised her beforehand: ” ‘Never make a move on the leader unless you’re prepared to stick with it.’ I didn’t know if I was prepared or not. But I was in a pretty good rhythm at that point and I didn’t want to change anything, so I said, ‘What the heck.’ ”

The next few miles were an exercise in suspense. Ackerly, unsure of Kolpakova’s location, ran grimly, tenaciously until reaching the Lee Bridge. Here a fellow runner – “He was so supportive” – peeked over his shoulder and told her: ” ‘You’ve got about 50 yards on (Kolpakova).’ After that I was able to relax a little bit.”

Kolpakova, the runner-up for two consecutive years, ran on an inflammed left knee that rendered her incapable of responding to Ackerly’s mid-race challenge. She told interpreter Natasha Smith that she “struggled all day with my knee and the heat. At the end, I was running on one leg.”

She twice mentioned that her discomfort was so intense that she considered pulling out. Why didn’t she?

“Sometimes you have to overcome yourself,” she said. “It’s a disease of professional runners. You have to fight through it. If you don’t, if you quit, you’re just making it easier to quit the next time.”

Johanna Allen, a 25-year-old from Woodbridge, finished third, a stride behind Kolpakova, in 2:56.14. Michelle Mudge-Riley, a 29- year-old from Glen Allen, placed fourth in 3:00.31. Tammy Slusser, a 41-year-old former champion from Monroeville, Pa., finished fifth (3:02.38). The top-five finish was Slusser’s fourth in five years.

Top 10
1. Maureen Ackerly / 2:53:14
2. Elvira Kolpakova / 2:56:03
3. Johanna B. Allen / 2:56:09
4. M. Mudge-Riley / 3:00:26
5. Tammy Slusser / 3:02:38
6. Paula Baldasano / 3:03:43
7. Suzanne L. Lewis / 3:06:47
8. Karen A. Black / 3:10:42
9. Kate L. Woodliff / 3:11:35
10. Johanna E. Bischof / 3:14:04

Contact staff writer Vic Dorr Jr. at or (804) 649-6442.

Napa, 2008

Four reach Olympic Trials

Ackerley wins Napa Valley Marathon women’s title; three others also attain USATF ‘B’ standard at ‘last chance’ qualifier for Boston prelim
Executive Sports Editor Mar 3, 2008

Maureen Ackerly of Richmond, Va., celebrates as she crosses the finish line at Vintage High School on Sunday morning to win the women’s title of the 30th annual Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon. Ackerly was one of four women to qualify Olympic Trials J.L. Sousa/Register

Maureen Ackerly smiled and raised her arms in triumph as she crossed the finish line at Vintage High School as the women’s overall champion of Sunday’s Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon.

But it wasn’t until about a half-hour or so afterward when the magnitude of her win in the 26.2-mile race from Calistoga to Napa hit her, as she was overcome with emotion.

Ackerly traveled from her home in Richmond, Va., after hearing that several elite-level runners were going to be in the field and shooting for qualifying times for the U.S. Olympic Women’s Marathon Team Trials.

To Ackerly’s delight, she more than qualified for the trials, which are on April 20 in Boston. The Trials race will select the three women for the U.S. Olympic marathon squad that will compete at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China in August.

She took advantage of a couple of key factors — a steady tailwind out of the north and a very fast field — to finish 13th overall and win the women’s title in a time of 2 hours, 44 minutes, 25 seconds, a 6:17 per mile pace.

“This was kind of my last shot,” said Ackerly, 38, an attorney who went to Duke and then law school at William & Mary. “I read about all the women coming here. We thought on one hand it’s an awfully long way to go to run a race. But it was a combination of all the incredible women that were coming out here and the thought of being able to run with them.

“The race coordinators were incredibly supportive of this group and e-mailed us and said we want to get you guys all together so you can have the best possible shot at making the Trials. I just thought there is no better opportunity than this. I just can’t say enough about the organization of this marathon. They made it possible. We had just an incredible group of women running together.”

It was also a good day for three other women: Claudia Becque of Chicago, Shalluin Fullove of Palo Alto and Mary Coordt of Elk Grove. They each qualified for the Trials, which will be hosted by the Boston Athletic Association the day before the 112th running of the Boston Marathon.

Starting and finishing at the traditional Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street, the Olympic Trials race will feature a specially designed course that tours historic Boston with a one-time loop that passes Boston Public Garden, Boston Common, the State House and Beacon Hill. The course will then feature four loops of approximately six miles each proceeding down Commonwealth Avenue, crossing the Charles River into Cambridge using the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, running east, then west along Memorial Drive. Runners then return from each of the Core Loops via Massachusetts Avenue.

All four ran personal records on Sunday.

“These four women were really motivated and dedicated and, I think, desperate to get into the Trials,” said Rich Benyo, a race director. “It will be the high point in their running lives. It’s an incredible opportunity.”

Becque was 15th overall in a time of 2:44:52, a 6:18 per-mile pace; Fullove was 17th overall, clocking 2:46:04, a 6:20 pace; and Coordt was 18th overall, finishing the long distance race from Calistoga to Napa in 2:46:30, a 6:21 pace.

They were all aiming for a finishing time that is 2 hours, 47 minutes-flat or faster, the “B” standard set by USA Track & Field to qualify for the Trials. The women’s “A” standard is 2:39:00, which awards travel and lodging expenses for the Trials to the women who achieve it. Approximately 125 of the country’s top female distance runners will participate in next month’s Trials race.

They were paced by Caroline Annis, who has already qualified for her second U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials. The San Francisco resident, who was a member of the Stanford University cross country and track teams from 1998-2002, set the pace and tempo before intentionally pulling out at Mile 18. Her teammates are Fullove and Becque. All three are coached by Tom McGlynn, the president of Focus-N-Fly.

“In the end, they did all the work and they got themselves there,” said Annis. “I think it’s nice for them to be relaxed at the beginning of the race and not to have to worry about the pace and just let someone else set the pace.”

High winds out of the northwest almost knocked down the banner, which goes across the Silverado Trail near Rosedale Road at the starting line. But the windy conditions blew the finish banner down.

Despite a wind chill in the high 30s, there was still plenty of spirit and excitement for the race that started at 7 a.m. Joan Benoit Samuelson, the 1984 Summer Olympic Games gold medalist, ran the first 20 miles of the race as a training run as she continues to prepare for her seventh Trials.

“If there was a year that you wanted perfect conditions, this was the year to give these gals a chance to qualify,” said Benyo. “We had a really perfect day weather-wise. It was a real positive tailwind for the runners, which allowed them to remain cool because of the wind chill factor, but also push them along.”

Napa was a “last chance” marathon for those still trying to qualify. The qualifying window for the Trials began on Jan. 1, 2006. It will end on March 23.

Ackerly didn’t run in high school or college, but took to marathoning, where she has continued to improve her times. She won the Richmond Marathon in her hometown in 2:53 and was second last year at Richmond with a 2:48.

“In my past marathons, the last six miles I’ve always fallen apart,” said Ackerly, married with two young children. “This time I just somehow managed to keep it together.

“Caroline Annis was a metronome pacing us. It was just incredible.”

Ackerly kept telling herself Sunday to stay positive, not to get too anxious and show patience.

“This is a great course. It really lends itself to having a negative split.”

Becque said qualifying is a huge accomplishment.

“It was a perfect day — perfect weather, perfect conditions,” she said. “I felt great. Caroline paced us amazingly, it felt comfortable, and I had great women around me.

“I’m so happy. I want to thank Tom for coaching me and all my Fleet Feet gang for training with me and all the girls helping me today. I wouldn’t have done it without all the support. I’m just ecstatic. I’m so grateful that I have such an amazing team and coach and supporters out there.”

Fullove also excelled in the 30th annual race, taking advantage of the favorable conditions.

“The wind just kept coming up at the right time, right when you wanted to slow down it just lifted you right up,” she said. “Our splits were perfect. Caroline did just such a great job the whole way. I just tried not to think until Mile 20. I was just surprised how good I felt at Mile 20.

“After the 20-mile mark I knew we were on pace — I said ‘Don’t let up one bit,’ because at that point your body is sort of deceiving. I said ‘I have to go for it, I can’t slow down.’ I just tried to stay positive. I knew I was having a good day. But I didn’t know if I was going to do it. I just tried to stay as relaxed as possible and do the least amount of work for as long as I could.”

Coordt is on her way to her third Trials race; she also qualified in 2000 and 2004. She added it takes a magical day to attain a qualifying time.

“It’s so much easier when you have a group of people to run with,” she said. “We tried to be patient and see what happens. There was definitely some wind in spots that was helpful. I can’t deny that. I’ve run 32 marathons and everyone’s been different. You just never know what can happen.”