As a child, Liana Bernard fantasized about running in the Olympics. Last month, she came one step closer to realizing her dream.
Bernard, a 29-year-old Medford resident, placed third in the Rock and Roll Arizona marathon last month with a time of 2:42:27, well under the women's Olympic qualifying standard of 2:46:00.
for Olympic Trials marathon
Two former prep runners from the Rogue Valley have qualified for the Men's Olympic Marathon Trials.
Crater High School graduate Max King ran a 2:15:34 at the 2010 Baltimore Marathon, placing him at No. 22 on the men's list.
Eagle Point High School alumnus John Lucas is ranked 53rd after his time of 2:18:53 at the 2009 Chicago Marathon.
To see the U.S. Olympic Marathon rankings, see www.usatf.org/events/2012/OlympicTrials-Marathon/entry/index.asp
"After the race, I was on cloud nine," says Bernard. "Now, I've got to get as fast as I can in a year."
The clock is ticking.
The Olympic Trials marathon will be held in Houston, Texas on Jan. 14, 2012. The top three finishers in the trials will make the U.S. Olympic team. Bernard's time in Arizona places her at number 55 on the list of women who have qualified for the trials.
To make the team, she'll likely need to chop at least 13 minutes off her time. That's a long way to go, but Bernard has come a long way in a short time. She's only been training for the marathon for a year and a half.
"It took me five years to run again after college," Bernard recalls. "I went through a hard trial in '09, and running really gave me something to keep going and feel good about myself and give me a goal."
On a whim, she perused the runnersworld.com website and found a training schedule. Then she showed up at a friend's house in Portland the day before the October 2009 Portland Marathon. Her friend's boyfriend, Joel Gordon, was a coach.
"Liana truly did not have a clue how to approach the marathon, so we talked about how to execute a race plan," says Gordon. "She then ran 3:09:11 in her debut, and later that day asked me to coach her."
Her progress since then, says Gordon, is nothing short of phenomenal. He believes she has the right ingredients to excel.
"She's 4-foot-10, 95 pounds, she's very muscular," says Gordon. "She's got a small frame but a big engine and a really competitive attitude. You take all those ingredients and put them together and you get an ideal marathoner."
Gordon's training philosophy emphasizes improvement through proper recovery. Bernard wears a heart-rate monitor to ensure her heart rate stays within a specified range, especially during the easy runs. This allows the body to recover better from hard workouts.
"A lot of elite and average runners don't take their easy days easy. We take our hard days hard and easy days easy," Gordon explains.
This approach seems to be working.
Bernard began her training running 65 miles a week. Now she up to 85 to 100 miles a week. Last year she ran two marathons, chopping first 12 then 11 minutes off her time, the latter at the Chicago Marathon. She missing qualifying for the trials by a mere 16 seconds in Chicago.
"At Chicago there were some girls who looked really fast. That intimidated me," says Bernard. "At Arizona I had to run my own race, stick to my game plan."
In Arizona, she found herself in second place for most of the race, and got a boost from the crowd.
"The spectators knew my name and they yelled out 'go Liana, you're 45 seconds behind the lead girl,' " Bernard recalls. "I didn't have my name on my tag, one of the bicyclists was riding ahead, telling the spectators my name."
Bernard has covered a lot of territory in her running.
She grew up in Hawaii and ran for Maui High School. After learning about Southern Oregon University from a family friend, she decided it was time to "get off the rock and head for the mainland."
At SOU, she nearly quit track after one year, discouraged by the competition, and still struggling with culture shock.
"My coach said I was a big fish from a small pond becoming a small fish in a big pond," Bernard says. "That helped me stick with it. I'm not a quitter."
She's glad she didn't quit. In her senior year, she earned All-American status, placing fourth in the 10,000-meter track race in the NCAA Division II National Championships.
Eight years later, Bernard finds herself again as a small fish, but in an even bigger pond. She's ready to make the sacrifices it takes to succeed.
"I work for the nonprofit Living Opportunities, and I was averaging 30 hours a week. I've cut that to 20 to focus on my training," says Bernard.
The cut in pay has made it tough to make ends meet. She's adapted by renting a trailer from a friend and rides her bicycle as much as possible.
"It's a balance; that's the financial challenge. I make less money so I have less to be able to fund my running."
So far, so good. Bernard plans to run one more marathon before the Olympic trials, probably in the summer. She's got hard work ahead of her.
"She trains hard, has a great attitude about training hard," says Gordon. "If it was easy, everyone would do it."
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.