For Marci Klimek Gage, the fourth time was a charm.
In her fourth career marathon, the former Phoenix High runner set a personal record and qualified for the 2016 Olympic trials at Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minn., on June 21.
WHO: The 26-year-old Bend resident is a former Phoenix High and Linfield runner and the four-time reigning Pear Blossom Run women's champion.
WHAT: Klimek Gage ran a personal record of 2 hours, 35 minutes, 38 seconds, qualified for the 2016 Olympic marathon trials and placed fifth out of 2,714 women at Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minn., June 21.
The 26-year-old Gage, who lives in Bend, finished in 2 hours, 35 minutes, 38 seconds, placing her fifth out of 2,714 women.
The Olympic A standard is 2:37. Her previous best was 2:39.
The time guaranteed the former Linfield College All-American a trip to Los Angeles for the Feb. 13, 2016 race. With separate starts, the men's and women's events will be carried in their entirety on NBC. The LA Marathon will follow the day after.
The top three finishers advance to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Gage — the four-time reigning Pear Blossom Run women's champion — moved steadily alongside Lake Superior in a meaningful Southern Oregon Runners uniform that had been mailed to her. She measured her speed conservatively for the first six miles of the flat highway course before turning her watch off and accelerating about six miles in. Gage gradually moved from 17th to fifth and was never passed in the cool, foggy conditions.
Longtime coach Garry Killgore could not have been happier for her.
"Oh my gosh, I was in tears," he said. "I was ecstatic. Because you know how much work and effort and time she puts in and the kinds of sacrifices she and her husband make."
As for Gage's first three marathons? Each presented obstacles and learning moments, she says.
Her first was in 2011 in Portland, where Gage spotted a clock on the final corner only to see that she had already missed the mark. At her next marathon — the California International between Folsom and Sacramento in December of 2012 — heavy rain and wind made conditions brutal. She battled to a PR (2:46), but left "knowing I had more."
In the Twin Cities Marathon in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area last fall, she took 10th with a 2:39 "but had a terrible race," walking at one point.
"I learned a ton about fueling and just how to run a marathon there," Gage says. "As much as it wasn't fun it was a good experience. I went out way too hard and wasn't wearing a watch. Some of the times on the course were off and I had no idea what the pace was. Halfway through I knew I was in trouble."
"There is a time to let the horses run and a time to keep them corralled up," Killgore says of doing well in marathons.
Gage didn't let that happen last week.
"It was a much smarter race," she says. "I didn't want to get in the same situation."
But looking back, she believes she could have logged an even better time had she pushed herself harder earlier.
"I was able to negative split the whole course and ran my fastest mile at the very end," she says. "That was the only time I wish I had another 5K. ... But it worked out OK."
Gage plans to register for a few smaller races before doing the New York City Marathon Nov. 2. She has only scratched the surface of what she is capable of, Killgore says.
"Now that I hit the time it frees me up for doing courses that aren't known for being fast," she says. "New York can be slow and hilly, but it's very competitive. It'll be fun to go and do that and not have to worry."
Adds Killgore: "It's like getting a gorilla off her back. It's huge. Now she can focus on super quality training."
And, when the day comes in 2016, she'll give LA all she's got.
"You don't have anything to lose," she says.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt