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Tiny Giant

Liana Bernard once had an island.

Now, she has a 1965 Northwest Coach.

The travel trailer is about the size of a matchbox, but the 30-year-old Medford resident — who stands 4-foot-10-1/2 inches tall and weighs 92 pounds — calls it perfect.

And though space is limited, the Hawaii native wants you to make yourself at home here.

Do you want a sandwich? she asks. Do you want tea? Wait — Bernard reaches into a cabinet — do you want a box of chocolates?

Have as much as you want, Bernard says, because she is now just days away from competing in the Olympic Trials Marathon in Houston and she does not even want to be tempted by the sweets.

Her generosity makes this place feel bigger.

There is a bed (Bernard can stand on it without bonking her head), a table (that has actually been converted into a second bed), a bathroom, a small refrigerator, a stove, a mini-heater and a TV.

There are Precious Moments collectables and knick-knacks that Bernard adores, inspirational books and, of course, there is all of her running stuff.

"I have everything I need," an unfailingly optimistic Bernard says with a smile that she flashes often. "It's simple and easy. Everything is in one spot."

The trailer may best encapsulate Bernard's willingness to sacrifice time and money as she chases down her Olympic dreams, but the fading antique, like a caterpillar's cocoon, reveals a shell rather than a soul.

Inside, the running world is learning, there is something much more grand.

"She runs the way you want to in a longer race, which is to start conservatively and then get rolling," says Portland-based coach and author Richard Lovett, who has worked with Bernard since April. "And when she gets rolling and it's her day, she is going to roll really well."

As Bernard blossoms in her sport, she heals from the emotional wounds of a divorce and a bout with runners' burnout. All the while she has grappled with the constant financial uncertainty that has come along with making running a top priority.

But running, and her faith, have helped mend the deepest scars. Bernard says she feels as wealthy — and as strong — as ever.

"I'd like to think that I'm a warrior," Bernard says.

A warrior in running shoes.

Bernard, who works at Living Opportunities in Medford, is the 77th fastest qualifier by marathon time out of the 223 women who have clinched the chance to compete at the Trials in Houston Saturday. The event will determine the three men and three women who will represent the United States in the marathon at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The former All-American runner at Southern Oregon University punched her ticket after placing third in the Rock and Roll Arizona Marathon last January with a time of 2 hours, 42 minutes, 28 seconds, well under the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:46:00.

Since then, Bernard has performed excellently at several other events and even turned in a record-setting performance on her home turf in Maui.

In Texas, she is simply hoping for the best.

"I've had to realize that no matter what happens there, I have to appreciate and enjoy the fact that I even made it there," says Bernard, who competes with Team Red Lizard. "Not many people can say they made it to the Olympic Trials. I can't take that for granted."

It's a dream that began many years ago as a tiny girl in Kula. The sight of Olympians running on TV captivated her.

Soon enough, Bernard was running herself — running away in fact.

"My parents see this little head bobbing down the road, down the driveway, and my dad booked it down the hill," Bernard recalls of her near escape from home when she was 2. "He catches me right before I make it out of the fence. They had a hard time keeping up with me."

Bernard says boys would pick on her in elementary school. In response, she would chase them.

"All the parents were like, 'Oh my gosh, your daughter is so fast," she says. "Moms were like, 'Your daughter has really good form.'"

The daughter of a Japanese mother and a father from Connecticut, Bernard competed in elementary school, middle school and in high school at Maui High, where she graduated in 1999.

Bernard initially felt culture shock as a Raider in Ashland, but she went on to earn NAIA All-American status in the 10,000-meter race as a senior.

Bernard graduated from SOU with a business marketing degree in 2003. She moved back to the Rogue Valley after an internship in 2005 and met her future husband.

The two separated in early 2009.

"I couldn't eat, I felt really anxious and scared and depressed all at the same time," Bernard says of her reaction to the divorce. "I lost a ton of weight. When I did eat, my stomach couldn't handle it. But I really used that time to build my relationship with God. I made Him my everything."

Before all of this, Bernard took six years off from competing, from 2003 until 2009. Then she entered the 2009 Portland Marathon, which was her first marathon ever.

"I had no idea what I was doing," Bernard recalls. "But I stuck to a plan and ran a 3:09."

Afterward, Joel Gordon — her former coach — told her that she had the potential to make the Olympic Trials.

"That was like gold to me to hear that," Bernard says.

And just like that, "I was hooked," she said.

In May 2010, she completed the Eugene Marathon in 2:56.59. In October of that same year, Bernard ran the Chicago Marathon in 2:46.16, coming up just 16 seconds short of the Olympic qualifying standard.

Then she did the Arizona marathon about three months later.

Doing back-to-back marathons left Bernard feeling burned out. She took a few weeks off after competing in Arizona and, in March, entered her first race since the marathon. At the Portland Shamrock 15K run, she was frustrated to see her effort was two minutes slower than the first time she was there.

"The mental effect of all that heavy training, the marathon blues, took a huge toll," she says.

So what was the remedy? Bernard hit the reset button, putting away her navigation device and watch and taking on different routes without monitoring herself.

"I started running for the pure enjoyment of running," she says.

In May, she decided she was ready to race again.

"I was like, 'OK, if I am asking to race and I want to race then it is a good sign,'" Bernard says.

A big highlight of Bernard's gradual renaissance came last September at the Maui Half Marathon, where she finished in 1:20:45 for third overall while setting an American women's record for the event.

Bernard also won the Santa Barbara International Half Marathon in 2011.

"What we have done is slowly rebuild," Lovett says.

Earlier this month, she placed 105th in the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Seattle.

Being surrounded by other great runners in Seattle was as valuable as a victory for Bernard.

"That was the smartest move we did in training," Lovett says. "It turned everything on."

Keeping it on has required plenty of behind-the-scenes training.

Bernard usually rises early in the winter, bundles up with several layers and gloves and then — after taking some time to wake up — begins a trek around Jackson County, usually on the streets of Medford. Afterward, she tries to get a nap in to allow her body to heal before hustling to work, a non-profit that supports clients with special needs.

During big training weeks, Bernard has logged 100 miles. That ends up being about 13 hours of running, plus time for weight training, abdominal work, stretching and planning running practice schedules, race trips and meal plans.

"Liana is extremely dedicated and meticulous about doing the assigned workout," Lovett says.

Saving money has been the name of the game for Bernard since getting very serious about running. She had her work hours scaled back to 28 per week so she could get in more training and rest.

"Basically I'm living paycheck to paycheck and really waiting for that check to come in," Bernard says with a laugh.

Bernard has also received generous financial support from people like Rudy Huber, the Maui Marathon race director who paid for her airfare and lodging at Houston. The two began chatting on the popular social networking website Facebook when Huber asked how he could help.

One of Bernard's other key supporters has been Kaliya Mayell, the founder of Maui Xtreme Sportsynergy Bars.

It's the warmth of her supporters that Bernard seems to feel strongest, not the cold of an early winter day or the chill of a bitter memory.

But truly, Bernard says, she is thankful for it all — the good, the bad and even the trailer.

Turns out, there's just enough room inside the Northwest Coach for a giant.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com

Runner Liana Bernard will compete in the Olympic Marathon Trials Saturday in Houston. - Julia Moore