When Sacramento's Jenny Hitchings ran the Eugene Marathon in 2 hours, 46 minutes, 10 seconds in May, she broke her personal record by about four minutes.
She also missed qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials by 10 seconds.
"It was bittersweet," said Hitchings, 48.
The improvement, though, was enough to convince her to keep chasing the qualifying standard. On Sunday, Hitchings will be among the more than 100 American men and women running for a Trials berth at the 29th California International Marathon.
Dec. 11 is the last day to qualify for the 2012 Trials scheduled for Jan. 14 in Houston which means those attempting to qualify at the CIM most likely will be taking their final shot. The men's standard is 2:19; the women's is 2:46.
"There's just a ton of people who have signed up with that time in mind," said race director John Mansoor.
Fifteen Americans, 13 women and two men, ran under the respective standards at last year's CIM. The 26.2-mile test from Folsom to the State Capitol is known as a speedy course with newly surfaced roads that provide good footing and weather that is often ideal, Mansoor said.
Hitchings, a self-described "late bloomer" in running, was the first local female finisher in last year's marathon, and said she'll be trying to meet the standard despite losing training time earlier this fall to a partial calf tear.
"If everything comes together and it's a great day, like at Eugene, I think I'll have a shot at this," Hitchings said. "I basically did it. Now I just have to officially do it."
For many runners, said Auburn resident Brad Poore, "the Olympic Trials is kind of our Olympics. It's a chance to rub shoulders with some of the best athletes in the world and to kind of be a part of history."
The top three men's and top three women's finishers at the Trials will represent the United States in the marathon at the 2012 London Olympics.
Poore, 33, competed at the 2008 Trials and "loved the whole experience." The men's standard that year was 2:22, and Poore is still trying to meet the 2012 standard.
He posted times this year of 2:21.13 at San Diego and 2:22.05 at the Twin Cities Marathon but said the CIM course is probably one to two minutes faster. If he stays in similar shape leading up to Sunday, he said, hitting the 2:19 mark may be a matter of "finding a few extra seconds."
"Really, it's just kind of a question of the stars aligning," Poore said.
Tim Tollefson, 26, of Roseville, ran the Chicago Marathon in 2:21.59 in early October. It was his first marathon following a full training cycle.
Reaching the Trials has been a goal for several years, he said, and he has particular incentive to do so in 2012. His fiancée, Lindsay Nelson, already has qualified.
"She definitely reminds me that I need to punch my ticket so I can join her in Houston," Tollefson said.
Their friendly rivalry dates to their years as distance runners at Chico State, he said. Now pursuing a master's degree in physical therapy at Sacramento State, Tollefson has been training for the CIM in Florida while finishing an internship.
"She's very supportive," Tollefson said of Nelson, 26. "I'm in Florida by myself, but just knowing that she's done it, and she's out there training by herself, it helps me get out the door in the morning."
"If he can get it this year, it'd be awesome," said Nelson, who qualified in Long Beach last year and ran the San Diego Rock'n'Roll Marathon in June in 2:43. "You don't find too many duos that do this."
Sacramento's Megan Daly, 32, said she plans to tweak her approach to the early stages of the marathon. A radiation oncologist at the UC Davis Cancer Center who is attempting to qualify for her third Trials, Daly said she "kind of fell apart" late in last year's CIM and missed the standard by 2 minutes, 26 seconds.
"I'm going to stick right at the 6:19-per-mile (pace) to hit the 2:46.00," she said. "Not go too fast in the first 10 miles."
Mario Mendoza, 25, of Bend, Ore., will try again to hit the men's standard after stomach issues derailed his bid at the Chicago Marathon. Mendoza, who won the 2010 USA Track and Field Trail Championships Series, said he had trouble taking water from the provided plastic cups and his "stomach just kind of locked up" around the 18-mile mark.
Mendoza completed his first road marathon in 2:24.12 in Indianapolis on Nov. 5 but "wasn't going out crazy hard" in order to shorten his recovery time, he said.
After qualifying at the CIM in 2007 for the 2008 Trials, Marie Sample, of Marshall, Minn., "got kind of greedy," she said. Instead of taking recovery time before gearing up for the Trials in April, Sample said she tried to train straight through and developed an inflamed Achilles' tendon.
"I actually got to the point where I couldn't run," said Sample, now 35.
She competed at the Trials but wasn't satisfied with her time of 2:59.01.
"I've got some unfinished business," she said.