Sports

UC Davis grad aims for Olympic Trials qualifier in debut marathon at CIM

Kaitlin Gregg Goodman is training for Sunday’s California International Marathon. It’s her first race of that distance, but the experienced runner hopes to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
Kaitlin Gregg Goodman is training for Sunday’s California International Marathon. It’s her first race of that distance, but the experienced runner hopes to qualify for the Olympic Trials. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Drama in the 10,000-meter run builds slowly compared with other track events, such as the aptly named 100- and 200-meter dash. Growing up a distance runner in Davis, Kaitlin Gregg Goodman found this did not always make for the most riveting of spectator sports.

“I was a 10K athlete, and most people get up and go to the bathroom during the 10K,” Goodman said with a laugh. “They don’t watch your race.”

So it’s still with some awe that Goodman, who will have plenty of eyes on her as one of 9,000 marathoners registered to run the California International Marathon on Sunday, recalls the atmosphere at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., during the final lap of the women’s 10,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in 2008.

While the top two finishers that day were near locks to make the Olympic team, Amy Begley, a 30-year-old from Indiana, needed to meet the Olympic “A” standard time of 31 minutes, 45 seconds to secure a trip to Beijing. Goodman, then a student at UC Davis, was in attendance as Begley used a furious sprint over the final 400 meters to finish third and beat the standard by 1.4 seconds.

“It was just so electric,” Goodman said. “The whole stadium was rooting for her. To see everybody cheering for her was very inspiring.”

It helped inspire Goodman, at least, to stay in competitive running after college. She took aim at qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Trials and met the “B” standard time in the 10,000 meters. But she was edged out of a Trials berth by an especially strong field.

Goodman, now 27 and living in Providence, R.I., is shooting again for the 2016 Trials, but in a new event: the marathon. Her goal for Sunday is to run the 26.2-mile, Folsom-to-Sacramento course under the women’s “B” qualifying standard of 2 hours, 43 minutes, with the “A” standard of 2:37 as a reach goal. It will be Goodman’s first marathon.

“I think her fitness level is definitely there to have the ‘A’ standard be a possibility, the ‘B’ standard for sure,” said Brendan Gregg, Goodman’s younger brother, who will also run CIM and plans to help pace Goodman during the middle miles.

“The tricky thing about the marathon is anything can happen.”

Committing to the sport

Goodman hails from an athletic family. Her father, Bill Gregg, ran cross country for UC Davis and coaches the Davis High School track and cross country teams. Her mother, Carolee, swam for the Aggies. Brendan ran cross country at Stanford and now competes for a Michigan-based running group. Goodman ran and swam competitively at Davis High before choosing to continue with the former in college.

“Swimming, when it comes down to it, you’ve got your head under water and can’t talk to people,” Goodman said. “Running, you can talk to people the whole time.”

It also helped, of course, that Goodman is a talented runner. As a senior at UC Davis in 2009, she set a then-school record in the 5,000 meters and ran what was then the program’s second-fastest time in the 3,000 meters. Still, Goodman says that after graduating she felt she had “unfinished business” on the track.

“I just felt like I hadn’t reached my full potential when I graduated,” Goodman said. “At Davis, I was very much a student-athlete, trying to compete on both disciplines. I wanted to give myself a chance after college to put all my eggs in the running basket and see what I could do.”

So followed the 2012 Trials bid, during which Goodman said she shaved a minute off her personal best in the 10,000 meters despite falling short of going to the Trials. Meanwhile, she moved after college to the Bay Area, then to Cleveland for nearly two years before relocating to Rhode Island. She got married and now designs wellness programs for an Ohio-based health and wellness company called Movable.

When it came to deciding where she would run her first marathon, though, the decision to come home was an easy one.

Finding the pace

CIM touts a fast course on which runners can benefit from a net downhill elevation and typically good weather relative to other parts of the country in early December. The race also offers bonuses for U.S. runners who achieve the Olympic Trials standard: $2,500 for meeting the “A” standard and $1,000 for the “B” standard. Last year’s winner in the women’s race, Rebecca Wade, finished with a time of 2:30:41 while making her debut at the distance, hitting the Trials “A” standard and recording the third-fastest women’s finish in the event’s history.

For the 2016 Trials, the “A” standard in the marathon is 2:15 for men and 2:37 for women – runners who meet those times receive funding support to attend the Trials – and the “B” standard is 2:18 for men and 2:43 for women. All runners who meet the “B” standard qualify for the Trials, which will be held in February 2016 in Los Angeles.

For Goodman, running CIM will also mean seeing familiar faces on and along the route. She said several friends are making their marathon debuts Sunday as well, and Brendan will be running his second after debuting at the Chicago Marathon in October.

“The two of us are shooting to be the fastest brother-sister combo out there,” Goodman said.

In seriousness, Goodman said it will be nice to have her brother to “latch onto” during the second half of the run, when she’ll be getting into uncharted territory. Goodman ran the Pittsburgh 10-Miler last month – placing seventh with an average mile pace of 5 minutes, 36 seconds – and said she was “really pleased with how I felt and handled the pace.” But that was a more familiar distance.

“After 20 miles,” she said, “it’s hard to know what’s going to happen.”

Previously, Goodman said, a long training run for her would be 90 to 120 minutes. Training for the marathon involved “a lot more volume day to day,” she said, while long runs became “a whole production, like a whole Sunday deal. Every week I would call my mom on Sunday and say, ‘I just ran the farthest I’ve ever run in my life. And then I would do it again the next Sunday.”

Brendan said he has shared a few tips on fueling for the marathon, and that Goodman “knows her pacing strategy backward and forward.” The two, who are separated by two years, say they got into running on their own, but they competed together on the Davis High team. And it was with Brendan that Goodman made that eye-opening trip to Eugene for the Trials in 2008.

As Brendan recalled, they drove up to see one day of competition, then returned the next day to attend a wedding.

“It was a lot of time in the car,” he said.

“He did most of the driving,” Goodman said. “I’ll give him credit.”

Under her father’s eye

Somewhere along the CIM route – he isn’t yet sure where – Bill Gregg will be watching as well. He may try to use his bike to follow the race, as he has done in the past accompanying Goodman on some of her training runs in Davis. Goodman said her father is “probably the most important person in my development as an athlete.”

“He ran my first 5K with me when I was in third grade,” Goodman said. “Helped me get to the finish line after a few walk breaks.”

At Davis High, her father was her cross country coach, which made it a little easier to explain when she had to miss some workouts to attend swimming practices. After she graduated from UC Davis, Goodman turned again to her father to help her train for the 2012 Trials. She was living in the Bay Area at the time, so Gregg would write her workouts and the two discussed them daily on the phone.

“After college, she would say I was her coach,” Gregg said. “I would say it was a collaboration.”

In deciding to take on the marathon, though, Goodman thought it might be time for a new coach. She was looking for “somebody to kick me in the butt like a parent won’t,” and now trains under a former Stanford distance coach. Gregg acknowledges he probably couldn’t have given Goodman “the expertise she needed, or even the time and energy.”

“I do tell people that’s one of the big differences between myself in my college-age years and Brendan and Kaitlin – they have way more discipline,” Gregg said. “We always say the hardest three steps are the first three out the door. For me it was always pretty difficult to get out the door. And both of them have done a great job.”

Gregg has a busy weekend planned. One of the athletes he coaches at Davis High, a junior named Fiona O’Keeffe, is one of the top high school runners in the nation and is competing Saturday at the Nike Cross Nationals meet in Portland, Ore. Gregg flew to Oregon this week, and plans to return Saturday night in time to watch Goodman make her bid for the Olympic Trials.

Goodman said she feels “pretty confident (about) the ‘B’ standard, barring a disaster or something like food poisoning. We’re going to give the ‘A’ standard a shot, and just run within myself.”

Gregg said he sometimes gets nervous before his athletes’ events, but, “This weekend is funny; I feel pretty calm.”

“Kaitlin, I’m nervous for her because I know she wants this goal and she’s been working for a long time to get it,” Gregg said. “But she seems really fit. Her buildup’s gone really well. She seems pretty calm.

“I guess all we can do is watch and wait and see.”

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015.

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