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California International Marathon offers last shot to qualify for Olympic Trials

Runners break from the starting line at last year’s 29th annual California International Marathon, Sunday Dec. 4, 2011 in Folsom.
Runners break from the starting line at last year’s 29th annual California International Marathon, Sunday Dec. 4, 2011 in Folsom. Special to The Bee

Coming down the home stretch at the Houston Marathon earlier this year, Jonathan Mott realized he was close to finishing in a time that would qualify him for the Olympic Trials.

Very, very close.

Mott, a resident of Babson Park, Fla., ran the Houston event in October in 2 hours, 18 minutes, 12 seconds. It was faster than the 28-year-old anticipated in his first competitive marathon. It also was 12 seconds too slow to land a spot in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February in Los Angeles.

Mott plans to make another attempt at the men’s qualifying standard Sunday at the 33rd annual California International Marathon. Because the qualifying window for the 2016 Trials ends in January, it could be his last chance for this Olympics cycle.

“There’s definitely a lot of pressure, that’s for sure,” Mott said by phone this week from Florida. “I know it’s only 12 seconds, but it’s that barrier. Everyone has their barrier. For me right now, it’s 2:18 and 12 seconds.”

While a small group of elite runners competes for the winners’ checks in the Folsom-to-Sacramento event, a race solely against time will be unfolding a little farther back among a handful of American runners still chasing the Trials standard.

All U.S. runners who meet the “B” standards of 2:18 for men and 2:43 for women qualify for the 2016 Trials, while those who achieve the “A” standards of 2:15 for men and 2:37 for women will receive funding support for the trip to Los Angeles.

CIM is popular with Trials hopefuls because of its net downhill course and typically good weather, and because it offers pacers for the “B” standard times and bonuses for qualifying runners: $2,500 for meeting the “A” standard and $1,000 for the “B” standard.

Samantha Bluske, 24, of Toledo, Ohio, plans to start Sunday’s race a few seconds per mile behind the “B” standard pacer and try to close the difference in the second half. Though CIM will be only her second marathon, Bluske has some experience in making up time.

At Toledo’s Glass City Marathon in April, Bluske went an extra mile after officials accidentally sent her in the wrong direction mid-race. She still won in 2:47:20 – despite running 27.2 miles – and because the race was not sanctioned by USA Track and Field, the error did not cost her a shot at qualifying for the Trials.

“If I hadn’t run the extra mile, it would’ve been like 2:41, so I know what that feels like,” said Bluske, who coaches track and field at the University of Toledo. “I knew getting the Trials qualifier was my ultimate goal, I just wasn’t sure if 2016 would be the year. But things kind of fell into place and I’m going for it.”

Raquel Stucky, 40, competed in the 2012 Marathon Trials in Houston with considerable pain because of a stress fracture in her right big toe that developed about 10 days earlier. The co-owner of a running store in Wichita, Kan., and mother of two, Stucky said she received a cortisone shot a few days before the Trials and ran anyway, finishing 125th in 2:51:08.

“Knowing I didn’t really perform at my best, I’d just like to try it again,” Stucky said. “This is cutting it close (to the Jan. 17 qualifying deadline), so it’s kind of exciting. There’s a little bit of pressure, but I really just want to go out and have fun.”

Tim Tollefson has external motivation entering Sunday’s race. Tollefson’s wife, Lindsay, qualified for the Trials at CIM in 2013. The plan was for the then-Lincoln residents to qualify together, but Tim Tollefson missed the “B” standard by 29 seconds.

“She’s always kind of playfully taunting me with the fact that she’s already qualified and I need to pull my weight,” said Tollefson, 30, who now resides in Mammoth Lakes.

When Tollefson qualified for the 2012 Trials in Houston, it was through a last-ditch effort at the 2011 CIM. Also advancing a ticket to Houston that year was Kristen Carter Schafer of Bellingham, Wash., who had to stop around the third mile when another runner stepped on her foot, dislodging her shoe, but she still beat the Trials standard in her first full marathon.

At the Columbus (Ohio) Marathon in 2013, Schafer missed the new 2016 Trials standard by one second. Due to a series of injuries, she has not finished a marathon since. Sunday, she will toe the starting line in Folsom with a return to the Trials still within reach.

“I actually have written on my calendar at home for Dec. 6: ‘Something will go wrong,’ just to remind myself to prepare for anything,” said Schafer, 28. “I’ve prepared as best I can, and that’s all I can do.”

California International Marathon

  • When: Sunday, 7 a.m.
  • Course: Folsom Dam to the state Capitol
  • 2014 winners: Jacob Chemtai (2:11:55) and Volha Mazuronak (2:27:33)
  • More information: www.runcim.org
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