Run, Baby, Run Beth Herndon's Quest to Her Second Olympic TEAM Trials

A realization crossed the mind of Beth Herndon that perhaps giving birth would be suitable reasoning to postpone an Olympic Marathon Team Trial goal she had set four years prior. She had already qualified once before the birth of her daughter Evie and placed in the top-50 marathoners in Los Angeles in 2015, so what was there to prove?

Photo from Herndon competing at the USATF 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles.

However, Herndon's motivation dove much deeper than proving anything to anyone. Naturally she is a competitive individual that rarely relies on extrinsic motivation.

"Certainly money is nice, but I don't get a lot of it (from racing events)," said Herndon. "I am a competitive person and it is nice to have an activity where I can challenge myself that is often rewarded. I feel it is a good balance to my job, where often times being successful means failing 80% of the time."

Herndon utilizing an auger to dig a soil core at an Ohio field site where she studies the geochemistry of coal mine waste. Photo credit: David Singer.

The 2007 Washington University in St. Louis graduate and current Kent State professor in geochemistry pushed on with her training even through pregnancy.

Herndon ran up to 50 miles per week through the end of her second trimester in an attempt to keep her goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials in Atlanta a possibility. It came as no surprise to her former cross country and track coach at WashU, Jeff Stiles.

"Beth is as tough as nails," Stiles replied. "Her senior year at cross country nationals, it was in parts standing water up to your knees, and she just thrived. The worse the conditions the better she did.

Herndon leading a group of three runners, including teammate Tricia Frisella ('08), at cross country nationals in 2006. Photo credit: Hillary Superak.

She was mentally and physically tough. I'll never forget for a split second there with a mile to go I thought she might win the whole thing even though she was fifth or sixth in the region (heading into nationals). She always ran her best at nationals, and the hillier the course the better."

With about a month to go in the pregnancy, Herndon was no longer able to continue running her third trimester average of 20-30 miles per week. The final month of pregnancy ended her running, and things did not pick up immediately after giving birth.

"Postpartum was much more difficult than I anticipated," confessed Herndon. "I remember the first time I went for a run five or six weeks postpartum and my running consisted of jogging for a minute at a 10 minute pace and needing to stop."

Herndon slowly regained her stamina with a consistent running schedule, but didn't feel back to pre-pregnancy shape until more than nine months after birth. A multitude of factors played into her motivation including immersing herself in a competitive atmosphere, being social and maintaining fitness.

The Fort Wayne, Ind.-native runs for Cleveland Elite Development, a team which had five women run in the previous Olympic Time Trials, including Herndon.

Herndon, located third from the right, poses with teammates from Cleveland Elite Development at the USATF cross country championships in Bethlehem, Penn. in Dec. 2014. Photo credit: Aubrey Alexander.

With each month that passed, Herndon got stronger and extended the distances she ran. But how was the three-time NCAA Division III All-American able to find time to make such a recovery?

"My experience at WashU certainly helped me to use time efficiently and taught me how to prioritize my time," explained Herndon.

A photo of the 2006 cross country team at an unknown meet. Photo credit: Tyler Mulkin.

She emphasized the importance she puts on training and how common it is for people in the professional world to eliminate fitness from their daily schedules.

"After I graduated, I often felt like there was a sense from others that specific activities outside of your job didn't matter," Herndon said referencing training. "I prioritize finding time to run and being able to work efficiently at my job allows me those moments."

Her husband, Greg Larsen, takes care of the baby many mornings to allow Herndon the opportunity to get a run in before she heads to work. The runs typically last an hour, but the true mastery of scheduling comes when Larsen is away.

"If my husband is out of town, then I have to figure out a time to run in the middle of the day while Evie's at daycare," added Herndon. "Sometimes I hire a baby sitter or other times I'll run on a treadmill after she goes to bed."

All of the scheduling does not account for another obstacle, "mom's guilt." Herndon routinely wrestles with this feeling, but the positive physical and mental effects sway the internal argument.

"One of the biggest challenges is finding the time to run both from the logistics perspective of making it happen and 'mom's guilt'," Herndon described. "I have to remind myself that it is important to devote time to an activity like this, especially something that is good for my fitness and well-being. I don't let that guilt keep me from getting out the door."

All of the hours of training, overcoming obstacles and efficiency in the workplace came to fruition on June 16, 2018 in Duluth, Minn. at Grandma's Marathon.

Herndon followed a steady pace from the beginning, crossing the first 10 kilometers of the course in 37:11, which was 90th out of 6,098 entrants. Halfway through the race she was in 93rd place, running 13.1 miles in 1:19:25.

As the paces of others began to fade, Herndon accelerated to a 6:01 mile pace over the next seven miles. She saw her biggest jump in placement during this stretch as she moved from 93rd to 85th and continued to climb. By the 25th mile marker, she had run her fastest pace of the race, 5:54, and climbed to 80th.

Herndon posted a final time of 2:37:27 and was the seventh woman to cross the finish line placing 77th overall just 15 months removed from welcoming her first child into the world. With the strong time, Herndon accomplished her goal of qualifying for the Olympic Time Trials in Atlanta, where WashU alums have already started making plans to support and cheer her on.

"I have certainly worked hard to qualify for the trials, but having such a strong support network of family and former WashU teammates has gone a long way," concluded Herndon.

As coach Stiles had previously attested to, when the going gets tough, Herndon gets tougher.

Created By
Kevin Stiner

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