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Four runners in Olympic marathon trials have ties to SLO County

jmellom@thetribunenews.com

Nicole Hagobian pulled on a pair of black gloves and shivered. It was barely 7:30 a.m., and the sun hadn’t yet reached the dirt parking lot at Johnson Ranch south of San Luis Obispo.

Hagobian, of San Luis Obispo, didn’t have too long to wait. Linda Somers Smith, who lives in Arroyo Grande, arrived a few minutes later, similarly clad in running shorts and a long-sleeve top, and the pair started down Ontario Road.

After a 2-mile warm-up at the “slow” pace of 7:30 minutes per mile, they sped up for 10 additional miles, alternating speeds between 6-minute and 6:50-minute miles — quick by any standard.

Their long run was a final preparation for today’s U.S. Olympic marathon trial in Houston. Hagobian, 36, and Somers Smith, 50,

are the only two women from San Luis Obispo County to make it to the trials.

Two men with local ties are also competing: Sergio Reyes, a Los Osos native who competed for Cuesta College and now lives in Palmdale; and San Luis Obispo High School graduate Brian Medigovich, who now lives in Alamosa, Colo.

This year, for the first time, the men’s and women’s Olympic marathon trials are on the same day at the same site. The top three men and women will represent the United States in the marathon in London in August.

“The Olympic Trials Marathon is pretty unique in a sense,” said Joe Rubio of San Luis Obispo-based Running Warehouse. Rubio, a two-time Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier, coaches Reyes and other runners with the Asics Aggies Running Club. “If you hit the qualifying standard, you’re in the race, and then everyone in the race has a shot of making the team. There’s something American about giving everyone an opportunity to make the team and represent the U.S.”

Hagobian, Somers Smith and Reyes have been to the marathon trials before. Somers Smith has qualified for the trials a record seven times and raced in five trials, making the 1996 Olympic team.

All three hope to run a personal record today but remain realistic about the steep competition they face.

“This is the fastest and deepest field they’ve ever had,” Somers Smith said.

The women’s side includes several former Olympians, including Deena Kastor, a three-time Olympian who won the bronze in the marathon in the 2004 Olympics.

Some running commentators have placed their odds on Shalane Flanagan, who ran a 2:28:40 in her marathon debut in New York in 2010, and Desiree Davila, whose 2:22:38 second-place finish at the Boston Marathon in April made her the fastest U.S. woman ever in that event.

In the men’s race, there’s Ryan Hall, who won the trials four years ago and is the fastest American marathoner in history (he qualified with a 2:04:58 at the 2011 Boston Marathon), and Meb Keflezighi, whose silver medal at the 2004 Olympics made him the first American man to win an Olympic medal in the marathon since 1976.

Overall, 158 men and 223 women qualified for the trials, with the highest number of qualifiers — 64 — coming from California.

Pain expected

At age 50, Somers Smith is the oldest competitor in the trials. She’s a full-time attorney who puts family and work first, and running second, on her list of priorities.

“I work a lot,” she said. “It’s easier than running. It’s less stressful, and you can control the outcomes a little better.”

Somers Smith, a two-time national marathon champion, started running cross-country as a junior in college at UC Davis mainly to stay in shape while poor weather prevented her from playing tennis.

She took only two years off to run professionally, from 1995-97. During that time, she set her personal best of 2:30:06 at the 1996 Olympic marathon trials and placed 31st in the Olympic race even though she tore her Achilles tendon during the marathon.

In preparing for today’s race, Somers Smith ran at most 70 miles a week — a scaled back amount from the mileage she maintained in her 30s while training for the ’96 trials. She incorporated more cross-training early last year, including swimming and cycling, and placed first among elite women in the 2010 Santa Barbara Triathlon.

Somers Smith heads into today’s race seeded 26th among 205 runners. She’ll start the race with a nagging ankle injury, a hope of placing in the top 20 to 30 runners, and a goal of setting the U.S. marathon record for women age 50 or older. She set the 45-to-49 age group record of 2:38:49 at the 2008 Boston Marathon.

“I’ll finish, but I know it won’t be pain free,” Somers Smith said.

‘Not done running’

Hagobian is also going into today’s race with a nagging injury. She’s been dealing with some hip pain, which lately has gotten better — or she’s just used to the discomfort.

Hagobian moved to San Luis Obispo about two years ago and is a part-time lecturer in Cal Poly’s kinesiology department. She grew up in Coalinga, ran track in high school and later walked onto the team at Fresno State during her third year of college.

Today’s race will be Hagobian’s third Olympic trial. She set her personal record of 2:40:28 at the 2004 trials, in which she placed 16th. For the 2012 trials, she’s seeded 100th, with a qualifying time of 2:44:06 set at the 2011 Houston Marathon.

Hagobian decided years ago not to quit work to focus exclusively on training. With two young children, she trains early in the morning, and six years ago she abandoned the idea of running more than once a day.

“The kids are so little that they require a lot of physical energy, and I have to balance that,” she said. “I definitely don’t do the high mileage as I’ve done in the past.”

Hagobian’s goal is to run a personal best.

“Making the team is not realistic,” she said. “In order to make a team of three people, you have to commit yourself to a certain lifestyle it takes a commitment on all levels of your life.”

No limits

Reyes, 30, also hopes to run a personal best today. He’s seeded 12th among the 123 male runners, with a qualifying time of 2:14:02 from his win at the 2010 national marathon championship at the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota.

Reyes also holds the distinction of being one of the few men who qualified for the trials in all three possible qualifying distances: the marathon, half-marathon and the 10,000-meter race.

“It comes down to having the right ingredients on the right day,” he said. “There are a lot of guys who look on paper like they could destroy me, but I’m not intimidated by that. I’m not putting any limits on myself.”

Reyes grew up in Los Osos and competed for Cuesta College before transferring to Cedarville University in Ohio to complete a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Reyes now lives in Palmdale and is a flight test engineer at Edwards Air Force Base, and was recently accepted into a graduate program at Cal State Northridge.

Reyes started working with Rubio after he moved back to California. Under Rubio’s coaching, Reyes’ 10-kilometer personal record dropped 90 seconds to 28:29, and he improved his marathon time by 23 minutes.

At his peak a few weeks ago, Reyes was running 150 miles a week, in part by doubling up workouts on some days to simulate hard runs on tired legs.

Reyes’ main goal today is to run his own race and not get caught up in other runners’ surges.

“It’s really important in order to get my best that I stick to my guns and let people go,” he said. “I’m just out there to give it my best, and whatever I come away with I’ll be more than excited about.”

Watch the olympic trials

NBC will broadcast two hours of coverage from the Olympic marathon trials from noon to 2 p.m. today. The coverage will air locally on KSBY.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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