- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ludmila Petrova fell short of the Russian national marathon record in 2002.

Two years later, the 37-year-old Petrova thought she was past her prime, and Svetlana Zakharova’s record seemed out of reach.

“I was dreaming of the record of Russia two years ago, but not now,” Petrova said Thursday in an interview from the Derwood, Md., townhouse of Russian masters legend Andrey Kuznetsov and his wife, Olga.

Just four days earlier, Petrova reached her goal when she ran the London Marathon course in 2:21:29, shaving two seconds off Zakharova’s 3-year-old record.

“In 2002, I had my best time (2:22:33 in London),” she said. “I didn’t think I could run that fast again. I was hoping I could get a good result — two hours 24, maybe a little faster.”

That was a reasonable goal for the Olympian who places in the top 10 in nearly every marathon she enters. After a 2:23:14 in London 2003, her times were slipping, fast. In 2003, she ran a 2:25:00 in New York and 2004 wasn’t any better — a 2:26:02 in London and 2:31:56 in the Athens Olympics.

Last year was a devastating year for Petrova. Her husband, Sergei, died in a car accident and she could muster only a 2:26:29 in London and a 2:27:21 in New York.

But she said the past year of training has been different.

“In the past year, I have had no problems,” she said. “I usually have injuries beforehand. I have not been injured. I usually don’t sleep well. I have been sleeping well.

“On the day of the race last week, I was feeling it was my day. In the morning, it was good weather. It was going as planned. My manager [Luis Felipe Posso] said I should start at 1:12 for my first half and then see how you are doing.”

Petrova cruised with the second pack of women behind American Deena Kastor through 1:11:30.

“I thought that the second half, I would feel worse,” she said. “After 30K, I thought I wouldn’t be going so fast. But I was keeping my pace and after 35K, I thought I wouldn’t be going so fast. But I kept going, and at 40K [when she moved into second place], I thought that if I kept this pace up, I would be walking.”

The last thing that concerned Petrova was the final stretch near the finish, the spot where she traditionally blows kisses to the crowd. She made a critical decision this time around.

“Every 30 seconds, there is a time bonus,” she said. “And sometimes when I have blown kisses, I have blown the time bonus. No kisses! I got the record by two seconds.”

She also earned $80,000 for the second-place finish.

Petrova credits her London success to the fact that in 2003, she left her coach and began coaching herself again. She has overhauled her racing schedule, with lower mileage, just two marathons a year and no road races in between.

“In 2003, I was running in a lot of races,” she said. “No result, hard time, very difficult after marathon.”

She is committed to running New York in November [she won in 2000] but may consider the European Championships in August: “Two big marathons is enough in a year. No more.”

Now she is back in Gainesville, Fla., and will rest for a month, not running but cross training instead. She said she likes to go to the fitness center, where she bicycles and does aerobic activities while spending time with her girls aged 16 and 13. She said she’ll relax while planting flowers, hitting the malls and enjoying a few beers, light beers.

Then she will slowly start back running. The last three months of intense training are done in south Russia — in the mountains of Adler and Kislovodsk.

With the Russian record under her belt, she continues her dream of making the 2008 Olympic team, just shy of her 40th birthday, a thought that makes her smile.

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