Local runners form a competitive bond

Local runners Kristen Henehan and Lisa Thomas both qualified for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials last week, but they took different roads to get there.

Two and a half months ago, Henehan and Thomas raced against each other for the first time, competing down the stretch at the Marine Corps Marathon.

Henehan, a former standout at Georgetown from Silver Spring running in her first marathon with the goal of merely finishing after a six-year layoff after college, surged past Thomas with a half-mile left to win one of the nation’s largest marathons.

Thomas, an Alexandria native who was disappointed with the result, still ran a personal best by more than three minutes in her eighth marathon.

Both their times — 2:51:14 and 2:51:40 respectively — put them in striking distance of one of the sport’s top honors: competing in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials.

A week ago, Henehan, 28, and Thomas, 32, lined up again for a marathon — this time as teammates competing for a spot in the marathon trials in Boston on April 20.

“After the Marine Corps Marathon, [Pacers/Brooks Racing Team coach] George [Buckheit] asked us if we wanted to go for the trials standard, and we both laughed,” said Henehan, a high school cross country national champion when she was Kristen Gordon. “Then when they heard about this race for qualifiers and it was in nice warm Phoenix during the winter, we decided to give it a try.”

That race was the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon, where race organizers staged a rally for America’s women to come for Olympic trials qualifiers.

Thirty-nine women were invited to Phoenix to compete in the “Running Down a Dream” program, where a time of 2:47 or better would earn a place in the trials.

That would require Henehan and Thomas to chop another four-plus minutes off their personal bests set at Marine Corps.

Both athletes had to pay for their flights, but race organizers paid for the hotel room.

“From the moment we got there, we realized this was something really special,” said Thomas, who didn’t compete from 2006 to summer 2007, when she had a baby girl, Lucy. “They made us feel like rock stars. I wouldn’t have come, if they didn’t do this for us.”

Running together, Henehan and Thomas decided to let the organizer’s pacesetters go early, relying instead on their male teammates — Erik Kean, Matt Thuesen and Thomas‘ husband, Derik — who set the pace for them.

“I think we knew as early as mile 16 that this was in our reach, and that we could do it,” Henehan said.

Thomas added: “We didn’t panic. We didn’t care [about time]. We just ran until we couldn’t run anymore.”

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