- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

Meghan McLaughlin is a coach’s dream.

“She pays attention to what we want her to do,” said Ray Pugsley, who along with wife Cathy has guided McLaughlin’s running career since she contacted them in August 2002.

So when her coaches suggested that their star distance runner should salvage a frustrating fall season by attempting to qualify for the 2004 Olympic women’s marathon trials, McLaughlin was more than willing to give it a shot.

The plan was to run a marathon in Phoenix on Jan.11 in Phoenix, where Cathy also would attempt a qualifying mark of 2:48 or faster. But since McLaughlin’s longest race to date was at the 10-kilometer distance, the Pugsleys entered her in last Sunday’s Philadelphia Marathon as a dry run.

“We decided to run [Philly] four weeks ahead of time,” said McLaughlin, a 24-year-old Vienna, Va., native who graduated from George Marshall High School in 1998 and from Radford University in 2002 before returning to Northern Virginia. “I had no idea what to expect as I stood at the starting line. I was scared out of my mind. I couldn’t believe I was lining up here and doing this.”

She also could not believe it when she heard the Pugsleys screaming at 24 miles that she had a minute cushion on the qualifying time.

“Between 24 and 26, everything was hurting,” she recalled Friday. “In my mind I wanted a 2:47 or below. I didn’t want a 2:47:50.”

And in the end, McLaughlin did not need the trip to Arizona. She crossed the line to the wild cheers of the Pugsleys and her family with a 2:46:52, good for third place overall.

“The marathon wasn’t on my list of things to do for the next two years,” McLaughlin said. “But I had no goals this summer, and I was doing all this training.”

She was frustrated during the fall when one event she entered — the running leg of the Make-a-Wish Triathlon — was canceled because of Hurricane Isabel, which was scheduled for the same day as the Army Ten-Miler. She said a last-minute appeal to get into Army was denied by race officials.

“I missed both races,” said McLaughlin, “and it was difficult to keep my spirits up.”

Added Ray: “She had a discussion with Cathy about other goals. She’s always run the long runs very fast. She’s never had any problems and never broke down from them. We knew at some point she’d be a good marathoner, so why not give it a shot at the Olympic trials?”

Cathy’s hunch was confirmed when she ran 11 miles with Meghan at the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct.26. Ray said that Cathy originally signed up for Marine Corps in hopes of winning publicity for her new running stores, Potomac River Running Company in Burke and Ashburn. She dropped out after 18 miles when it became apparent that Heather Hanscom would win.

“We didn’t think Meghan would have the kind of base to do what she could do until she ran with Cathy at Marine Corps,” said Ray, a former elite 5,000/10,000 runner.

Two weeks later, McLaughlin had her last speed workout by placing third at the Veteran’s Day 10K in 35:30. Cathy Pugsley was two places and 1:16 behind.

Cathy entered Philly two weeks later so the two could run together through 17 miles, which included a 42-second pit stop for McLaughlin at Mile 15.

“After Cathy dropped out, I was talking to myself between 18 and 24, saying to ‘suck it up, stay on pace until 24.’ That’s where I saw Ray and Cathy again,” said McLaughlin, who works full time as a consultant for Acumen Solutions.

Her only regret in qualifying for the April3 trials in St. Louis is that she will miss much of the track season. But McLaughlin said she is not too disappointed.

“My heart is in cross country, but I do track because I have to,” said McLaughlin, who set school records on the track at both Marshall and Radford.

And while she prepares for the Olympic trials, she lives with her mother in the Vienna home in which she grew up. It is a fitting place to be, because her mother is the one who encouraged her to run after McLaughlin excelled at the President’s Fitness Award in elementary school.

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