Ruth Hawkinson Perkins '03 had plenty of reason to smile in the Twin Cities Marathon in October 2010: That's where she qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
She remembered going into shock after crossing the finish line in one marathon. She remembered winding up in the emergency room after collapsing in another one. No wonder Ruth Hawkinson Perkins '03 was ready to forget about anything to do with 26.2 miles.
"I did not enjoy doing marathons — I'd had some pretty disastrous ones," says Perkins, who competed in track (5,000 and 10,000) and cross country for Seattle Pacific Univeristy from 1999 to 2003. "I didn't feel I was that good at marathons."
Perkins was ready to get her distance-running high at a lower distance. What she wasn't ready for was to see that marathon door suddenly open again — to a path that stretches all the way to Houston for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Perkins tested her marathon mettle against the rest of America's premier female runners January 14, 2012.
"A friend talked me into doing the Tacoma City Marathon in 2010. That was going to be the last marathon of my life," says the 30-year-old Perkins. "My goal was to run under three hours. I totally surprised myself and ran a 2:50:49. I didn't even know what the trials qualifying standard was, because I was never going to do another one."
The standard is 2 hours, 46 minutes — most definitely within reach for someone of Perkins' ability and training base.
"The thought that I had trained for that without a coach, I was running literally by myself (she was the third finisher overall), and I ran 2:50," Perkins says. "I thought, ‘Well, if the standard is 2:46, I should go for it.'"
Perkins hadn't always had qualms about marathons. She ran her first at 3:09 in Vancouver, B.C., in 2004. In 2005, she tried the Capital City Marathon in Olympia, finished in 3:35 — "and ended up in
shock in the tent at the end."
Figuring that was an isolated incident, she entered the Portland Marathon in 2007, but collapsed in mile 23 and was taken to an ER.
Then in 2010, Perkins signed up for the Fort Steilacoom Running Club Series, a group of winter races that starts at five miles (or five kilometers), then moves up to 10 miles (or 10K), 15 miles (or
15K) and finally, 20 miles (or 20K). She signed up for miles — and won the series.
"I realized that I was doing a lot better than I expected to do," Perkins says. "It was nice to have that confidence built up."
Perkins, who works as a personal trainer, knew she needed some coaching help to elevate her performance. She contacted Tom Cotner of Club Northwest, and they clicked immediately.
"I've actually only done two workouts in front of him. He has done all of this coaching for me through email and phone calls," Perkins says.
"She has become sort of a mental giant," Cotner says. "She knows how to push herself, and she knows how to race. It's not just pacing – there's a lot that she puts into each race. She really challenges herself."
Both she and Cotner are keeping it in perspective. Only the top three finishers in Houston will represent the U.S. next summer in the London Olympics. Currently, the three leading times in the field of 213 qualifiers are 2:22:38, 2:24:52, and 2:26:20. (Perkins' 2:43:18 ranks 80th.) At the 2008 U.S. trials in Boston, 124 finished the race. A time of 2:43:18 would have put Perkins in 44th place. The winning time was 2:29:35.
But like most distance runners, Perkins competes against herself and the stopwatch to put forth her best effort.
"She'll be in the 2:30s," Cotner says. "When it's a marathon or even a half marathon, it's very subject to conditions. The key is, what's her potential? — and she could run under 2:40 right now."
For Perkins, it's a long way from that Tacoma marathon in 2010, which she figured she would run — and then be done. "That experience pushed me out there," she says. "I never dreamed of getting to this level."
Editor's note: Although Perkins sustained an injury shortly before the Olympic marathon trials, she was still able to run in it on January 14, 2012, in Houston, Texas. She did not finish the race, but she was able to run much of it.