Ruth Hawkinson Perkins in the Twin City Marathon, where she qualified for the 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 Perkins 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,” said Perkins, who was known as Ruth Hawkinson while competing in track (5,000 and 10,000) and cross country for Seattle Pacific from 1999 to 2003. “I didn't feel I was that good at marathons.”
Perkins was ready to get her distance-running high at lower distance.
What she wasn't ready for was to see that marathon door suddenly open again – and leading to a path that stretches all the way to Houston for the 2012 United States Olympic Trials.
Perkins will test her marathon mettle against the rest of America's premier female runners next Jan. 14.
“A friend talked me into doing the Tacoma City Marathon (in 2010) – that was going to be the last marathon of my life,” said 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 said.
“I thought, 'Well, if the standard is 2:46, I should go for it.'”
Perkins hadn't always had qualms about marathons. She ran 3:09 in Vancouver, B.C., in 2004, and “I thought that was pretty good for my first one.” 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 said. “It was nice to have that confidence built up.”
Built up enough to try another marathon? She didn't think so.
Someone else thought otherwise.
“My friend said, 'You can't do that kind of series with that kind of pace and not top it off with a marathon.'” Perkins said.
So she topped it off with the Tacoma event, where she figured to cross her final marathon finish line – only to discover that it was really just another starting line.
“My husband (Dean) and I talked about it and tried to decide if the commitment was worth it,” said Perkins. (They have two children, 4-year-old Ryan and 2-year-old Gracie.) “After a couple weeks, we decided that it was.”
In spite of the completely-on-her-own accomplishment in Tacoma, 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 said.
A bit out of the ordinary – but it's working.
“She has become sort of a mental giant,” Cotner said. “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.”
Cotner suggested she enter the Twin Cities Marathon to go for the U.S. Trials qualifying mark.
“I had never even heard of it,” Perkins said. “I said, 'You want me to travel to Minnesota to do a marathon? You're crazy.'”
Nothing crazy about it. So after handling an initial curveball when she arrived (Perkins thought Cotner had registered her for the race; Cotner thought she had registered herself – neither of which actually happened), she stepped to the line last Oct. 3 on a cool, crisp Minneapolis morning.
“I ended up meeting this girl, Caitlin Chrisman (from North Carolina), and we started talking about our goals and realized we could run the race together,” Perkins said. “It was her first marathon, and I said I had run them before, and we could team up.”
That "team" doubled in size to four as the race went along. By the finish, all four had beaten the 2:46 standard for the U.S. trials, with Perkins crossing the line in 2:43:18 – more than seven minutes faster than in Tacoma.
“It was so amazing – we all gathered up after the race was over, and we all marveled that we were such a team during the race,” Perkins said. “Here we are total strangers, and we totally teamed up and got us below the standard.”
Cotner had every expectation that Perkins would run as well as she did on that day.
“We have a lot of (coaching) experience, and we have a way of training people who want to get there and who are motivated,” he said.
Perkins isn't planning on another marathon until Houston. But she is hardly just sitting around.
June 26, Perkins won the Scotia Bank Half Marathon in Vancouver, B.C., posting a personal-best time of 1:16:14. As a Blue Streak athlete for Brooks Running (one of her sponsors), she has competed this year in the U.S. Half Marathon Championships (placing 26th), and the U.S. 25K Championships (finishing 12th).
In September, she plans to do the Labor Day Half Marathon in Woodinville.
“Once I accomplish that,” Perkins said, “that will get my marathon training cycle started again. I'm feeling confident and excited about it. My family is very supportive, and my husband and kids are incredible."
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 said. “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 Ruth 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 said.
“I never dreamed of getting to this level.”
This article was reposted with permission of Falcon Athletics.
Information about the 2012 Olympic marathon trials.