BOULDER – For one race, they’re colleagues instead of competitors – three runners trying to take back a title the Americans haven’t won in six years.
Deena Kastor, Magdalena Lewy Boulet and Janet Cherobon-Bawcom will join forces for the international team challenge on Memorial Day at the Bolder Boulder, a 10-kilometer road race in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
They will attempt to hold off a powerful Ethiopian squad that’s won the team competition four of the last five years.
Then, the three American distance runners will go their separate ways.
The next time they assemble on the starting line, a spot at the London Games will be at stake. Each is planning to run in the 10,000 meters at the Olympic trials June 22 in Eugene, Ore.
But that’s a conversation for another time. For now, their focus is simply on winning this title at Bolder Boulder.
Kastor, Lewy Boulet and Cherobon-Bawcom have their work cut out on this scenic course. Two-time champion Mamitu Daska leads Ethiopia, along with Ashu Kasim, who finished sixth at the event in 2009. Their third runner is Alemitu Abera. The winning team is decided by who has best combined finishes.
Patriotic pride could provide a push, though.
Or at least Kastor hopes that’s the case.
“The team atmosphere and coming together in a sport that seems individual – coming together with teammates on Memorial Day is a really inspiring event,” she said. “As a U.S. runner, especially, we get a little more energy out of the event than someone from another country, just because of the date of the event.”
All three runners had a chance to earn an Olympic spot at the U.S. marathon trials in January but wound up short.
The 10,000 meters becomes their contingency plan.
“The Olympic team is what this year is all about,” said the 39-year-old Kastor, who’s attempting to make her fourth Olympic squad. “The rest of my year is contingent on that one race (at trials). Am I going to London? Am I staying home? So much is up in the air.
“I hope to be spending my summer over in Europe.”
Kastor is a highly decorated distance runner, capturing a bronze medal in the marathon at the 2004 Athens Games. Four years later in Beijing, she had to shut it down early after hurting her foot three miles into the race.
She was hoping to earn a spot to London in the marathon but said she wasn’t in top shape. Then again, she entered the trials just 11 months after giving birth to her first child, Piper.
And yet Kastor was in the thick of that January race before fading late and finishing slightly more than five minutes behind winner Shalane Flanagan.
Since then, she’s been training at altitude in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., and quickly rounding back into elite form.
The Bolder Boulder will provide a good test for her. She captured the overall title for three consecutive years (2001-03) at this venue.
“To be so close to making the marathon team and knowing the fitness level I gained in a short amount of time, I’m fired up and excited to prepare for the track trails,” Kastor said.
For Lewy Boulet, not making the team in the marathon was a heartbreaker. She finished 10th that day, more than 8 minutes off Flanagan’s pace.
“Really wanted to go,” said Lewy Boulet, who will turn 39 in August and trains in Oakland, Calif. “It was an amazing race, and I just couldn’t step up to that level.”
Since then, her workouts have been splendid. So much so that she may even run the 5,000 at the trials as well, depending on how her legs feel after the 10,000. The finals for the 5,000 are June 28.
As disheartening as it was not qualifying in the marathon for Cherobon-Bawcom, she found encouragement in this: a personal best of 2:29.45 while finishing fifth.
“When you run a personal record, what can you say?” she said. “You can’t really be all that disappointed.”
Although she’s 33, Cherobon-Bawcom still is a relative newcomer to running. A native of Kenya, Cherobon-Bawcom didn’t even consider a career in distance running until a chance encounter with Kenyan Olympic gold medalist Peter Rono, who convinced her to give the sport a try when she was around 20.
A career was launched.
Cherobon-Bawcom attended Harding University in Arkansas, where she quickly turned into a Division II national champion.
“When I first started running in college, I was like a 19-minute runner (in a 5-kilometer race),” said Cherobon-Bawcom, who became a U.S. citizen two years ago and lives in Rome, Ga. “But I could see these people, how they were so excited to win a race. That really gave me some motivation. It’s so exciting to win a race.”