In the final stretch of the 2011 Boston Marathon, Louise Knudson thought she must be reading the clock wrong.
She had to run the 26.2 miles in 2 hours and 46 minutes to qualify for the Olympic trials, and the clock seemed to show that her time was 2:42. But her personal best was 2:47, and the season had been rough so far.
“I thought, maybe it actually says 2:47,” the 25-year-old recalls. “But as I got closer, I saw that it was 2:42. I just couldn’t believe it. It was the greatest day ever.”
Knudson’s success in the Boston Marathon means that she’ll go to the Olympic Trials in Houston in January for a shot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.
Only three people will make the team, so her odds are slim. But she’s beaten the odds before.
Learning from the Best
Knudson ran cross country for two years in high school but quit after graduation because she didn’t think she could make her college team. But she continued running on her own and entered two marathons.
“I just love running,” she said. “I started running in high school because it made me feel good. I was dealing with a lot of emotional stress and it was my relief. It was the one thing I could do for me, that was mine.”
Even though she had no coach and knew nothing about training, her time improved. And she wanted to keep running marathons.
Knudson got her chance. Three years ago, she moved to Charlottesville and began her nursing career at UVA, working with patients recovering from heart and lung surgery. She met a local runner and businessman, Mark Lorenzoni, who owned a running shop with his wife and loved to help new runners.
From there, things took off.
Lorenzoni wrote a training plan for Knudson and invited her to Charlottesville Track Club practices. She ran more marathons, improving each time.
Then Lorenzoni invited her to join Ragged Mountain Racing, a local group of post-collegiate distance runners that provides training, funding and other support. Knudson is the first person invited to join who didn’t run competitively in college.
Knudson worked her way up through Ragged Mountain to its top tier of athletes. Lorenzoni and her primary coach, Dana Thiele, taught her to be conservative, listen to her body, start slowly, stay hydrated.
Knudson also gets those lessons from her patients recovering after surgery.
“Being a nurse, you see the importance of taking time to just let your body heal,” she says. “If you listen to your body when it’s telling you something and respect it, it will respond to you when you demand something really hard.”
Knudson began thinking about the Olympic Trials after she completed the California International Marathon in 2:47 in December 2010.
Despite her progress, she struggled emotionally and physically.
Her mom, who also lives in Charlottesville, got sick last summer and was in the hospital. Knudson had a couple of marathons with disappointing times, including one where she became exhausted with eight miles to go. In February, she got sick herself and missed a week of training.
She decided to cut her work hours to half-time so she would have more time to train. She works more hours when she has an easier training week.
“My co-workers are really supportive,” Knudson says. “They’re like my family. They pull my information up on the computer when I’m racing and cheer for me. I feel like I have a fan club at work.”
Her mother’s illness and recovery also inspired Knudson to set high goals. She wanted to complete a marathon in 2:42, well under what she needed to qualify for the Olympic Trials. She met both those goals at the Boston Marathon.
With six months to go until the Olympic Trials, Knudson hopes to spend the summer increasing her mileage and working on her form so she can run more efficiently. She runs about 85 miles a week.
She’ll do the U.S. 20K National Championships in Connecticut in September and then take a month off to recover before hitting the pavement again.
Knudson hopes to get her time down to a more competitive 2:30. That means knocking off 12 minutes. It’ll be tough, but as she says, the first step is setting the goal.
She loves seeing other people out walking, jogging and running.
“It’s awesome, I think, when somebody’s doing something they enjoy, at whatever level, whether it’s one mile or a walk or a jog,” Knudson says. “Just going out there and being active and enjoying the outdoors. I feel like it’s a lot of fun.”