Cruise Control: Returning to the US Olympic Team Trials Women’s Marathon, Diana Bowser Takes a Steady Approach
On Saturday, January 14, 2012, six B.A.A. athletes will take part in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Women's & Men's Marathons. While they have the Trials in common, they are a diverse group, each of whom incorporates competitive running as a part of their very busy life.
Read about each one as we count down to race day.
All of the women preparing for the 2012 US Olympic Marathon Team Trials have had to run a qualifying performance; Most met the mark by running a marathon in 2:46 or faster. Diana Bowser is an exception and, while she is not the only athlete to not have met the marathon qualifying mark, she may be the only woman in the race who has not run a marathon in the last seven years. But don’t be deceived – Bowser is a talented and tough competitor who is always in the race. Despite her relatively relaxed approach to her training and racing, she has managed to rack up an impressive list of recent performances and is primed for a solid performance in Houston.
A top competitor for the B.A.A. in the late nineties and the early aughts, Bowser qualified for and competed in both the 2000 and the 2004 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. In 2004, she notes that an injury prevented her from being able to train properly, so she only had about a six-week lead-in to the Trials race. Knowing that she would not be at her best, Bowser used the training as part of a build up to a fall marathon and still managed a 2:47:07. Competing in the 2004 Twin Cities Marathon, she set her personal best of 2:41:58 . The following year, she and her husband, Peter Hammer, welcomed their first child, followed by their second child three years later.
In 2009, Bowser returned to racing after a five-year hiatus and the now 38-year old mother of two made a seemingly effortless return. After getting back into training, she raced occasionally, but each performance was impressive. Her race at the 2011 New Bedford Half Marathon served notice that she was back in form, running 1:14:36 for the half, placing 2nd overall, and qualifying for the US Olympic Team Trials Women’s Marathon. Since that time, she has concentrated on the shorter distances as she trains for her return to the marathon, a deliberate strategy that enables her to balance her running with her family responsibilities and her position as a Senior Research Associate at Brandeis's Heller School for Social Policy and Management. “Currently, the marathon training is a bit draining for me, mentally and physically, so in that sense I think it is easier for me to train for the shorter distances adding in specifics for the marathon.” And while she is looking forward to the race, she admits that it is a bit daunting to return to the marathon distance after so long, “This is scary for me since the trials in January will be my first marathon in almost seven years.”
But this isn’t the first time that Bowser has made a successful return to the sport after time off from competing. While in middle school, Bowser’s performances in the local 4th of July races caught the attention of the Lincoln-Sudbury coach. He convinced her to come out for cross country and she had a stellar high school career, garnering numerous accolades. She was recruited by a number of colleges before deciding to attend Harvard. Injuries prevented her from competing very often and “(a)fter college I lived in a number of places, in the US and abroad, and I did not do very much running for several years. I then came back to Boston and began running again in 1999. I remember running a race in New Hampshire, I think it was the Market Day Square Race. I did not belong to a running group at that time and during the race I was surrounded by BAA runners in their blue uniforms. I think I approached Jeff or Suzanne after the race asking about joining the BAA and started coming to a few practices.”
One might say that the rest is history if Bowser weren’t still adding pages to the story. She recently competed in the B.A.A. Half where she placed 5th overall. She followed that up with a fifth-place performance in the Mayor’s Cup Cross Country Championship and a third-place finish at the USATF New England Cross Country Championship. Traveling to Seattle, WA for the USATF National Club Cross Country Championship, Bowser paced the women’s team, placing 29th overall and was the first B.A.A. woman across the line. The 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials will be the next chapter.
Besides balancing training time with her husband, Peter Hammer, who is competitive in his own right, one wonders how she manages to train and compete at such a high level? High mileage? Quality over quantity? The answer might surprise you: “I cannot tell you how much mileage that I run each week because I don’t keep track. I used to be extremely vigilant about keeping track of my mileage and now, I think that I have so much going on (mom, work, etc) that I don’t worry so much about the amount of miles I run but try to get in as many days as I can. Some days a run just does not happen and I don’t worry about it and just try the next day. I have been rather lucky with injuries of late (although right now I am dealing with some tendonitis in my left foot). If I feel something coming on I immediately take two days off. In the past I would try to cross train on these days. Now these days are just completely off-no running, no cross training. I think this has helped. I used to stress about missing too many days of running, however after missing a number of years of running because of my two pregnancies, a few days off here and there is nothing.”
And she also manages to incorporate some family time into her training: “My favorite running days are what we call “munchkin” runs. We usually do these on either Saturday or Sunday. I put my 3 year old in the baby jogger and my 6 year old gets on his bike. We stop at Dunkin Donuts at the beginning of our run and stock up on munchkins. My daughter will sit in the jogger forever and my son can now ride about 8 miles with me. We make little pit stops along the way (to get water, take a break and stretch). The run takes a while but we get it done. For these runs I am probably running 8-8:30 min miles. The part I miss the most about juggling it all is that I NEVER get to run with Pete any more. We used to run together all the time and now we are always juggling our runs.”
Looking ahead to Houston, Bowser will attempt to lower her current PB and dip below the 2:40 barrier. While she hasn’t yet seen the course, she is preparing for a fast, flat run. And in spite of the fact that she prefers a rolling course, she is ready to attack the race and click off the miles at sub 2:40 pace. “The Trials is different from other races for me as I run more just for the experience. I know my chances of making the Olympic Team are very small but I am just honored to be running in a race with such fast women…. As for racing, I feel like you have to leave the watch behind and run as you feel. This can get you in trouble sometimes, but other times you feel good and you can run a great time.”
And what is next after the Houston? “[The Trials] has been the #1 goal for a while now and I have not thought beyond that. I am going to be 39 and I know many women in their 40s who are still running great times so we will see.”