It’s very common to look at the participant lists of regional marathons (Empire State, Wineglass, Monster) and see the names of runners with Ithaca connections. What will be really unique, and inspiring, will be to peruse the lineup of runners at a race scheduled for February 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia, and see the names Chelsea Benson, Juliann Quinn and Bailey Dewes. While some of the aforementioned races may not be familiar to most readers, this one will: the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
The three women set their sights on reaching the qualifying time a while ago, and they collectively believed that with the right mixture of training, coaching and support, the two hours and 45 minute goal was attainable. Dewes, a grad student at Cornell, hit her magic number in November at the Philadelphia Marathon with a time of 2:42:59, placing third. At the California International Marathon (held in December, in Sacramento) Quinn, a recent doctorate student at Cornell, qualified with a time of 2:39:16 and took 27th place. Benson, a Cornell employee and local resident, ran a time of 2:42:27 and placed 41st. (Both Quinn and Benson run as part of the Red Newt Racing team.)
Benson was happy to talk about the attainment of this longtime goal, and given the fact that in addition to her training, the 36-year-old works full-time in Cornell’s Public Service Center and is a wife and a mom to four-year-old twins, she seemed grateful for the few moments she was afforded to sit still and talk.
Benson laughed and hesitated when I asked her how many marathons she has run, and she offered, “Well, let’s just say that this was my second serious marathon.” She added that unlike some efforts put forth in her earlier years, this time she “actually followed a plan and worked with my teammates.”
The Red Newt Racing Team, Benson said, came together three years ago, joining forces to run a series of cross-country races across the region. There were 8 to 10 vet students, grad students and various other Cornellians, and she added, “Given it’s such a transient community, some have moved on, but about five of us still get together to do runs.”
Benson added that she uses what she will no doubt someday find to be a useful parenting ploy, saying, “I use our Facebook group and texting to guilt-trip people into running with me!”
Benson and Quinn worked together to reach their goal, despite the fact that Quinn recently relocated after completing her Ph.D. and post-doc at Cornell. Quinn has stayed connected to Jon Clemens, her running coach from her days at Columbia, and Benson followed the training regimen devised by the coach as well. Clemens met up with the women in Sacramento, adding another layer of support and motivation.
Having studied the course maps and elevation profile diligently, Benson followed her plan flawlessly, hitting the halfway point at 1:21:30.
“I felt like I was running a little too fast, too early, but the 1:21:30 put me on pace for a 2:43:00,” she said, and given the qualifying time was 2:45:00, she had two minutes to spare. “I was very comfortable, and Jon had advised that we really start ‘racing’ at the 20-mile mark,” Benson said. “I had been averaging around 6:12 per mile, but over the last 3, I picked it up to 6:05. It all went very well. I was exhausted, but I never got those heavy, wooden legs you hear about.”
She hit the finish line in 2:42:27, and while that 2-minute and 33 second cushion might seem tight to a non-runner, it kept Chelsea well within her comfort zone.
The trials are about a year away, and Benson said, “I don’t want to risk injury, so I’ll do two half-marathon cycles. I’ll do the Cherry Blossom in D.C. in April, and the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon in May, and Juliann will join me for those races.”
Benson is also grateful to the local running community as a whole. “It has been great to have such a group of fast women runners,” she offered. “There are some really strong and driven women here.”