SACRAMENTO (02-Dec) -- The official elite athlete introductions had ended at the expo for the 35th California International Marathon and USA Marathon Championships and Katie Matthews was attempting a quick exit from the Sacramento Convention Center. But she was surprised, and a little nervous, when a reporter asked to speak with her about her marathon debut here tomorrow. Despite very good preparation under outgoing Boston Athletic Association high performance coach Terrence Mahon, Matthews had some pre-race jitters and was trying just to stay on an even keel.
PHOTO: Katie Matthews in advance of the 2017 USA Marathon Championships at the California International Marathon in Sacramento, Calif. (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"Tomorrow's approach is do whatever you can do to make it a successful first marathon," Matthews told Race Results Weekly. "Like, I don't want to come out thinking, 'never again, that was the worst, and I hate running.'" She added: "I'm probably going to be going with a more conservative approach with the hopes that I can qualify for the Olympic Trials, and have a successful marathon, and want to do it again, and I can work on it."
Matthews, 27, a speech and language therapist in Newton, Mass., has been tiptoeing up to the marathon distance for several years. Competing at Boston University during her NCAA career, she finished fifth in the NCAA Championships at 10,000m in 2013 as a senior, and made the jump to the half-marathon in the fall of the same year. Two years later, she got her half-marathon time down to 1:11:57 and started to think about running the full distance. She and Coach Mahon decided 2017 was the right time.
"I feel like it's been a long time coming for me actually running a marathon," Matthews said. "I've been doing well as the distances have been getting longer. I tried out the 20-K, and that went well, 25-K went well. So, I've been looking to do a marathon."
Growing up in Rocky Hill, Conn., going to Boston University, and still living in the Boston area, Matthews though her first 26-miler would be the Boston Marathon. In her mind's eye, she had a clear image of herself running from Hopkinton to Boston over familiar roads. But after discussing it with her coach, they decided that wasn't her best course of action.
"I wanted to debut at Boston," Matthews admitted. "In my head, I always thought that my first marathon would be Boston. I'm local; I would do Boston first. But after talking to my coach, and thinking about the courses and what my strengths are as a runner, he said I don't think Boston would be your best debut. So, let's pick a course that would be better for your strengths. The weather for CIM is usually great. It's not a super-hilly course... and the time of year really worked out where I could do my training in Boston when it's still nice weather through the summer and fall."
Training with BAA High Performance teammate Katie Kellner (who is also racing her tomorrow), Matthews said her marathon preparation "got pretty serious" beginning in September. Her mileage increased steadily, but she's not sure exactly how much volume she was doing in the longest weeks. That's because she decided not to keep close track to avoid obsessing over her mileage totals.
"I haven't been tallying my mileage," she said with a laugh, "just because I didn't want to think, oh, I need to run four extra miles this week, or just worrying about anything that wasn't necessary to worry about. So, I think I was in the 80's and 90's at the most."
Her long runs were challenging, she said. Coach Mahon would sometimes integrate her workouts into her long runs, giving her pause before each of those training sessions because they seemed impossibly difficult. But each time she would complete one (her longest run was 22 miles, she said), her confidence would grow.
"I learned a lot about myself," she explained. "I enjoyed that feeling of surprising myself in workouts from week to week because I would get apprehensive before the bigger workouts thinking, oh, will I be able to hit that pace for that long? Like, that seems pretty tough. Then, it would be fun to challenge myself, and then be like, 'I can do that, I can do workouts like that.' She added: "It's that confidence."
During her build-up, she confronted the usual challenges faced by marathoners, like toenail management.
"I also learned a lot about toenails, and what can go wrong there," she said with a hearty laugh. "I ended up with a blood blister, and lost a toenail, and only missed one workout. Little things like that, you realize how something so little can really derail training. You can't neglect those little things, I guess."
Matthews is seeded #8 in the USA Championships field, and her 10,000m and half-marathon personal bests indicate that she has the potential to run 2:31 or 2:32, which could put her in the top-5. But whatever the outcome of the race, Matthews is looking forward to some down time when it's over. She took some vacation time from her job, and her boyfriend, Ricky Newton, will be joining her on the West Coast for some relaxation.
"My boyfriend's flying in, and we're going to up to San Francisco and do Wine Country, San Francisco for a few days," Matthews said. "Then, I have some friends coming to Boston when I get back. I took a week off work. There will be a little bit of rest."