By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
Following her victory in the Festival of Races on October 4, Christine McNamara remained in town for a few days to visit family. I had an opportunity to run with her and chat about running.
McNamara affirmed her status as an elite athlete at the 1997 London Marathon, which she ran in 2:28:18. Her time was the fastest by an American woman since 1994, and the seventh fastest of all-time. McNamara also competed in the Olympic trials for the Marathon in 1992 and 1996, and won the US Championship in the 5,000 meters in 1993.
My run with McNamara started from Manley Field House at Syracuse University, and followed the trails across the Hookway Tract towards Barry Park. A native of Rhode Island, McNamara grew up in Oregon, untouched by the running tradition of that state. She attended the University of Colorado in Boulder from 1984 through 1988. She competed in the high jump in her freshman year, then ran cross country and competed at middle distances in her sophomore year. Majoring in business administration and French, she spent her junior year abroad in France. In her senior year, McNamara was the upset winner of the indoor mile in the Big Eight Championship.
A steady overnight rain compounded the erosion from the Labor Day storm, and transformed the trails into muddy, slippery foot traps. We exited the park onto Meadowbrook Drive, as McNamara recounted her early road racing career. After graduating from college, she worked in California for two years, then moved to Japan for the next three years.
With the world's largest number of Marathon runners per capita, Japan offered McNamara a chance to train with an elite Japanese running group, and experience the rigors of three workouts a day. Her mileage increased dramatically, and her focus shifted to the longer distances.
Throughout her Japanese stay, McNamara returned often to race in the USA and assess her fitness against American runners. She ran her first Marathon at Boston in 1991, and qualified for the 1992 Olympic Marathon trials in Houston. At the Houston trials, McNamara was in the thick of the memorable collision that brought Janis Klecker down, and highlighted the sportsmanship of Cathy O'Brien who returned to help Klecker resume the race. Klecker eventually won the trials, O'Brien finished second, and McNamara was fifth.
As we reached the end of Meadowbrook and turned back towards Manley, McNamara recalled her return from Japan to Providence, RI, in 1994. In the following years, she competed at distances ranging from 5K to the Marathon. Her training in Japan paid off with a victory at the Columbus Marathon in 1995 and a second place finish at the Ocean State Marathon. In 1997, in addition to her London Marathon PR of 2:28:18, McNamara ran a 10K PR of 32:37 at the Crescent City Classic, the fastest time by an American that year. Last March, McNamara ran the Gate River Run 15K USA Championship in 51:23, finishing runner-up to Liverpool native Jennifer Rhines.
As we turned the corner onto East Colvin Street and headed towards Manley, McNamara picked up the pace. Was she retracing the final sprint on that road which carried her to victory a few days earlier? I held my questions and dug deep into my muscles. I finished the run out of breath. McNamara eased into a slow walk, still in her warm-up suit, chatting cheerfully. After the run, we convened for coffee and bagels, and discussed future running plans.
Satisfied with her training and fitness levels, McNamara is focused at the Marathon trials for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Her training regimen builds on her strength and endurance, as she hones onto the trials. She has made a two-year commitment to running and racing, with a promise to re-evaluate her career following the trials.
Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at email@example.com.