During sublime summer days like this one, runners scheme and dream and lay the groundwork for fall marathons, dutifully performing the long-run drudgery that often doesn’t pay off until after the last leaf has fallen.
Among those Mainers with eyes on a months-distant target is Mary Pardi of Falmouth. Her goal: a qualifying time for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, 2016.
Pardi’s odds are far better than most racers. A masters runner (age 44), she is one of the fastest Maine women and competes on the elite Dirigo team. She is an accomplished and experienced marathoner. That experience includes an impressive but disappointing PR at the Philadelphia Marathon in November 2011.
The race was essentially the Last Chance Marathon for the 2012 trials. Pardi needed 2 hours, 46 minutes to hit the “B” standard. The day was windy, she remembers, and she was running with a bunch of women who shared her goal, so they worked together, taking turns wind-blocking. By the final mile the pack had dwindled to three, one of them Pardi. But her race ended in tears. She finished in 2:46:39. (The other two women came up seconds short as well.)
Pardi will pursue a qualifying time at Philadelphia again, on Nov. 23. She will need to run 2:43 this year, because the qualifying standards have been toughened.
Her progression to high-level competition has not been as direct as many top runners. At Portland High, Pardi played softball and soccer and ran middle distances in indoor track. In her freshman year, 1985, the George Towle-coached indoor track team won the Class A state title.
Pardi says she was not highly motivated in those days. Towle, for his part, comments that “she did bring impeccable mechanics to the track, which I’m sure made the transition to distance running a lot easier.”
That transition didn’t come for years, though, until Pardi was in her early 30s and, with her husband, Joe, was raising two kids (Gina, now 16, and Antonio, 13). “I just started running with friends … and then I ran with the Run to Win team for a while … and got more into running, and then just realized, ‘This is fun. I could be somewhat decent.’”
Her racing career began with that same baby-steps modesty. She mentions a Patriots Day 5-miler (“probably 8-minute miles”) and a first Beach to Beacon 10K finish of 45 minutes (her 10K PR is now 37:01). But by 2005 she was doing longer races, with the Maine Marathon her first 26.2-miler. On “hardly any training, no idea what I was doing,” she ran 3:32:39, speeding up to 7-minute pace in the last miles, and qualifying for Boston.
There, Pardi ran 3:37 in 2006, and then in 2007, “hoping for 3:15,” she ran 3:23 that rainy year thanks in part to classic runner self-sabotage. Moving furniture the day before, she dropped a table on her foot. Then she barely made it to the start on time, and ran uncomfortably in a brand-new but too-warm $100 jacket she was too stubborn to toss. “Stuff I would never run in now!”
Mike Gaige, the Maine Running Hall of Famer who coached Pardi informally for a while, no doubt could have counseled her against the jacket. So could Kristin Barry of Scarborough and Sheri Piers of Falmouth, but Pardi didn’t connect with the two Maine elite women, both Olympic Marathon qualifiers, until the Christopher Scott Cash Memorial 5K in June 2007.
She began doing long runs with them, with the added bonus of being coached by Barry for several years. “She’s inspirational and so knowledgeable, like a running encyclopedia,” Pardi said.
As evidence, consider Pardi’s marathoning improvement, to a 3:03:03 at Hartford in October 2008. That performance is all the more remarkable because it turned out that Pardi had a stress fracture in her left tibia.
Owing to which, she calls 2009 “pretty much a wasted year” (physical rehab, gait change). But she bounced back strong in 2010 and popped a “2:53:39 – that was fun” at Boston, good for fourth-place master and a handy $1,500 check.
The see-saw continued, though. The 2011 season began with a right tibia stress fracture, but then came a rebuild that included three consecutive half marathons in the fall, before the peak at Philly. Pardi ran 2:48 at Boston 2013, but this spring brought more injuries – a yoga-induced hamstring pull and a tibia stress reaction. Now, though, she’s on the upswing, coming off three 60-mile weeks, and looking toward the autumn.
“When she’s been injured, she’s been really good at doing whatever she can, getting into the pool, on a bike, and continuing to push herself,” Barry said. “Which is no fun, and speaks to her mental toughness.
“She’s definitely better the longer the race gets, able to maintain close to the same pace over the marathon distance. To run well, you have to have a lot of belief in yourself and not be intimidated, and she’s really good at that. She has the confidence that is so important.”
Look back at that breakthrough 2:53:39 at Boston 2010. Pardi didn’t yet have a time that would allow her to start with the elite women, so she asked Boston officials to let her in. She was given a who’s-who list of who the elite women were, and asked if she was sure she wanted to be included.
“Absolutely I did,” Pardi remembers. “I knew the shape I was in, and I wanted to prove that I was worthy to be there.”
Now, she’s well on the road to proving herself again.
THE ROTARY SPRING Point 5K Classic is on for the second year, at 8 a.m. on Sunday, July 27, on the South Portland waterfront. The course loops out of Bug Light Park and is described as flat and fast. The fee is $20 to preregister, $25 on race day, and your money goes to benefit Maine homeless veterans.
Sign up at baystateevents.com by July 14 to secure a tech shirt. For more info, contact Bob Flynn at email@example.com.
Last year there were 128 finishers, as Ross Nickerson, 25, of Falmouth won in 16:54, and Molly West, 25, of New Haven, Conn., topped the women in 19:30, seventh place overall.
John Rolfe writes about road racing for the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be contacted at 791-6429 or at: