Eugene runners ready for U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

Brett Ely of Team Run Eugene (right) demonstrates proper warm-ups during a recent meeting of TrackTown Fitness at Hayward Field. Ely will be competing in her fourth U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles on Saturday.

EUGENE, Ore. – Whether it be a two-time Olympian looking to shine in his marathon debut or a University of Oregon graduate student looking to finish her competitive career with a bang, some of Eugene’s top distance runners will travel to Los Angeles to compete in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday.

Galen Rupp highlights a field of local talent that includes Luke Puskedra, Brett Ely, Craig Leon and Dan Kremske, all hoping to represent the U.S. in the 2016 Rio Olympics in August. The top three finishers in a pool of 168 men and 202 women will qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Games.

The focus will fall mainly on Rupp – America’s top distance runner, seven-time U.S champion at 10,000 meters and two-time Olympian – and fellow UO alum Luke Puskedra, who has the third-fastest qualifying time.

Rupp will make his debut at 26.2 miles after previously running only two half-marathons. Rupp grabbed his U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier with a 1:01:20 finish at the Holiday Half Marathon in Portland in December.

“It’s such a big step up in distance, but I’m really excited to give it a shot,” Rupp told USATF.TV last month. “I think everything we’ve done to prepare me is going to turn out all right.”

Puskedra ran 2:10:24 to finish fifth overall – and the first American – at the 2015 Chicago Marathon. His time, a personal best by five minutes, was the fastest by an American man last year.

Puskedra only recently returned to competition after calling it quits following a tough outing at the 2012 New York City Marathon. In the past year, Puskedra, his wife, and their newborn baby girl, Penelope, found their way back to Eugene, and he rejoined Oregon distance coach Andy Powell.

Rupp and Puskedra will be joined by two distance runners from the University of Oregon campus.

Planning to transition out of competition after this race is UO doctoral student Brett Ely. She first metaphorically hung up her spikes following an injury-plagued collegiate career at James Madison University, then ran her first marathon just to check it off of her bucket list. It was then that Ely fell in love with the marathon distance and surprised more than just herself with a solid time and unexpected victory.

Team Run Eugene's Bretty Ely is one of several local runners headed to Los Angeles on Saturday for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

Team Run Eugene’s Bretty Ely is one of several local runners headed to Los Angeles on Saturday for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

“That was just a surreal moment,” said Ely. “I think the fact that my first marathon was so positive is what made me fall in love with the 26.2 distance.”

Ely moved to Eugene in 2012. At the time, she wasn’t sure she would have the time to balance graduate school and competitive running, but living in TrackTown USA has increased her love for the sport, and she is thriving in both endeavors.

“What blew me away about Eugene is the running community,” said Ely. “I think one of the reasons it’s so special is that it’s accessible at every level of the sport. You can see these incredible performances at Hayward Field, and you can leave and see a 75-year-old man out jogging on Pre’s Trail afterwards. I just love being a part of that and seeing the community connect through this activity.”

Ely, a member of Team Run Eugene who is coached by Ian Dobson, has qualified for four Olympic Marathon Trials (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016) and represented the U.S. marathon team in the 2011 Pan American Games.

Another representative for Team Run Eugene this weekend is Craig Leon, the MBA program manager for the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. Saturday will be Leon’s 14th marathon since he won the 2010 Eugene Marathon in his debut.

Leon, who finished 26th at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, represented Team USA in the Pan-Am games last summer, and he is coming off of an eighth-place finish in the New York City Marathon last November in 2:15:16. He was the second American finisher after Meb Keflezighi, who is trying to win the Trials again at age 40, and thinks he has a strong shot to make the team.

“At a certain point in your career, you don’t spend these thousands of hours dedicating yourself to something that you can’t envision,” said Leon. “I feel I’ve proven that I can be competitive at this level, and if you are in the top percentage of the nation’s runners, I think it is foolish to not think about [placing in the top 3].”

Team Run Eugene’s other entrant is Dan Kremske, who has a marathon PR of 2:18.52.