Every year the Boston Marathon represents the pinnacle of long-distance running, drawing participants from all across the globe. The focus of this year's race may be on supporting the community a year after the bombing, but the race hasn't lost its reputation.
Courtney Olsen, a 26-year-old Bellingham resident, qualified for the Boston Marathon after running the Skagit Flats Marathon in September 2013. She finished with a time of 3 hours, 2 minutes, and hopes to get her time down to 2:50:00 in Boston.
"I'm trying to get as close to the Olympic 'B' Standard of 2:47:00 as possible," Olsen said. "If I can hover around that, competing at that level is something I'll try to accomplish in the future."
Olsen ran the Skagit Flats Marathon after hardly any training, running with a group that had two runners keep them on pace to qualify for Boston. She ended up finishing in front of the pack.
"It was really foggy and flat," Olsen said. "I like cheating like that (running a race without many hills)."
Olsen started running in middle school at Shukshan. She was enticed by the promise of popsicle's after a race, but eventually it grew into more. In high school she ran cross country and track for Squalicum, specializing in the 100 hurdles.
"I got most improved one year because in my first race I ran up to the hurdle and stopped to step over it," Olsen said. "Then I made it to state and I think I placed in the top eight in the 100 hurdles."
Olsen continued her running career at Western Washington University where she ran the steeplechase and 1,500. She qualified for nationals one year and set a personal-best mark in the steeplechase.
After graduating from WWU in 2010, she moved to Boulder, Colo. Even though she lived in a "running Mecca," Olsen didn't take advantage of it, she said. She returned to Bellingham last year, albeit somewhat begrudgingly.
"I was unhappy with being home. It felt like a back track," Olsen said. "I didn't run a lot, but I heard some of my friends were going to Boston, so I thought I'd try to qualify. It's been a good experience and refilled my passion."
Olsen runs with the Bellingham Distance Project, which brings together higher-level, post-collegiate runners to train together after college. She is running the Boston Marathon with three other WWU running alumnae - Danielle Slaughter, Sierra Brisky and Lauren Breihof.
"I'm going kind of selfishly because when I moved back it was hard on me. I felt like I lost a side of myself," Olsen said, "so I thought if I joined to do this powerful thing with strong, emotional people it would re-instill that."
Olsen took a few months off from training hard after Skagit Flats, but has been preparing for Boston since January. She thinks her experience running in Ski to Sea a few times will get her ready for the toll Boston's downhill course can take on a runner's legs.
"After the marathon I'll have to take a big break," she said. "I'll probably break until Ski to Sea (on May 25) and use it as a test to see where I'm at."
Olsen will do the running leg in Ski to Sea for the Core PT team, a team entirely made up of female athletes.
To follow Olsen at the Boston Marathon, visit baa.org and go to the "Results & Commentary" tab. Click the "Search Entry List" button and enter Olsen's bib number, 5541. Olsen begins in the first wave of runners in corral six.
Reach Alex Peterson at email@example.com or 360-715-2285.
Date: Monday, April 21
Time: 6:30 a.m.
TV: Universal Sports or watchlive.baa.org