APOLLO BEACH — Sara Petrick trains hard every day, logging countless miles on runs by herself. She races as many weekends as possible. She is getting faster and faster.
Still, it might not be fast enough when she competes in today's U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Houston.
Petrick, a former standout at Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa and the University of Florida, knows her chances of being one of the three women to make the team for the London Games in August are slim.
"It's a very competitive race," Petrick said. "I'm competing against the best. I'm just happy that I was able to make it."
Petrick, 24, is one of two Floridians who qualified for the women's trials (Kim Pawelek of Jacksonville is the other). The women's "A" standard is 2 hours, 39 minutes. The "B" standard is 2:46. Petrick qualified with a time of 2:45.28 at the Houston Marathon last January.
To run a 2:45.28 marathon, Petrick had to keep a pace of 6 minutes, 18.9 seconds a mile over 26.2 miles — unimaginable by most recreational runners' standards but still far behind the world's best.
"To give you an idea of how fast that pace is, you have to turn the speed on a treadmill to 9.7 and run 26 miles at that speed to reach that time," Petrick said.
To compete for a spot on the Olympic team, Petrick would have to drop her marathon time by at least 23 minutes.
"There are a lot of runners who have more experience," she said. "I'm just a novice when it comes to marathon running."
The trials mark just the third time Petrick has competed in a marathon. In high school and college, she concentrated on cross country and 10K (6.2 mile) races.
After graduating from Florida, Petrick did well in half-marathons, so much that some suggested she could do well enough in marathons to qualify for the trials.
Her baptism into marathon running did not go exactly as planned.
Two years ago at the Chicago Marathon, Petrick collapsed at the finish line. Soon after, her body went into convulsions.
"It was a disaster," she said. "It was really warm that day, and it was quite a harrowing experience. But I learned several important lessons from that race, especially about being hydrated and staying at a more even pace."
Still, the time in her first marathon was 2:50.33, not far off what was needed to qualify for the trials.
Last year in Houston, Petrick did not have to beat the heat, just the clock. She did that as she stood past the finish line in a state of blissful fatigue.
"One of my proudest moments was knowing I had a qualifying time to compete in the trials," Petrick said.
But there are no second chances in this Olympic quest. To qualify for the Games, Petrick will have to run her best today. There are no exceptions made for someone who has an injury or an off day.
The trials offer Petrick the chance to line up alongside the country's best.
She hovers just below the top tier of national runners, picking up ribbons here and there by winning 5K and 10K races in the bay area, including the past two Times Turkey Trots.
She cannot support herself by running alone, so she scrambles to train around a full-time job. She also is self-coached.
"I kind of follow a training plan and do the workouts that I want to do," Petrick said. "I was running around 87 miles a week, but I've increased that to 92 the past few weeks. I try to go on one long run a week.
"But I did miss some 20-mile runs during the holidays. Hopefully I've done enough prior to that to run a great race at the trials."
Bob Putnam can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8129.