Molly Huddle was scared going into her first marathon in New York City in 2016, two months removed from the Rio Olympics.
“That I wasn’t ready enough,” she said last week. “My coach wasn’t sure how I’d handle the marathon, and I may have to go back to the track.”
Huddle, a two-time Olympic track runner and American record holder at 10,000m, crossed the Central Park finish line in third place two years ago.
It was a landmark result for not just Huddle, but any American. She became the first U.S. runner of either gender to make the New York City podium in six years.
Much has changed for U.S. women’s marathon running since that day. For Huddle, the difference is in mindset.
Huddle will race the New York City Marathon for the second time on Nov. 4, joining a field that includes 2017 New York City Marathon winner Shalane Flanagan and 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden.
“Hopefully try and finish higher than I did before,” Huddle said. “I could go somewhere and try and run a PR, and I choose to come back to New York because, to me, that’s kind of the ultimate, pie-in-the-sky dream would be to win the New York marathon. All of my eggs are in that basket.”
Huddle did go back to the track in 2017, as planned, to race the world championships in London. The native of Elmira, N.Y., expects to enter at least one marathon per year from here through the Tokyo Olympics.
She can take motivation from Flanagan and Linden’s breakthrough victories.
Flanagan won her first marathon in New York in 2017, at age 36 in her 10th overall marathon. Linden won her first marathon in Boston on April 16, at age 34 in her 16th marathon.
Huddle is younger than both (turns 34 on Aug. 31) with much more to learn, having raced just two marathons so far.
“I would love it to be my turn,” Huddle said in reference to Flanagan’s prophetic tweet to Linden last November. “I don’t know if I’ve paid my dues yet in the marathon. I came to it late in my career, so I don’t have a lot of time to make mistakes.”
Or time for calamities like Huddle’s second marathon back in April.
It was arguably the worst weather in the Boston Marathon’s 122 editions — high 30 degrees at the Hopkinton start, 20 mile-per-hour headwinds and a downpour throughout.
Huddle slogged through it in 16th place, getting passed by elite men who started 28 minutes later.
She finished in 2 hours, 50 minutes (22 minutes slower than her New York City debut). Huddle said she wasn’t thinking clearly for the last three miles and didn’t feel normal again until an hour after the race.
“I was really confused. I couldn’t find the drinks table,” Huddle said. “They were asking me questions at the finish line, and I couldn’t answer them. Everything felt slow. I was frozen.”
It was a shame because Huddle felt fitter and more confident going into Boston than she had on an abbreviated buildup to her first marathon in New York City in 2016.
She broke the American record in the half marathon in January. She had not been beaten by another American in a road race since 2012.
“I could have not trained one step and run faster than [2:50],” in normal weather, said Huddle, who scheduled a root canal for the day after Boston.
Huddle raced a very abbreviated track season this summer, picking up her 27th national title between the track and road in the 10,000m in Des Moines on June 21.
She felt tired after and is seeing a chiropractor and physical therapist to get ready for her third marathon build-up.
Huddle has vivid memories of her New York debut two years ago.
She came off the Queensboro Bridge at mile 16 and saw a group wearing Saucony clothes (Huddle’s sponsor). Their cheers had to be for Huddle, because she was alone for more than half the race after dropping back off the early leaders’ pace.
“It felt like I was time-trialing 15 miles to the finish line,” Huddle said. “I would love to get into a marathon where I’m racing head to head.”
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