When you think of elite female marathoners from the US, the names that most often come to mind are Joan Benoit Samuelson, Deena Kastor, Kara Goucher or Shalane Flanagan. Not often mentioned is the name of two-time Olympian, Cathy O’Brien.
I had the chance to run with Cathy when she joined my running club, the Rochester Runners for our monthly meeting last week (it was cold…and windy).
Cathy is known as one of New Hampshire’s greatest female runners, if not the greatest. She dominated the high school cross country scene at the National Foot Locker Championships, finishing tenth as a sophomore in 982, third as a junior in 1983 and finally winning in 1984 her senior year of high school. The same year she set the national high school record for the marathon (which still stands), running 2:34:24 at the Olympic Trials Marathon.
Cathy went on to run in the 1988 Olympic trials and represented the USA in Seoul S. Korea that same year, finishing 40th in the marathon. I vividly remember when she ran the marathon at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Her face was all over the local papers (she went to high school in my hometown) along with fellow New Hampshire Olympian, swimmer Jenny Thompson. Cathy went on to finish 10th in the marathon. On her way to Barcelona she finished 2nd in the Olympic Trials in Houston, TX a race she probably would have won had she not stopped to help Janis Klecker, who had fallen at a water stop and went on to finish just in front of O’Brien.
We gathered for food after our run and when asked about the incident, Cathy said “I don’t regret it. I don’t view it as a loss that she was still in the race.”
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When we ran together I had a chance to ask her about her training. In her peak, she routinely ran 100-120 miles a week. She rarely went to the track, focusing on 2 and 3 mile repeats (think 5×2 miles with a three mile warm up and two mile cool down), tempo runs and multiple long runs. She also spoke really nice words of encouragement when I told her about my running and the goals I have in mind.
Cathy has been retired from racing for sometime now, though she competed on the local racing scene for a while. I asked her if she follows women’s running and she said not as much as her husband, an accomplished runner himself, who she says is a “true fan of the sport.” “That chapter of my life is closed,” she said. “I feel like I gave it my all and I feel satisfied. Now my kids are my life.” She teaches violin and still runs 50-55 miles a week. Despite all her accomplishments she remains incredibly down to earth and very approachable.
Would you stop to help someone up if you were running competitively in a race?
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