Running After a Dream
Jen Maranzano ’94 details her journey to run a marathon in a time that would qualify her for the Olympic trials years after her time as a member of Haverford’s cross-country and track and field teams.
While attending Haverford, I fell in love. With running. Under Coach Fran Rizzo’s guidance, and fueled by Skeeter’s pizzas, I bonded with cross-country and track and field teammates over many miles. For years after graduation, I didn’t race much, but remained devoted to running daily. In my mind, I was training for life. Eventually, I started running with a training group. As my fitness improved, my curiosity was piqued. Call it peer pressure, a midlife crisis, or reigniting the fire that was sparked at Haverford—I returned to racing.
After running the Chicago Marathon in 2:49:21, I felt pulled to a goal that simultaneously thrilled and terrified me. I wanted to run an Olympic Trials Qualifying (OTQ) marathon, which would require running sub-2:45:00 and enable me to compete at the U.S. Olympic trials. Taking a shot at an OTQ felt like the culmination of years of work.
Because of chronic injuries, I couldn’t run the mileage I previously had. With that in mind, in the summer of 2018 I decided to ask for a leave from work to altitude train. When I talked to my boss, I was overcome with impostor syndrome. But my boss and colleagues were incredibly supportive, despite the fact that they would be covering my work. My partner, Dan, also a runner, intuitively understood my desire to go all-in on this goal. I wasn’t sure if I was a trailblazer or selfish. But I didn’t for a minute take for granted this support.
My coach and I decided that I would spend five weeks in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is 7,000 feet above sea level, to give my body sufficient time to produce more red blood cells. Flagstaff, often considered a running mecca, boasts countless long dirt roads and a robust running community.
When I arrived there in early October, it was freezing and gloomy. As I sat in a small hipster cafe chewing an artisanal veggie burger, I felt lost. For months, training partners had selflessly paced me through workouts, pushing and encouraging me. Now, I was in Flagstaff, not knowing anyone, or where to run, or how altitude training would impact me.
I set out for a run and stumbled onto a trail. I was congratulating myself for finding a great running spot, when the trail started climbing. And climbing. I began to breathe heavily. My stride slowed. In a blink, I was basically walking. Welcome to 7,000 feet!
On a whim, I reached out to a local professional runner, Kiya Dandena, who had a friendly smile on social media. Kiya spent hours sharing local knowledge with me. He told me that at the higher altitude I shouldn’t force things, but let the running come to me. I had no idea what that meant, but I gradually started to understand.
After my first week, sunny autumn days replaced the unseasonably cold weather. With each day, I expanded my comfort zone. Thanks to Kiya’s introductions, the Flagstaff running community generously brought me into the fold. The running, however, remained challenging.
I approached my first altitude workout with trepidation. My initial interval felt surprisingly relaxed. I glanced at my watch and thought, “Nailed it!” With pride, I looked over my shoulder at the path I had just run. And my neck went up, and up ... and only then did I realize that I’d run downhill.
Another morning, Will Baldwin, an elite Flagstaff runner, agreed to help me with a workout. As we started, I learned that he had previously paced several world-class runners. This epitomized the Flagstaff running community: A guy who had paced an Olympic medalist was also happy to pace me. During the workout, I struggled to stay on Will’s heels. As we started the last interval, my brain was hazy with hypoxemia. But one question pierced my consciousness: Had Will ever paced a workout this slow?
Just as I started to acclimate, I needed to leave Flagstaff for my final race preparations. During one of my last workouts, I felt a sharp pain in my hamstring that stopped me in my tracks. For the next week, I couldn’t run. After everything I had poured into my training, I was devastated.
Perhaps due to strong anti-inflammatories, or time off running, the day before the race I thought I could complete the marathon without doing further damage. But I knew the injury had compromised my ability to run sub-2:45. Initially, I wasn’t sure I wanted to race if I didn’t have a shot at my goal. But I also realized that it’s always a privilege to toe the line. With much difficulty, I let go of the goal and headed to the start.
Unlike any race I’d previously run, I started knowing that I might not finish. My injury caused some pain, but the miles ticked by. I gradually picked up my pace and crossed the finish line in 2:47:33.
It was the fastest I’d ever run a marathon, but not the ending I’d spent months hoping for. But here’s the thing about big goals: They’re exciting because they’re hard. And sometimes, even without the storybook ending, the pursuit itself provides an unforgettable experience, a mindset shift, or the glimpse of a new possibility. Chasing an Olympic Trials Qualifying time led me on an adventure that connected me with amazing people and enabled me to prioritize my passion for running. So I’m walking away both disappointed and grateful. Perhaps most important, I live to run another day.
Jen Maranzano ’94 was a four-time NCAA All-American runner and a 2008 inductee into Haverford College’s Thomas Glasser Hall of Achievement. She currently holds Haverford’s outdoor track records in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Jen lives in Washington, D.C. where she is an attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.