Mariko Neveu holds a master’s degree in exercise science, but the recently transplanted Austin distance runner said she’s still a student when it comes to the marathon.
She’s also learning about the benefits of training here instead of in Boston, her former home.
“If I was still in Boston post-Nemo, my options would be a treadmill, tangoing with traffic on snow-covered streets or doing repeats of what we called the Sheatock Loop of Destiny (a three-quarter-mile paved loop at Harvard) until the run was done,” said Neveu, a former All-American runner at Brandeis University who’s a contender to top the women’s field Sunday at Austin’s annual 26.2-mile test.
Since moving here with her husband in June, the 31-year-old Neveu has continued to work toward her goal of posting an automatic qualifying time for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials.
Her first marathon came in 2010 in Burlington, Vt., and it was “a complete eye-opening experience,” said Neveu, who finished in 3 hours, 5 minutes. “I had run 16:44 for the 5K and 34:40 for the 10K, and I was training with some women who had qualified for the Olympic trials, so I was in good shape. I was on pace for 2:46 at the half but then fell apart.
“I learned that I need to respect the marathon. It may feel easy for a few miles, but it doesn’t feel easy 18 miles into it. I also learned that I needed to become more familiar with marathon pacing.”
In 2011, Neveu lined up for the Chicago Marathon with the thought of hitting an Olympic trials qualifying time (2:46) in the back of her mind. She finished in 2:54 but came away feeling better about the 26.2-mile distance.
“I had become more marathon-focused but was cautious,” she said. “I ran around 2:54 and felt relatively comfortable.”
Coming off a fifth-place finish last month at the 3M Half Marathon, Neveu hopes her third career marathon will be the charm.
After finishing in 1:19:58 at 3M and winning the Rogue 30K three weeks ago in 2:01:31, Neveu said she’s prepared for Sunday’s race, helped by the guidance of her coach, Steve Sisson.
“The Livestrong Austin course challenges you because you have to pace yourself in the early hilly miles,” she said. “Our plan is to run smart and take advantage of the fact that the course will pay you back if you do run smart.”
The Austin course, a loop that starts at 16th Street and Congress Avenue and finishes at 10th Street and Congress Avenue, is not considered easy, but it has yielded some fast times nonetheless.
Based on her training and recent results, Neveu, who has been running 65 to 75 miles a week with the Rogue Athletic Club, sees a possible 2:48 on the horizon.
“She’s actually in better 5K/10K shape,” Sisson said, “but her prospects for Sunday’s marathon are good. It all depends on who shows up. Sometimes you don’t see your competitors during the 26.2 miles of the marathon, so she’ll have to focus.
“I think she’ll go under 2:50, but I’m not sure how much. She’s such a hard worker, and she’s so focused. She knows exactly what she needs to get done and understands the big plan. She’s running well now because she’s having fun training within the club system.”
With no concerns about dodging snow or ice, Neveu looks forward to the first marathon in her new hometown.
“I’m well-trained and well-rested,” she said. “This is the one (marathon) where I see what I can do. And it will be fun to do that in my hometown. I never got to run Boston, only cheer at it.”
Livestrong Austin Marathon
7 a.m. Sunday
Start: 16th Street and Congress Avenue
Finish: 10th Street and Congress Avenue