Meghan Peyton is very likely to finish a marathon for the first time Sunday, and it wouldn’t be surprising if she wins it.
But the drive she’ll find to compete at the Twin Cities Marathon — which is also the national championship for both men and women — comes directly from the first time she attempted the 26.2-mile distance.
“It was the first race I ever dropped out of, and I vowed it would be the last,” said the Team USA Minnesota standout. “I found out the hard way that dropping out was a lot worse than what my mind was telling me those last 2 miles would be like.”
Peyton’s first marathon attempt was at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials in Houston, with probably the best women’s field in American history (78 runners broke 2 hours, 45 minutes). She developed a blood blister early, but her competitive instincts actually proved to be her downfall.
“I didn’t stick to my pace plan in the beginning stages and just got caught up in the competition,” she said. “I ended up paying for it and dropped out at Mile 24. I was physically capable of finishing, but I started to get passed by people and just mentally kind of broke down.
“I didn’t go into the Olympic trials marathon just wanting to finish a marathon. I was there to compete and wanted to finish real high. It was a lesson learned.”
Team USA Minnesota coach Dennis Barker agrees.
“In the marathon, very few people feel really good in the last 4 or 5 miles, and that doesn’t mean you can’t keep running fast, it just means that it hurts,” he said. “Especially a first-time marathoner, you get to that point and you think, ‘Oh, man, I’m hurting more than I’ve ever hurt before.’
“Meghan might learn more from a race like that than if she would have had a spectacular first run. It’s been motivation for this one. Not just to finish it, but to really drive that last few miles and see what she can really do.”
A surprise title
Peyton, 27, is from Tualatin, Ore., where she was a six-time high school state track champion. As Meghan Armstrong, she was a four-time All-America at Iowa, where she got a degree in physiology. She joined Team USA Minnesota in 2008 and married her high school boyfriend, Cole Peyton, in 2010.
The Peytons live in Richfield, and Cole runs a mixed martial arts equipment company. Meghan is pursuing her master’s degree in leadership at Augsburg, where she is an assistant track and cross country coach under Barker.
Peyton, who is 5-4 and weighs 110 pounds, is making the move from distance races to the marathon at a typical age for elite women. She was on a long block of training that included as many as 132 miles a week when her major breakthrough came on Labor Day. On a muggy morning in New Haven, Conn., she won the U.S. national 20-kilometer championship by a wide margin.
“Since I began my professional career, I set certain goals, and winning a national championship was definitely one of them,” she said. “I just didn’t expect it that day. I was in the middle of marathon training, I still ran 95 miles that week, I hadn’t really tapered for the race. So yeah, definitely it was a surprise.
“There were a lot of factors working against me — the weather, my mileage, strong competition. When I found myself in the lead at 6 miles, I kept telling myself, ‘You can win it, keep pushing.’ And the last 2 miles, I was motivated by pure — what’s the word? — well, I was running scared. I didn’t want to lose.”
Aiming for victory
The top American woman in Sunday’s marathon earns $25,000. Peyton’s personal best in the half-marathon is 1:13:43, and she would like to scare 2:30 on Sunday.
“Two-thirty is realistic, but being a national championship, we’re just going for the win, and not looking so much at time,” Barker said. “We’re trying to compete and win this thing, and if she does that, the time will take care of itself.”
Said Peyton: “From what happened at the Olympic trials, I definitely learned enough to be able to handle whatever comes my way. I’m going to be more patient. Everyone says the race doesn’t really begin until the last 10K. Those last 6 miles are where I’m really going to get into focus. … You just have to stay with the lead pack and see how it turns out.”