Erin Nehus-Vergara cracked the top 20 in the U.S Olympic marathon trials earlier this month. That’s even more impressive when you consider she’s parenting a small child — and helping her husband as he fights stage 4 colorectal cancer.
“Running in my second Trials was a dream in of itself, given that I have had a child since the 2012 Olympic Trials held in Houston, Texas and with my husband’s situation fighting for his life this year,” she told NUVO. “Also, my husband was deployed serving in Afghanistan during the 2012 Trials, so he was unable to see me race. Having him and my daughter there this year was the icing on the cake.”
Nehus-Vergara was one of two Indianapolis-based women who competed in the February 13 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials race in Los Angeles finished in the top 30, a race in which the top three finishers earned a spot to represent the United States in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the Olympic Games on August 14.
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Whitney Bevins-Lazzara, 34 (2:43:52); and Erin Nehus-Vergara, 34 (2:41:10); took 30th and 19th, respectively, in what amounted to a contest of attrition as much as a foot race for the 26.2 miles. Of the 198 initial entrants in the female race, 49 dropped out in a sunny day that saw temperatures rise into the mid-70s.
Bevins-Lazzara, an Indianapolis-area native and Indiana University alum who attended Westfield High School, trained for the race under the tutelage of renowned running coach Steve Magness in Houston, Texas, and will soon return back home to Indianapolis. She believes training in Houston’s heat helped acclimate her to race day conditions and is content with her top-30 finish.
“The first half physically wasn't bad, but I was straining more at half way than I typically am,” she told NUVO. “Although I was getting tired, others were fading worse. Mentally and physically I felt stronger being able to run people down.”
Nehus-Vergara, like Bevins-Lazzara, said the heat was brutal and that it caused her nearly race-ending severe cramping in her thighs and calves.
“Thankfully taking fluid during the early stages, I believe, allowed me to race a relatively strong last 10k (6.2 miles) compared to the field,” Nehus-Vergara told NUVO, also noting that in previous shorter distance races she suffered from severe heat exhaustion. “Mentally it was a grind from the get-go, as I felt cold chills by the first stages of the race.”
The prestigious Boston Marathon (a race this writer will compete in, by the way) is scheduled for April 18 — and that run could be in Bevins-Lazarra’s immediate future.
“Boston is the tentative plan, however, I'm going to meet with my coach and we will figure out a plan for the rest of 2016,” she said. “I've never run Boston and seeing as I'm not as beat up from the Trials, I should be able to bounce back quickly start training soon.”
Nehus-Vergara has yet to determine what’s next for her in competitive running. She may do the March 19 Sam Costa Half-Marathon in Carmel, or perhaps the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon half-marathon scheduled for May 7. But she says fighting cancer alongside her husband and two-year-old daughter takes precedence for now.
Bevins-Lazzara, whose father passed away in 2009, also sees herself competing in marathons for more than just herself.
After an unenjoyable running experience at Indiana University, she quit the team and the sport for nearly a decade until 2012, when she says she “got back into running initially as a way to honor or make my father proud. I think I did that. I think he would be proud of what I've done. The journey now has become more personal and about more than just how fast I can run 26.2 miles.”
Both runners, considered moderately old in the world of elite running, still have a burning desire to train and compete going forward.
“I can not imagine my life without running as it has been so instrumental in shaping the person I have become and building amazing friendships that I will have forever,” said Nehus-Vergara. “I’m not exactly sure yet what the future holds but confident that whatever is ahead is more than I could hope for, just like this Olympic cycle ended with a top-20 finish and more importantly a husband who is regaining his health despite sacrificing for me along the way to achieve my goals.”
Though 34, Bevins-Lazzara feels somewhat like a newbie to the sport after taking such a long time off. She thinks her best days still lay ahead.
“I'm very excited as to what the next four years will bring,” she told NUVO. “Assuming I stay healthy, I have no doubt that I'll be back at the Marathon Trials in 2020.”
Other Indianapolis runners competing in the Trials in Los Angeles included Anna Weber, 28 (56th place and 2:48:36); Jesse Davis, 34 (70th place 2:29:39); and Jordan Kyle, 29 (95th and 02:38:20).