Tom Haxton wakes up everyday before dawn and heads to the Schuylkill River trails for a run.
After that, it’s off to Franklin Field for a workout with the Philadelphia Runner Track Club.
And sometimes, when the fourth-year physics Ph. D. student has finished his research for the day, Haxton will head out for a short evening run as well.
All this for the hope of running alongside the nation’s best in the Olympic Marathon Trials.
In order to get there, though, the athletes must run faster than the Olympic Trials standard. For the men, that means finishing the race under two hours and 22 minutes; for the women, in two hours and 47 minutes.
If a runner hits that time or faster, then he or she qualifies for the Olympic Marathon Trials, where the reward for the top three finishers is a trip to the Olympics.
At the La Salle Bank Chicago Marathon on Oct. 7, Haxton finished 30th overall with a time of two hours and 34 minutes – still slower than the OT standard.
Another PRTC member and Penn post-doctorate researcher, Abby Dean, ran in the marathon with Haxton.
She didn’t hit the mark either. Though she finished 16th overall in her gender and was the seventh American woman, her time of two hours and 56 minutes was short.
“Unfortunately, we had very bad weather – heat, high humidity and a lot of sun – and neither of us were close,” said Haxton, whose personal record in the marathon is two hours and 27 minutes. “But we probably placed higher than we would have in better weather.”
The Chicago Marathon was the last qualifying marathon before the Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials, taking place on November 2 in New York City.
The Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials are usually held in the late winter or early spring of the Olympic year. But because it is taking place so early this year, there are no more qualifying marathons for Haxton and his hopes of making it to the trials are over.
However, for the women, marathon trials are not until April 2008 in Boston.
This gives Dean and 2005 Penn graduate Claire Duncan a few more chances.
Their next race is the Philadelphia Marathon on Nov. 18.
“I am indeed aiming to qualify for the Olympic Trials,” said Duncan, who last raced in the Philadelphia Distance Run where she finished as the 18th woman overall in the half marathon race.
So while these runners have little chance of qualifying for the Olympics and may not even make it to Trials, it doesn’t mean they haven’t accomplished much.
Haxton averaged sub-six minute miles in the Chicago Marathon while Dean averaged about six minutes and 43 seconds – faster than most runners can run one.
Adding to that, Haxton and Dean only finished 10 minutes slower than the standard against athletes who make competitive running their profession.
And despite his close miss, the road doesn’t end here for Haxton.
In four years, there’s another Marathon Trials.