Molly Nunn (’06, MBA ’11) Hopes to Qualify for Olympic Trials During Myrtle Beach Marathon

2.17.2011 Alumni News, Article, General

Pair of women hope to make Olympic trials at Myrtle Beach Marathon

Reposted from Myrtle Beach Sun-News | by Ryan Young

The pack of runners bunched near the starting line Saturday morning for the Myrtle Beach Marathon will likely include some mix of veteran marathoners, repeat entrants into the event and also, surely, a good number of newcomers who will be looking to complete those grueling 26.2 miles for the first time.

Molly Nunn is one of those, but her goals this weekend go well beyond just crossing the finish line.

Nunn, a 27-year-old former Wake Forest track and cross country runner from Winston-Salem, N.C., is hoping to not only complete her first marathon this weekend, but to do so in a time – 2 hours, 46 minutes or less – that would qualify her for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials next January. It's a quest four years in the making.

"There's a lot of emotion tied to it at this point," Nunn said. "So I think [qualifying] would mean that you can set high goals, you can achieve them. … Four years ago when we set this goal, people kind of look at you like you're crazy."

Kathleen Castles used to think it was somewhat crazy, too.

But Castles, a 39-year-old runner from New Providence, N.J., is coming to Myrtle Beach with the same goal in mind this weekend. After being coaxed into trying distance running, she made it through to the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials by running a 2:45 marathon in Philadelphia four years ago. She ended up 36th at the trials in Boston later that year, she said, and would like to see if she can do it again.

"It's pretty prestigious to make it to the trials," Castles said. "I'm not unrealistic. I'm not doing this to go to the Olympics. I'm doing this to go do the trials and be surrounded by those great runners and run with them."

Nunn and Castles don't know each other, but they will share something of a bond Saturday nonetheless. For them, the Myrtle Beach Marathon is more than just a 26.2-mile run – it's a means to a goal, to an accomplishment that only a limited few around the country achieve.

And both needed a little nudge to find their respective paths to the starting line.

Castles was not a college athlete, but she had run since a young age and found a great deal of success on the local, regional and even state level. She was a 5K runner, though, and was content to remain as such.

Then a training partner encouraged her to run a half marathon in New York City. As per Castles' recollection, she came in third and was the first American woman across the finish line.

"I wasn't even thinking that I was a distance runner, and I was like 'Wow!'" she said.

That's when somebody suggested she make a run at the Olympic marathon trials. She used to balk at any suggestion that she take up marathon running.

"People always said, 'You're a distance runner, you're a distance runner,'" she recalled. "I used to tell people, 'No, I'm a 5K runner. … I think I was just fearful of that distance until I actually did it."

Castles' first marathon was actually the one in Philadelphia that she used to qualify for the Olympic trials. Her second was the trials in Boston shortly thereafter. And she hasn't run another since – until Saturday, that is.

"I know it takes a lot out of your body to run them well," she said. "… I don't know how many times we have it in our body to do it at that pace, and I didn't want to waste that."

Nunn, for that matter, also knows well the toll and challenge of the task at hand.

Her first attempt to qualify came last month in Houston – which will also host the Olympic trials next January. But after traveling from the chill of North Carolina to the warmth of southern Texas, it soon became apparent to her that she would need to try again.

"By mile 10, I could just tell it wasn't happening that day, so we made the play [that] if it didn't work out that day, we would shut it down early – which we did at mile 16 – and try again at the Myrtle Beach Marathon," Nunn said.

Really, though, the quest began four years ago.

Nunn says she wasn't the most serious of collegiate runners, but after graduating from Wake Forest in 2006, she continued to train. And in January of 2007, one of her former coaches asked why she had continued to stick with it. So she sat down with Wake Forest assistant coach David Duggan and decided to focus her training.

Deciding her strength was as a distance runner, they set the aim at trying to reach the 2012 Olympic marathon trials.

"Over the four years, it kind of became more and more of this dream/goal/exciting kind of journey," Nunn said. "So now we're here."

In Myrtle Beach. Trying to finish her first rull marathon while also looking to prove that she belongs in a group of the nation's elite 26.2-milers.

"It's not really a negative nervous energy; it's more 'Let's just get the job done,'" Nunn said. "When the first time doesn't work out, it just adds an extra sort of motivation and umph to try harder."

Any marathon course that is certified by USA Track and Field – which the Myrtle Beach Marathon is – is an approved qualifying race, and both runners said the appeal of coming here was that it is a flat course.

Now it's up to them what they do with it.

Castles seemed interested to hear that another woman was attempting to qualify for the Olympic trials, and if they don't get a chance to meet before the race, well, there's a good bet they'll recognize each other at some point as the two women running at a sub-2:46 pace.

That's the plan, at least.

"I'm hoping I have another good experience," Castles said. "You never know, though. In 26 miles, anything can happen."