Trials, schmials:

Joey Keillor, trying to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Mens Marathon Trials, ran his second marathon in Houston on a January day when the temperature reached 80 degrees. When he finished, he was the top American and 13th overall in 2:23:49. But he missed the 2:22 qualifying time for the trials. It may have been the best thing to happen to him.

Since then, Keillor, 25 of Northfield, has been setting PRs. In March, he won the Human Race 8K in 24 minutes flat, becoming the first runner locally to beat Olympian Steve Plasencia, who was second. Keillor followed that performance with a 23:52 at the Shamrock Shuffle 8K in Chicago a week later, placing sixth overall.

Shamrock was just a great experience for him, says Kurt Decker, who heads the Runners Edge store and Keillors racing team. Suddenly he was in a race where he was running faster than ever before. It just goes to show that he can run with those top guys.

I have no doubt in my mind that given decent weather at Houston he would have qualified. If you give him some good weather in his next marathon, hell light it on fire. He has the competitiveness to be a good elite runner.

Keillors plans this spring include the Get in Gear 10K in April, the Old Kent 25K national championship in Grand Rapids, Mich. in May, the Brian Kraft 5K on Memorial Day, and Grandmas Marathon in June. He wants to set good times.

I was hoping to qualify for the marathon trials at Houston, Keillor says. It would have been nice, but I wasnt just yearning for it. Im actually pretty happy with what happened. Unlike Grandmas (his first marathon) where I just croaked at mile 18-19 and finished in 2:28:50, I was able to push through the wall at Houston and stay more focused.

This past year I have been putting in the mileage and suffering and getting injured. In a weird way it has paid off. Im more cognizant of having good shoes, getting a good recovery, making sure Im well hydrated and that Im running on soft surfaces. Plus my muscles have matured. It takes time to move up to the marathon.

Becoming a Runner

Keillor, who grew up in St. Louis Park, started running in 10th grade when his basketball coach suggested he go out for track. I did pretty well compared to others on the team, and that encouraged me to do cross-country in the fall, he says.

In 11th grade, Keillor went to state in the mile and in his senior year went to the state meets in cross-country running, Nordic skiing and track. After high school, he signed up to run at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

I had a rough first year in transition, he recalls. I red shirted cross-country and competed in indoor and outdoor track. I was constantly getting beat up at every meet. I wasnt even running good times, and I wasnt very happy with school. So after my first year, I quit college.

You could say I went on sabbatical for a year. I biked out to Colorado and got a job at a ski resort. Running a chair lift brought new levels of boredom to my life. I quit that in early January and skipped around the country. In August, I bicycled 1,500 miles around Lake Superior.

Then he returned to Mankato with three goals: To become an All American, to live in a tent for a quarter and to get a 4.0 for at least one quarter.

Theres a tendency to blame other people for not being happy but I realized that it comes from inside yourself and your attitude, he says. It was tough getting back into shape for college-level cross- country but by the end of the season I was third or fourth man on the team.

In the winter indoor season, Keillor ran the 1,500 and went to nationals. But I was blown away at prelims, which makes for a long trip, he says. Then in the spring the track team headed for an outdoor meet at Long Beach State in California.

I signed up for the 1,500 and did the steeplechase just for fun, he says. The coaches werent there. A friend of mine showed me how to do the hurdle. I had five minutes of practice but I qualified for nationals.

In fact, Keillor went on to become the Division II national champion in the steeplechase. The next fall, he was 13th in the national cross-country championships, and placed in the top 20 the next two cross-country seasons as well. He was named an All American.

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The tent situation

Keillor first tried his tent experiment during fall quarter of his junior year. But by mid-October it was getting pretty cold out there, he says. I got sick and bagged it and after that moved into somebodys closet on the cheap.

So was that the end of the tent? The tent story continues, Keillor says. A couple of years later, after a quarter of service learning in Guatemala, I decided to try again in the spring. I pitched it in the densely wooded ravines behind the school.

I made it a point not to show anyone where it was. Nobody ever bugged me. I slept in the tent and lived out of my athletic locker, took showers on campus, ate meals in the cafeteria and studied in the library.

And he also made his third goal of obtaining the 4.0, not only for one quarter, but for seven, and graduated in 1998.

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The Next Stage

Since graduation, Keillor has stepped up the pace to his running, got married and tried graduate school in Idaho in the fall of 1999. My training didnt go that well last fall, he says. You are tired from training, and you are bogged down in homework.

So Keillor came back to Minnesota at Christmas, moving to Northfield where his wife, Chersten, got a job as a career counselor and where he works on becoming a nonfiction writer. And contrary to the urban legend that persists, he is not Garrison Keillors nephew.

Hes been running 130 to 140 miles a week and driving up to the Twin Cities for a Sunday run with his Runners Edge teammates. On May 7, hell note how the Olympic Trials turn out. But his focus now is on his next raceand its going to be a good one.

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While only two men are listed from Minnesota as participants in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on May 7 in Pittsburgh, there are three other Minnesotans representing other states.

The two officially from Minnesota are Steve Plasencia and David Marcus. Plasencia is the University of Minnesota mens cross-country coach. He is a two-time Olympian (1988 and 1992) in the 10,000 and finished fourth in the marathon trials in 1996. Plasencia qualified with a 2:17:04 at the Chicago Marathon.

Marcus, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, qualified with a 2:21:06 at the Twin Cities Marathon. The Massachusetts native moved to Minneapolis last summer.

In Iowa, the only qualifier is Bob Simmons of Falcon Heights, who did his undergraduate work at St. Johns University in Collegeville, his masters at Mankato and is working on a Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. His qualifying time was 2:21:35 at Chicago.

In Nebraska, the qualifier is Kurt Keiser, who grew up in Coon Rapids and ran for Minnesota State University at Mankato. Currently living in Omaha, Keiser qualified with a 2:19:46 at Grandmas Marathon last June.

Among those representing Colorado is Kelly Mortenson, who is from Canby and ran for Moorhead State. He qualified with a 2:19:20 at the St. George Marathon in Utah.

Bob Kempainen, who won the mens Olympic Trials in 1996, is an automatic qualifier but is not expected to compete. Originally from Minnetonka, he is now a medical doctor practicing in Seattle

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Patricia Goodwin is a public relations consultant and writer who frequently writes about running for Twin Cities area publications. She has been running since 1982 and has completed 25 marathons.

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