After the greatest summer of her life on the track—winning the U.S. Olympic Trials 5000-meter title, getting to the London Games final—Julie Culley is venturing into the unknown.
The Jersey girl, 31, who competed at Rutgers and still lives in her hometown of Clinton, will make her marathon debut at the November 4 ING New York City Marathon. She’d love to continue the roll that began with a dramatic late-race surge that gave her the first national track title of her career at the Trials in June in Eugene, OR.
After spending a couple of weeks recovering from London in August and addressing a long-term hamstring problem with an MRI and therapy, she was given a green light by doctors and physical therapists. Now she is all in for 26.2 miles. She is upping her mileage from 80 to 90 a week and planning to extend her long runs from 18–19 miles to 22–24.
She’s excited, but also experienced enough to not let her expectations get out of control. “Ultimately I want to be able to do the marathon and have a good experience the first time around and then be healthy enough to turn around and hit the track for 2013,” Culley says. “I just really want it to be kind of a springboard for more. I don’t want to go out and tank myself at 16, do a death march for 10 miles and go, ‘I’m never doing this again.’”
When the NYRR recruited her to the race, officials suggested a target time of 2:34. “I definitely want to run under that,” says Culley.
In March she debuted at the half-marathon in New York, finishing 21st in 1:13:31. “I had wanted to run quite a bit faster,” Culley says, “but the hamstring thing that I’ve dealt on and off with, it was one of the ‘on’ times. The last few miles weren’t quite what I wanted them to be. Despite not feeling 100 percent, I came off it feeling really excited about the distance and the potential for more. It wasn’t something that kicked my butt because I wasn’t capable of handing it.”
The marathon is not only new to Culley but also to her Hall of Fame coach, Frank Gagliano, a 70-something better known for producing NCAA champs and Olympians on the track.
“It’s kind of a fun adventure for both of us,” Culley says.
They’re already thinking outside the box. Culley regularly uses an ElliptiGo, a new machine that’s a hybrid of a bike, elliptical machine, and scooter. It allows her to simulate a running motion while minimizing impact.
“I don’t want to go crazy since it’s a consolidated training window,” Culley says of increasing her mileage too abruptly. “The ElliptiGo can offset those extra miles I would be doing if I had a longer buildup period.”
No matter what happens in New York, Culley will always remember the summer of 2012. Her Trials win and Olympic berth became a community celebration in the Clinton area. She set a personal best of 15:05.38 in her Games semifinal. Though she was disappointed by finishing 14th in the final, the result didn’t diminish the magic of the summer.
“It was an incredible feeling and validation for all the work I had put in,” Culley says.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg