By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
NEW YORK (16-Mar) — When Liz Costello toes the line in Sunday’s United Airlines NYC Half it will be her first race in eight months. The Princeton grad had to scrap most of her summer and fall racing plans after her debut marathon left her in a physical and emotional crater.
Last April, Costello placed 17th at the Boston Marathon, clocking 2:38:21 after battling cramps over the final 10 kilometers on an unusually warm day. She rallied last June to finish seventh in the 10,000 meters at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, but then only raced once more in 2017. She needed a break.
“For the second half of the year I was trying to force my body on to a schedule it wasn’t ready for and proceeded to have to pull out of races, which I’ve not done before and is not a reputation that I want to start for myself,” Costello told Race Results Weekly in an interview today. “Essentially I needed to recover from the beginning of the year more than I realized.” After scrambling to get back into racing shape, “I ended up in a bit of a metabolic hole in the fall and had a plantar issue from trying to step back up too quickly.”
It was a humbling setback for the 30-year-old Pennsylvania native, who returned to the sport in 2014 after a brief retirement. Following a disappointing 16th-place finish in the 10,000m at the 2012 Olympic Trials, she tried leading a life that wasn’t dictated by training and racing, moving to Hoboken and working for General Electric as an engineer. But she soon realized she had unfinished business with running. Since hooking up with Mark Coogan’s Team New Balance Boston squad in 2014, Costello has finished in the top 10 at the U.S. championships 10,000m three times and lowered her personal best in the event to a world class 31:43.79.
Now with her second attempt at 42.2 kilometers on the horizon at the London Marathon on April 22, Costello is working closely with Coogan, as well as an exercise physiologist, to follow her body’s cues.
“Boston is one of the greatest marathons in the world, but it’s a tough one to recover from,” Coogan told Race Results Weekly in a telephone interview. The 1996 Olympic marathoner continued: “It beat her up pretty good last year, so we thought let’s try to do another big-time marathon, but let’s try to do a flatter one, and try to break 2:30 in London.”
Costello’s current build-up began in January with a month of high altitude training in Flagstaff, Ariz. She returned to Boston and gradually increased her mileage, putting together 95 to 105 mile (153 to 169 kilometer) weeks. Much of her training has been with New Balance Boston teammates Abbey D’Agostino, a 2016 Olympian in the 5000 meters, and Emily Durgin, a recent University of Connecticut grad. They also routinely work out with other local pros from the adidas-sponsored B.A.A. High Performance group and Saucony’s Freedom Track Club.
“We actually have this great camaraderie in the Boston area,” Costello said of the unusual inter-group cooperation.
The NYC Half will be her only pre-London race, and she’s not sure what to expect time-wise given that the 21.1-kilometer course has been overhauled. Rather than starting in Central Park –as the race has done since its inception in 2006– this year it will begin near Brooklyn’s Prospect Park before traversing into Manhattan and finishing with the final seven kilometers over the rolling hills in Central Park.
“It will help us think about our strategy knowing that I have to conserve energy for Central Park,” says Costello, who set her half marathon PR on the old course, clocking 1:12:35 to place ninth in 2016. “This morning I did a loop around the park and even though I know it pretty well it was a good reminder of each of those hills.”
Coogan’s main advice for Costello is to avoid getting caught-up in the excitement of her return to racing.
“I don’t want her to try to go out and try to run 68 or 69 minutes, because she’s training so hard she could end up falling apart,” he intoned. “I’d rather see her be a little bit conservative early in the race and see if she can run hard through the hills in the end.”
Sunday’s result will go a long way towards shaping their expectations for London. Coogan is helping Costello mentally adjust to the unpredictability of the marathon.
“Obviously she’s very talented, super smart being a chemical engineering major from Princeton,” he says. “But I think that she wants to do everything just right. That’s one of the things we have problems with sometimes, because you can’t do everything just right. There’s not a perfect build-up, nothing’s ever perfect.”
London will be another step towards her ultimate goal of qualifying for the Olympics in Tokyo in two years, either in the marathon or the 10,000m.
“I love racing on the roads, and I do want to give myself the best shot that I can in 2020,” she explained. “And so while I have so much yet to learn about the marathon, if that is a distance that I could be more successful at, I want to make sure that I give that a good shot.”
Costello is encouraged by the recent accomplishments of runners like Shalane Flanagan, Amy Cragg and Molly Huddle, who have excelled on both track and the roads.
“It’s very inspiring to see them go to the marathon and come back to the track. It’s not impossible. It’s just learning how my body can make that switch. Last year was part of that and hopefully we’ll continue to learn and bounce back and forth as successfully as those other women.”
Live coverage of the United Airlines NYC Half on Sunday, March 18 begins at 7:00 am Eastern time on WABC Channel 7 in the New York metro area, and streaming nationally via WatchESPN