Marathon Mom

April 2021 View more

By Matt LeCren

Marisa Hird still had some gas left in the tank after she completed her running career at Elmhurst College. The 2004 Neuqua Valley graduate wasn’t ready to stop competing, but didn’t have an avenue with which to pursue her passion. Then Paul Vandersteen, the boys cross-country coach at Neuqua, suggested she try to qualify for the Olympic Team Trials Marathon.
“He kind of planted the seed,” Hird said. “I said, ‘All right, that’s something to train for and seems fairly doable.’ ”

Thus began an 11-year quest that ended when Hird qualified for the 2020 Olympic Team Trials by running a personal-best 2:43.33 at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in January 2020. The feat was made more remarkable because Hird, 34, qualified just 15 months after giving birth to her son, Jack. It was her 11th marathon.

“It took me longer than I expected, and there were some down years where I didn’t want to run a marathon ever again,” Hird said. “But ultimately I knew I couldn’t give up yet.”

Naperville native Dan Walters was in Indianapolis to witness Hird’s qualification. His company, DWRunning, is a customer of Naperville Running Company, where Hird is the apparel buyer and social media manager.

“Marisa is an amazing runner and she is tremendously hard-working,
but also she’s one of the best persons on the planet,” Walters said. “She’s
one of the best marathoners in the country as a mom.”

Hird is coached by her husband, Nick, who also coaches at his alma mater North Central College. She calls Nick her greatest fan and motivator and a big reason why she timed 2:50.55 at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon in February 2020, good enough for 238th in the 390-woman field. The Atlanta course was hilly and windy.

“It was the hardest race I’ve ever run, but it was the most incredible,” Hird said. “I went into the race thinking that was my glory race. I was very fit and I was going to see how I measured up against the fastest women in the country, but I was also going to enjoy it.

“There are actually pictures of me racing where I’m smiling. I’m not looking at a camera, I was literally just smiling during the race.”
While Hird has not competed since the Trials, mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic, she is not retired.

“When I qualified for the trials, I told everybody I’m retiring after the trials,” Hird said. “Everybody that knows me, even my husband, was like, ‘No, you’re not.’

“The minute I crossed the finish line at the trials, I said to my husband, ‘Let’s do it again.’ ”

Hird aims to qualify for the 2024 trials and finish in the top 100. “That’s crazy,” Hird said. “But that’s what keeps me going.”

Hird has not yet scheduled any 2021 races. The Naperville Women’s Half Marathon & 5K, which she won in 2019, was originally scheduled for April 18, but has been postponed.

“I would love to run that, but I would need to get my fitness in check,” Hird said. “It is a lot of fun being local and running hometown streets.”

Photo courtesy Marisa Hird