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Marathoner Desiree Davila on Making the 2012 Olympic Team

How a Determined Desiree Davila Won a Spot on the US Olympic Marathon Team

We are pumped to share one of our fave stories from espnW here on FitSugar! This week's is an inspiring story about marathoner Desiree Davila, who will be representing the US in the Olympics for her first time. The following is an excerpt; read the entire story here.

By Bonnie D. Ford

At last January's Olympic trials in Houston, Texas, four top women had distanced themselves from the field: Desiree Davila, fellow favorites Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher, and Amy Hastings. Davila increased her tempo. Hastings dropped back. Davila forged on with Flanagan and Goucher, her five-foot-two, 98-pound frame dwarfed by her taller rivals. Then, with two miles to go, Flanagan kicked into a higher gear, and Davila was faced with another decision: should she try to match the surge and bid for the win, taking the chance that her cramping calves would betray her, or maintain her pace and protect her spot on the team?

Davila weighed the situation and decided not to risk it. Flanagan soloed to the line, and Davila secured her Olympic spot by finishing second, 17 seconds back, in 2:25:55. It was a tough, savvy race, and the latest evidence that Davila's gradual climb to the top is peaking at an ideal juncture.

After a largely anonymous high school and college career in the arid heat of Southern California and Arizona, she migrated to Michigan to join the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project in 2005. The elite training environment in a harsher climate helped her transform herself into "a contender, not just someone who's on the line and might have a good day," as she put it.

The Lesson Learned From Second Place

Davila debuted at the marathon distance in Boston in 2007 and ran 2:44.56 in a raging northeaster. A year later on the same course, Davila thought she had progressed enough to make the Olympic team. At mile 21, running fourth, it looked as if she'd been right. But Davila, who hadn't hydrated and eaten enough before the race, ran out of gas and faded to 13th.

She was devastated. Fellow marathoner and friend Amy Hastings was there to comfort her, and so was sister Natalie Davila. "If I'm investing my money in someone right now, it's you," the older sister said. "You're going in the right direction — you're going up."

Read on for more of Desiree Davila's road to the Olympics after the break.

Or down, in stopwatch terms. Davila worked at mastering the right balance of food and fluids on race day. She ran 2:31:33 in Chicago in 2008 and 2:27:53 in 2009 — breaking the important 2:30 barrier — at the world championships in Berlin. She also kept training and racing on the track to stay fresh and build confidence for those critical last six miles.

In 2011, Davila not only ran an American course record in the Boston Marathon (2:22.38) but also set personal records at three other distances: the 5,000, the 10,000, and the half-marathon. She was aiming for 33:20 in the last 10K in Boston and hit 33:19. That was easier mentally, Kevin Hanson noted, because she knew she could run it almost two minutes faster on the track.

"Boston was the closest to perfect in terms of getting the most out of myself and my race plan," she said. "But if you look at it in terms of how fit I can be, I think there's a lot left."

In Boston, Davila traded leads with Kenya's Caroline Kilel in a scintillating stretch run. When Kilel collapsed just past the finish line, Davila couldn't help but wonder if she had done all she could.

Desiree Davila highlights talented trials field

The Road Ahead

Davila brought that appetite to Houston.

"Going into the last mile, it was kind of this internal conflict where I really wanted to make a push and see what I had left," she said after the race. "Ultimately, it was just like, 'Finish it up; get the job done.' I didn't really have enough confidence in being able to catch Shalane [Flanagan] and then make another surge, and I didn't want to lose the position that I had."

She crossed the finish line feeling an odd mixture of satisfaction and restraint. The podium awaited her. There was an oversized flag to drape around the newly minted Olympic team, a big white cowboy hat to don, embraces to fall into. But first, there was the sagging figure of Hastings, who had crossed the line in fourth place.

Davila hugged her. "You've got it on the track," she said firmly before she was whisked off, meaning Hastings would make it to London by qualifying in either the 5,000 or 10,000.

Shawn Johnson and other Olympic hopefuls share their stories with espnW

At the press conference an hour later, Hastings, whose finish made her the Olympic alternate, smiled stoically, while Davila wore the wide-eyed, wary expression she often has when faced with a phalanx of cameras and reporters. As she described her tactics in the final miles, she glanced at Hastings. "You had to break people like Amy, unfortunately," Davila said.

"I knew what she meant," Hastings said recently. "It was a respect thing. I would have said the same thing. If I gave it to her, she would kill me. If she gave it to me, I would never forgive her. We work too hard."

Whether or not the two walk into the opening ceremony together on July 27, they'll stand together in Northern Michigan next year when Hastings is a bridesmaid at Davila's wedding to Ryan Linden, the local runner Davila found so obnoxious when their paths first crossed. Linden, who works for an industrial supply company, said he was drawn to Davila by her "drive and dedication."

Road to London

She bettered his marathon PR in Chicago a couple years ago. He proposed last year anyway. They've moved into a house surrounded by woods and wetlands a few miles from the rancher where Davila lived when she first joined the team, and settled in with their two dogs. Like a born Michigander, Davila now raises her right hand to mimic the state's mitten shape and points to locations with her left.

Despite her clear upward trajectory, Davila still self-identifies as an underdog. "I'll always kind of have that," she said before racing the New York City Half-Marathon in March. "I'm used to it. I'm not trying to compare myself to being the top American; now it's 'how can I be the best in the world?' I'm not quite there."

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