It took 26.2 miles and bitter disappointment for Sally Meyerhoff to realize there are other options out there to fulfill her runner's high.
The 2002 Mountain Pointe graduate has been involved in running since her age was in the single digits. It's a passion and a vice. She believes running is what she was meant to do.
Yet, after she finished 27th in the New York City Marathon with a time of two hours and 41 minutes on Nov. 6, for the first time Meyerhoff wondered if she needed a new direction.
"I had to put so much pressure on myself and worked just for New York," she recalled. "I really sacrificed so much and didn't really have balance in my life. After that I had to re-think some things and I just wanted to go do something where there was no pressure, no expectations and I could just run."
Two-and-a-half months later, Meyerhoff, who lives in Maricopa with her brother, Daniel, is re-charged and knows more than ever that she is doing exactly what she is supposed to do.
On Dec. 5 Meyerhoff, on a whim, really, competed in the Xterra Trail Run World Championships in Oahu. It's a half-marathon run in the tropical jungle of Hawaii. She came away the winner - despite slipping and sliding down the mountainside at one point - with a time of 1:28.58 minutes.
It stoked the competitive fire and had her mind clear when she entered the P.F. Chang's Rock ‘n' Roll Arizona Marathon last Sunday. Some 10 days out she wasn't sure that she really wanted to take on another marathon so soon after the other events.
The 27-year-old came away the winner again with a time of 2:37.55. It wasn't her best marathon time, but showed Meyerhoff that all was right again.
"It was incredible," said Meyerhoff, who won two state cross-country titles for the Pride and was an All-American at Duke. "I got to the 26-mile mark and that's a spot where there isn't a lot of fans and it felt like it was forever (to the finish line). Then I turned on to Packard Drive with all of the people cheering. I was sprinting by then, and thinking, I am actually going to win this thing. It was a dream come true."
After the effort in Hawaii melted away the wall of frustration, the Arizona marathon showed her what she is capable of when she puts her mind to it.
"I wanted it so badly and to qualify for the Olympic Trials," Meyerhoff said. "At the same time, I wanted it to be fun and not add that pressure again. I can't think of another time where I set out to accomplish something so big. It was super meaningful and wonderful."
Adam Zucco, her coach, said they agreed that her approach to the Arizona marathon had to be more about the experience and atmosphere than the time.
"I didn't want it to be a negative situation so I wanted to see what she wanted to get out of it," said Zucco, who is based in Chicago. "She said it was the place where she ran her first marathon and it was in her own home town. So with each mile I wanted her to remember something positive from the first time she ran, I wanted her to smile and thank the volunteers. We couldn't afford her to have another setback like New York."
Now that Meyerhoff has qualified for the 2012 London Olympic Trials, which will be in Houston a year from now, it doesn't mean she is going full throttle toward being an Olympian.
"That change in direction (the Xterra event) has been good for her," Zucco said. "Over time her body had endured huge volumes of miles, but now her body is responding to a different stimuli. Runners can get stagnate with their results and have to fight through injuries, but now that she has added some cross-training it has her more mentally and physically fresh than she has been in years."
Meyerhoff, who has only been running marathons for three years and is already one of the top 15 long-distance runners in the country, is open to whatever might come her way heading into the Olympic Trials.
"I am not putting everything in one basket and focusing on it 24/7 for the next year like I might have before," she said. "I hope to be an Olympian someday, but I don't know if it will be in 2012. I plan to be healthy and put myself in the best possible position to be successful. It would be fabulous to be among the top three women in the country on that day.
"But that's one day, one race. I am not putting everything in one basket again."