St. James native Emily Perona has always enjoyed distance running.
But she never thought she'd be running THIS distance!
Perona, is completing her freshman year as a two-sport standout at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo. this month by participating in the NAIA National Outdoor Track and Field Championships, running her first-ever marathon.
She punched her ticket to the nationals by finishing as Evangel's top women's runner in the Highline Run For Scouting half-marathon, a national-qualifier held March 30 in Springfield.
At the half-marathon – her first race ever at that distance – Perona finished eighth overall with a time of 1 hour, 32 minutes, 28 seconds, a time that qualified her to compete in the marathon event at the NAIA National Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Unlike the NCAA, the NAIA offers the 26.2-mile marathon at its track and field outdoor championship.
The NAIA Outdoor Nationals will be held May 23-25 at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind. Perona is to compete in the marathon on Saturday, May 25.
"It's definitely a challenge," Perona said of the marathon training. "It's definitely a different experience. I've had to adjust but once I got used to it I enjoyed it. Whenever I decided to train for it – for the half-marathon – my mileage went up."
Starting in her freshman season Perona was a standout distance runner for the St. James Lady Tigers in both cross country and track.
She was a two-time cross country state meet qualifier before suffering devastating back and neck injuries as part of a fatal bus accident her junior season. And after that injury, Perona bounced back to have another strong senior campaign in both cross country and track.
And during her long journey through high school, Perona never fancied herself a marathon – as in 26.2 miles – runner.
"Never," she said. "Actually I had a teammate talking about training for a marathon and I thought to myself, 'I'll never do it.'"
However, that teammate, Brandon Hoffman, was training for the half-marathon and talked Perona into trying it. And like Perona, Hoffman has qualified for the men's NAIA marathon.
"He asked me if I'd be willing to try his training method," Perona said. "And I thought I did well in that half-marathon.
"I definitely feel the longer I run, the better I am."
Will her first marathon be her last? She said that will probably depend on the results.
"Right now it's definitely a trying-out thing," she said. "But if it goes like I think it will, it will be a four-year thing for me.
"I'm definitely very excited about it. My main goal is to finish. If by chance I get All-America, that would be awesome."
Page 2 of 2 - Regardless of how the marathon goes, Perona says she will see herself as a cross country runner first.
As a freshman this fall, she was a regular scorer for the Lady Crusaders as the No. 3 runner on the cross country squad, and was the team's top finisher in one meet.
"I don't think that will change," Perona said of her preference for cross country. "I think (marathon training) will make me better. I love cross country; a lot more than I do track. It's definitely my favorite."
The classroom portion of the school year at Evangel finished at the end of April, so Perona has been back home training and watching her sisters, junior Hannah and freshman Leslie, compete for the St. James High track squad.
In particular, Leslie has surpassed some of Emily's freshman marks in both cross country and track.
And that's just fine with big sister.
"Whenever Leslie started running in seventh grade, her times were pretty amazing," said Emily, who plans to major in elementary education at Evangel. "She trained with me my summer before college, then she blew away all of my times."
After the marathon national meet, Emily said she will take a rest.
"I plan on taking a few weeks off; that will be my recovery," she said. "When I start back it will be low-mileage until cross country."
But on May 25, the mileage will be anything but low.