WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - “We are going faster today so we need our legs warmed up a little bit more right here,” Tom Clifford gives instructions on a crisp winter evening at the University of North Carolina Wilmington track.
Work will be happening there for the dozens of regular runners who show up for Clifford’s Without Limits Running Practice; it happens every Wednesday Night, 52 weeks a year. Out of this crowd of fifty runners, in this city of 120,000, three women are days away from living out their dream of getting a shot to represent the United States in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
While it’s a long shot for any of them to actually make Team USA by finishing top three in the Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday, it seemed like a bigger long shot that they would have a chance to compete at all.
Three Wilmington women: Peyton Thomas, Brittney Perkins and Erin Hogston, have had to overcome the impractical to score a chance to make the Olympics in the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta this weekend.
What makes it unlikely isn’t necessarily that each ran the speedy qualification time of two hours and forty five minutes, that’s 6 minutes and 15 seconds per mile, for 26.2 miles, it’s how they did it. Unlike many of the pros they will compete against, these ladies have to make workouts fit within their busy lives.
Brittany Perkins is a mom to 3-year-old Ruby and a wife to husband Matt. Juggling the demands of parenting while working full time for Live Oak Bank makes getting all the workouts in a struggle.
“A lot of waking up at 4 a.m.,” Perkins explains, “going to bed at 8:30 p.m. Lack of sleep and running on coffee.“
Perkins got her ticket to the trials by running a 2:44:24 at the 2019 Houston Marathon. An event she trained for with Hogston. While the two had some previous high points in running, (placing and winning the Wilmington Marathon, Battleship Half Marathon, and Run for the Ta Tas) neither had ever run faster than 2:53:00. That’s a solid eight minutes short of what it would take to make the trials. In marathoning, where it may take years to shave seconds, it’s a tall order.
Hogston had encouraged the duo to train as hard as they could to make a go of it in Houston. While Perkins pulled through, Hogston (in spite of running faster than she ever had before) failed to make the cut. Hogston set her sights on the 2019 California International Marathon in Sacramento as her ‘going to get there’ qualifying race.
It was about this time that 24-year-old Peyton Thomas, a Ph.D. student, teaching assistant and research assistant at UNCW, got inspired by Perkins and Hogston. She had started running with the Without Limits group, and was continuing her shorter distance success. The former track and cross country star at Baylor knew she might be able to hold on to the pace needed to qualify, but she had no idea if she could hit the mark on her first try. After all, she had never run a marathon before signing up for the California International Marathon in December 2019.
“When she crossed the line at the California International Marathon” Clifford explains, “I was standing right there I go, ‘Peyton you qualified!’ And she looked at me, and looked the same and then threw up. I was like ‘Holy cow.` This girl can push herself and keep her composure. So I think that’s pretty incredible.”
Thomas's qualifying time of 2:42:57 leads the trio.
Clifford watched eagerly for Hogston at the finish line, he knew she would be close behind. 2:43, “Come on”, 2:44. The minutes were slipping away, 2:45. Hogston rounded the corner and crossed the line at 2:46:35, a mere :95 seconds off the mark.
Hogston had to regroup. Outside of running, she was working full time in real estate, keeping tabs on her husband, a district court judge and raising her two very active boys. She was going to have to either accept she would have to wait four more years when she was 43, or turn around and run one more marathon before the qualification window closed. That would be a harrowing two marathons in five weeks.
One year after her first attempt, Hogston was headed back to Houston to give it one more shot on the final day of qualifications.
“I’m surprised, but not surprised,” says Clifford, “When Erin gets something in her head she’s going for it. And she will not give up until she gets it.”
“When she went into Houston just a few weeks ago I knew she was going to do it,” says training partner and friend Bridgett Phillips, “She was relaxed, she was confident, she found her ‘why.’”
Running the race of her life, Erin had qualified by :21 seconds.
“That’s what makes it so special for me and her,” says Clifford, “because I have been working with her for 12 years. I feel blessed to have the ability to work with people from the very first 5ker all the way up to this Olympic Trials. This will echo for the rest of their lives in their jobs and in their families - everything.”
“I find it really exciting to be able to compete against other people,” says Thomas, “And everyone has that same goal, they want to be better than themselves and also prove that they are capable of doing something really awesome.”
“I’m honored for sure,” says Perkins, “I am so pumped that three women from Wilmington, North Carolina are going to be at the Olympic Trials and holding hands at the start line because that was a dream frickin’ Erin Hogston had, and made me believe it. Knowing that we are all there to grind together, to hurt together. It is nice on those days when you are struggling and you are like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ but you see, well maybe not Peyton because she never even breathes hard, but me and Erin are back there struggling, and knowing we are struggling together always makes it a little easier.”
Qualifying Time: 2:42:57
Residence: Wilmington, NC
Occupation: PhD Student/Teaching Assistant - University of North Carolina Wilmington
Hometown: Roswell, GA
College: Baylor University
Age on Race Day: 24
Qualifying Race: California International Marathon 2019
Marathon Best: 2:42:57
Favorite Wilmington Place to Run: Carolina Beach State Park
Social Handles: Instagram - @ptcruisin22
Inspiration: Ayana Johnson- female African American marine biologist with her own environmental consulting firm; any athlete who pursues their own dreams while promoting social and environmental justice
Favorite inspirational quote: "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant." - Robert Louis Stevenson
Favorite TV show: Benny & JoonFavorite place to eat: Yosake
Favorite non-running activity: Paddleboarding
Favorite post-race indulgence: Pie!
- Running has taught her how to get back up after she falls: in 2018 her college lab was heavily damaged in Hurricane Florence and her big field project was destroyed; with help she changed her project and got things going again
- In high school and college, would occasionally black out while racing (including the an NCAA Regionals 10,000m); thought perhaps she wasn’t mean for distance running; found supportive group after moving to Wilmington
Qualifying Time: 2:44:24
Residence: Wilmington, NC
Occupation: Loan Operations Specialist at Live Oak bank
Hometown: Stafford, VA
College: East Carolina University
Age on Race Day: 30
Affiliation: Without Limits
Qualifying Race: Chevron Houston Marathon 2019
Marathon Best: 2:44:24
Social Handles: Instagram - @bperki15
Favorite Wilmington Place to Run: Airlie Road
Favorite Wilmington Eatery: Pho Cafe/ Indochine
Favorite movie: Titanic
Favorite post-race indulgence: A nice, long, uninterrupted nap
- She and husband, Matt, have a 3-year-old daughter, Ruby
- Still holds several records (under maiden name: Copeland) in the indoor 3k (9:12)/ indoor 5k (16:15) / indoor mile (4:50)/ outdoor 1,500 (4:18)/ outdoor 5k (16:09) at East Carolina University
Qualifying Time: 2:44:28
Residence: Wilmington, NC
Occupation: Realtor at Fonville Morisey & Barefoot Specializing in New Home Sales; also owns a sponsorship and consulting company.
Hometown: Greenville, NC
College: University of North Carolina Wilmington
Age on Race Day: 39
Qualifying Race: Chevron Houston Marathon 2020
Marathon Best: 2:44:28
Social Handles: Instagram - @erdeleo @fastmotherrunners
Favorite Wilmington Place to Run: Airlie Road and Wrightsville BeachFavorite Wilmington Eatery: Indochine and SavorezFavorite non-running activity: Boating with the family and hanging at the Hanover Seaside ClubFavorite inspirational quote: "Get comfortable with the uncomfortable."
Favorite vacation spot: British Virgin Islands
Favorite post-race indulgence: Steak and lots of chocolate
- Husband is a district court judge and as a hobby wood-burns art (@capefeartorch); they have two sons, 7 and 9
- Was a 400m hurdler in college, but soon afterward ran one and barely qualified for Boston in 3:40; after that she didn't run another for 10 years but then ran a 3:08
- Proudest moment was winning Wrightsville Beach Marathon, in her hometown, two years in a row
- Favorite running memory is leaving it all on the course in Houston