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At 41, Olympic Marathon Trials suddenly became the goal again for Loeffler

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FARGO—There are two certainties in the running career of Eric Loeffler these days. One, he's entered in the Sanford Half Marathon Saturday morning that starts at the Fargodome. Two, he's qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials—Marathon in Atlanta.

What happens between now and Saturday and now and February of 2020 is sort of a "see how it's going" scenario. At 41 years old, age is not necessarily on his side at the marathon distance, but experience is his best friend.

He's running the 13.1 miles on Saturday to see where he's at with his training. He's been dealing with some minor setbacks that caused him to pull out of a race in March.

"I'm hoping to get a good gauge," Loeffler said. "So Fargo is sort of the default fitness test here. Hopefully I'll feel good ... ultimately I'd like to win Saturday which is usually the goal when I come to Fargo."

He's still got it. Loeffler qualified for the Olympic Trials by finishing the California International Marathon in Sacramento last December in 2 hours, 17.36 minutes. It was the second-best 26.2-mile performance of his career behind a 2:16.48 at Grandmas Marathon in 2015.

Qualifying for the Trials wasn't a set-in-stone goal, he said, after a subpar race at the 2017 Boston Marathon. So, in a way, the Sacramento race was a pleasant surprise. He got into the front pack of runners and didn't hit any sort of wall.

"It was a fun thing because a lot of guys were going for the same goal," Loeffler said. "Everybody was working together."

Loeffler, currently living and training in Minneapolis, grew up in Fergus Falls, Minn., graduated from North Dakota State and lived in Fargo for several years. Atlanta will be his third Marathon Trials following 2012 in Houston and 2016 in Los Angeles.

"I just wanted to try and build up for a fall (marathon) and have a good one," he said of the Sacramento race. "I didn't have a standard of what that meant, but the pieces came together. Honestly, I wasn't intending the marathon to be a big goal the next few years but suddenly it became that again. I have to stay sharp if I'm going to toe the line in Atlanta."

As to how to stay sharp is still not on paper until 2020. The plan is to run a fall marathon again, somewhere, and then one more marathon before the Trials. Is there more in the gas tank at his age? Maybe, maybe not.

"I thought I was probably past my peak," Loeffler said. "But you see more people running later in their 30s and early in their 40s more than you used to in the past. I'm still trying to ignore it, but there are things I'm not able to get away with in training anymore that I used to."

 

Things like his speed at the shorter distances, like the 5K and 10K. At 41, he's an elite masters runner and there are goals just within that age group.

"I'm trying to be as competitive as I can," Loeffler said. "I still enjoy it. I make it part of my day. There's always the desire to have more time to do that but I have to balance real life. Running is not something that pays the bills but I squeeze it in when I can. I'm an early-morning runner and it's the first agenda item on the day."

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