My running journey began almost two decades ago, when, as an eleven-year-old, I found myself glued to the TV, watching Rosa Mota from Portugal win Gold in the Women’s Olympic Marathon in Seoul. I remember thinking to myself, “I think I could be good at that.” After the swimming pool I used to practice at was closed down, I eagerly registered at a local athletic club. Within a year, I broke five minutes in 1500m—thank you Coach Gigac for all your effort and time in getting me there!—and a coach from a local athletic high school noticed me and encouraged me to continue running in Banská Bystrica. I never really did anything too out of the ordinary, only getting to 4:35 in 1500m and 10:15 in 3000m. But, unlike many of my fellow athletes in other disciplines, I never got injured and I never lost my love for running—thank you coach Okal!—despite the long gaps between training during my early college years. What led me to rediscover my passion for running again was a chat with Alena Mocariova, a former elite Slovakian runner, following a small local race. She talked me into training with her and equipped me with running clothes, shoes, and an abundance of enthusiasm. I managed to get to low 10 minutes in 3000m and earned a spot on the European Team Cup in Pula, Croatia. While there, I further improved to 9:50. In turn, this helped get me a running scholarship at the Western State College in Colorado, where I first realized what it was going to take to be a good runner. For one, I learned that running 30-40 miles a week was too little to expect any major improvements. My running career at Western State, though short, was fruitful and utterly enjoyable. Thank you Coach Vandenbusche and all the teammates in Colorado!
After almost two years in Colorado, I was ready to move on and start graduate school. With the 2002 Olympic Winter Games taking place in Salt Lake City, it was a no-brainer. I moved to Utah and enrolled in the Applied Linguistics program at the University of Utah in 2002. Though I only had one semester of eligibility left and started the year with an injury, I got to work with yet another fantastic coach—Brian Apell. Coach Apell supported my post-collegiate training in 2003 when I won my first marathon (the Top of Utah marathon in 2:47:31) and in 2004 when I first qualified for the Olympic Games. Sadly, with my time only being a B standard (2:41:40) and with me being a relatively unknown athlete in Slovakia, I did not make the Olympic team. Even worse, I struggled with a stubborn iliotibial band injury following the 2004 marathon and was not physically or emotionally ready to run another marathon until 2007, when I was a runner-up in the Salt Lake City marathon.
Though I only ran 2:53 in the SLC marathon, I started believing again that it was possible to get back in shape and try for the next Olympics. With Coach Apell being gone, Aleksandar Tomas (whom I married in 2006,) was there to help with setting up my training schedule, even running most of the workouts with me. He adapted Coach Apell’s training and I thrived on the adaptations and the support. We picked Houston as the marathon where I was going to attempt the Olympic standard. The race went more or less according to plan and, on January 13th, I qualified for the Olympic Games. Thank you Aleksandar for running the race with me, it would not have happened without you! Though I showed considerable improvement (I ran 2:39:26,) I was not quite able to get the A standard, which would have guaranteed me a spot on the Olympic team. Instead, I found myself on an emotional roller-coaster, constantly evaluating my chances from a series of optimistic and pessimistic emails from Slovakian coaches, journalists, and friends. Finally, on July 19th, the news came: this time, the B standard was going to be enough to make the Olympic team!