Nov 14, 2019

No Matter where they Finish, These Two Will Always be First

By Barbara Huebner

Sometime after noon on September 11, David Fuentes became the first man to enter the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon.

It would be another two days before USATF would even announce that entries were open, but Fuentes had plenty of motivation to pounce – the day he got back from his honeymoon in Maui – when he noticed the entry form go “live” early.

“In 2016, a friend ended up missing registration and we razz him about it,” said Fuentes.

Mia Behm may have felt those same vibes. After running across a friend’s post about the Trials in an Instagram story, “I just decided to fill out the form then because I was afraid I would forget,” said the first woman to enter the Trials, and the 2011 NCAA indoor runner-up at 5000 meters.

Although the top 10 contenders get most of the attention in the year leading up to the race, the first-up duo of Fuentes and Behm are perhaps more emblematic of the Trials field: They work full-time at jobs unrelated to running, while still training at a level to run the qualifying times of 2:19 for men and 2:45 for women and thus earn a coveted spot on the start line.

“The vast majority of competitors in Atlanta see the Trials as their Olympics,” said Rich Kenah, executive director of Atlanta Track Club. “Only six athletes will make the team, but every athlete in the race has worked hard and sacrificed a lot to get here. And one might argue that the runners who have to put in their miles before or after working a full-time job, without pro sponsorship and the support it brings, are working even harder and sacrificing even more.”

For Behm, a two-time All-American out of the University of Texas, that includes a two-hour commute each way to work, from her home in Brooklyn to her job with a solar company in Stamford, Connecticut.  Her four-day-a-week schedule means that she’s often up at 5 a.m. to train, or stops in Manhattan on her way home to work out with a friend. With her relatively low mileage – about 55 a week, she said, because she’s prone to injury – “it’s actually not that bad. You get used to it. You have to gear up as best you can and squeeze as much as you can out of yourself.”

And she has certainly done so. Since running 2:53 in the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon – her debut at the distance – to raise funds with a friend for “Back on My Feet,” the 29-year-old has run only two more marathons: Boston this spring, where she ran 2:39:04 to qualify for the Trials (in 2:40:15 gun time), and a head-turning 2:33:52 at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 13.

“My goal was honestly just to improve as much as I could,” she said of her time in Chicago, which made her the seventh American and 15th woman overall and put $2,000 in prize money in her pocket. “It definitely makes getting a PR at the Trials harder!”

Like Behm, Fuentes is a Texas native and high school standout – he led his Boerne team to state cross-country titles in 2003 and 2004, while Behm was a four-time state champion at distances from 800 to 3200 meters for T.K. Gorman in Tyler. And like Behm, he was an All-American (at Edwards University in Austin) and works full-time – as a software developer.

But Fuentes has been at this for a while. A three-time winner of the Austin Half Marathon, he broke the tape at the 2011 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Marathon (2:28:10) and won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2016 World Mountain Running Championships after finishing 85th in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon earlier that year.

“I was a little burned out after 2016,” he said of marathons, “and I wanted to try something new. That just expanded my horizons.” The HOKA One One runner made the USATF mountain running team again in 2018, and finished fifth in the NACAC (North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association) Mountain Running Championships. Although he fell short of making the 2019 team for worlds when he finished ninth in the national championships in September, he competed on the U.S. squad at the NACAC championships on October 20, finishing seventh.

And as if he isn’t busy enough – he married Amber Reber, who also ran for the Longhorns and founded the coaching service Rise Runner, on September 1 – Fuentes has a side business, Tin Can Travel Co., supplying classic campers for rent. To fit it all in he, too, is out the door by 5 a.m.

“Living in a semi-not-real world,” said Fuentes, who qualified for the Trials with his 1:03:37, fifth-place finish at the 2019 Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, the Trials goal is to make the team. More realistically, he seeks his “best effort on the day,” with a personal best that cracks the top 15 or maybe even the top 10.

“I don’t feel I’ve had a good opportunity to showcase my marathon legs yet, so I’d like to stick my neck out there,” he said.

 Photos: Zach Hetrick, Courtesy of David Fuentes and Mia Behm