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Jill Gaitenby and Discovery USA’s team look to 2004

Darin Olde, Tribune staff writer
Jim GrantDiscovery USA's team includes, from left, Cori Mooney, Kelly Keane, Jill Gaitenby, coach Greg McMillan, visiting runner Brantley Lutz, Jim Jurcevich and David Spiller
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Everyday, sometimes several times a day, and at least during the few minutes before her twice-daily runs, Jill Gaitenby thinks about the hunt for a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, and how it changed her life.

Gaitenby, 35, a former interior designer for a high-end German manufacturer, never imagined that life would switch directions as quickly as the wind on a gusty day.

But the Boston College grad got a glimpse at another lifestyle after joining Discovery USA in February 2001, a Fila-sponsored running program aimed at bringing athletes to the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.



Never having run in high school or at Boston College, Gaitenby turned her exercise routine into a lifestyle two months later when she became the top U.S. female in the 2001 Boston Marathon.

The finish earned her a spot on the 2001 World Marathon Championship team, where she again was the top U.S. performer.



Going from a lifestyle surrounded by nice things, nice people, city culture and mainstream society in Boston to one in rural motels, shared living quarters with innumerable quiet hours has now engulfed the next few years of her life.

It was quite a change.

“Why not?” said Gaitenby during a run last week. “I love interior design; I can always go back to it. Why not join the program and see how far I can go?”

Now 18 months in, Gaitenby can go far, and quickly.

With a 2:36:45 PR in the 2001 Boston Marathon, Gaitenby’s coach Greg McMillan hopes to increase her pace and lower her times even more. A tentative goal has been hung at about 6 minutes per mile for a marathon pace.

That pace is still a ways down the road, but many of the Discovery USA runners, Gaitenby included, are eyeing the U.S. marathon championships Sept. 29 in Twin Cities, Minn., as the event where they want it to make it happen.

That leaves time, trails and roadways in the future of the Discovery USA team.

Each runner routinely averages between 80-140 miles per week during training. They run twice a day: a timed training run in the morning, where coach McMillan often sets out water at every 5 kilometers and where the actual conditions of a race are simulated as much as possible, and a casual run in the afternoon. The runs vary from hill run to flat, trail runs to pavement.

With more than 100 miles to run each week, the runners don’t care if they get turned around slightly. What’s a 2-mile detour when you run 15-20 each day?

Most days, the desire is all Gaitenby needs. But the excitement of being a Fila-sponsored runner does get slow at times.

The team rests between 20-22 hours a day. MacMillan encourages the team to take naps, eat a healthy diet, which is two-to-three times the number of calories of an average diet, and to refrain from exertion until they are on their runs.

It isn’t slow time as much as it is recovery time, he said. Their bodies are at work every day.

That’s may be the hardest part for Gaitenby, who, at 5-foot-1 and some 103 pounds, has a lot of energy. And she’s from Boston, after all.

Sometimes she thinks about Boston, and the spoils of culture and society.

Running so hard so often is tough sometimes.

Other days, she has teammates who remind her that every day is not a Tuesday, Thursday or a Sunday — when McMillan takes the team on longer, harder runs.

There is strength in numbers, which is why the program allows other runners like Kelly Flathers, Brandtly Lutz and Mike Smith to stay at their new home behind Hoss Hoggs and train with the team.

And then there are prize-winning days like April 15, 2002, when Gaitenby again became the top U.S. finisher in the Boston Marathon in front of her hometown crowd.

That was all pudding.

Lots of TV time, reading, and a big dinner with the rest of the team about every other night.

Those days, spent in Laguna Hills, Calif.; in Saint Moritz, Switzerland; and now in South Lake Tahoe — those days certainly build motivation.

But the drive for a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics is still the big attraction, and with the natural talent of the team, which included runners like Jim Jurcevich, David Spiller and Josh Cox, that day may soon come.


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