BANGOR, Maine — Tracy Guerrette is in California this weekend, seeking an accomplishment she thought she already had achieved.

Guerrette, the St. Agatha native and former University of Maine basketball player who has developed into one of Maine’s top long-distance runners, was thought to have qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic women’s marathon trials on Oct. 1 while winning the Maine Marathon in Portland.

Her time of 2 hours, 43 minutes and 47 seconds not only was 15 minutes faster than her previous best for the 26.2-mile distance at the 2016 Boston Marathon, it eclipsed the 2:45 clocking required to meet the ‘B’ standard to earn a spot in the U.S. Olympic trials.

But a post-race check determined that while the Maine Marathon was certified as a qualifying race for the Boston Marathon and by USA Track and Field, times there did not qualify as Olympic Trials standards.

So while Guerrette has plenty of time to meet that standard before the trials are held in June 2020, conversations with other runners led her to return to competition barely two months later at Sunday’s California International Marathon in Sacramento, California.

“I trained really well going into Maine and ran really well, and then the question became do I go out to California or not,” said the 37-year-old Guerrette, who lives in Bangor and works as director of faith formation at the Saint Paul the Apostle Parish, which serves Catholic churches in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Winterport.

“It’s the USATF national championship for the marathon and my 2:43 gets me in as an elite athlete so I thought it would be a great experience to go out there and compete as an elite.”

The Sacramento course is considered much faster than the Maine Marathon, meaning that Guerrette could earn the ‘B’ qualifying standard this weekend or even challenge the ‘A’ Trials standard of 2:37 that would provide for her expenses to be paid for the 2020 Olympic Trials.

“I have a goal for my pace,” she said. “If it happens, wonderful, but if it doesn’t I have two more years to do it.”

The path forward

That Guerrette is in position to qualify for the Olympic Trials is surprising only because she committed fully to distance running just three years ago.

Her focus as a teenager during the mid- and late-1990s was on basketball and soccer at Wisdom High School.

“I think I was born a runner,” she said. “I’ve always had that endurance ability, I was always the fastest kid on the playground, on the field, on the court and I worked really hard at it but being from a small town there were only team sports so I played all of them.”

Guerrette led Wisdom to the 1998 Class D basketball state championship, then walked on at UMaine only to be awarded a scholarship after her first semester there by coach Joanne Palombo McCallie.

She played on the 1999 UMaine team that defeated Stanford for the program’s first and only NCAA tournament victory and became a two-year captain for the Black Bears while also studying pre-med/biology.

But even then the commitments to athletics and academics were secondary in Guerrette’s life.

“I come from a devout Catholic home so obviously my faith has always been the most important thing to me,” she said.

Guerrette began dabbling in competitive running after her basketball playing days ended, even joining her brother Jamie at the 2002 Maine Marathon with virtually no preparation and wearing basketball shorts and a long-sleeved cotton T-shirt rather than a traditional running singlet.

“We suffered,” she said. “It took us 4 hours and 20 minutes.”

Guerrette continued to explore faith-based options as well as her growing passion for running as she took coaching positions at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and later back at the UMaine as director of basketball operations under coach Richard Barron.

“At both schools I’d hang out with the cross country teams and run workouts with them,” she said. “I’d go running every day.”

By mid-2013 Guerrette turned her vocation to religious life and joined a convent in Nashville, Tenn., where athletics took a back seat but did not disappear altogether.

“Obviously as a sister you don’t run because you’re fully habited,” she recalled. “I think it leveled the playing field because we’d have recreation and sometimes play basketball and I’d try to cross over between my legs and the ball would get caught in my habit. It was just so cumbersome.”

Guerrette was the oldest of the 27 postulants and was nicknamed “Coach” because of her athletic background — she even organized a basketball “camp” and subsequent five-on-five games for the others.

But after five months at the convent, she decided to leave.

“It’s not like I couldn’t live the life, I was totally embracing the life every day but some women become more joyful and I didn’t really experience that total joy and peace,” Guerrette said. “I came to learn that God has given me the grace to live my life in the world where I feel more at peace and working for the church and living my life.

“Once I made that decision in my heart I had a lot of peace.”

The urge to run

Guerrette was not long in returning not only to the world at large, but also to running.

“The first morning back I got on a treadmill and ran five miles,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is great,’ and ever since then I’ve felt like He’s given it back to me and then some.”

Guerrette resumed running regularly in 2014, then decided to try the MDI Marathon that October with little marathon-specific training and not only finished the race but with her 3:17 time qualified for the 2015 Boston Marathon.

Since then she’s become a self-described “mileage junkie” who often runs 115 to 120 miles per week.

“I’m a faithful person, obviously, but I really feel God’s presence when I run,” Guerrette said. “It’s almost like my heart’s connected to heaven. It’s my time with him, my time in prayer so I want to do it as long as I can.”

And there remains a competitive side, a holdover from her basketball days.

“After playing basketball, especially at the University of Maine with the coaches I had, if you weren’t totally exhausted after you practiced then you didn’t work hard enough,” she said. “I had to learn the hard way that after every run I shouldn’t be totally exhausted.”

Guerrette has been coached for the last 1½ years by veteran distance runner Rob Gomez of Windham, who develops regular running plans in anticipation of her races.

“I think he knows to set the bar back a little because I’ll always push the envelope,” she said, “but this is all a learning experience for me.”

It’s steadily paying off.

Guerrette set a new course record in winning September’s Bangor Labor Day 5-miler in 29:23.

Then came her breakthrough Maine Marathon effort that put her in position to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, if not actually doing so at the time.

“When I did the Maine Marathon I knew I could run a 2:45, I just knew it,” she said. “I had the mindset and confidence to do really well and that helped a lot.”

Where this combination of confidence, competitiveness and faith ultimately leads Guerrette in national running circles is unclear, though the pace of her progress fuels her optimism.

“It’s pretty time consuming, to train like an elite runner and try to knock on that door is a lot,” she admitted. “But I just love being an athlete, and if there’s any chance I can do it more seriously that would be wonderful.

“For as long as I can I’m going to run. God gave me this gift and I don’t want to waste it. I want to keep doing the best I can with it.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...