It's on to the historic Boston Marathon for Rim Country runner Linda Gibson.
The 36-year-old wife, mother of two and Payson Center for Success science and social studies teacher qualified for the prestigious event with her showing at the Holualoa Tucson Marathon Dec. 2 on the outskirts of the Southern Arizona city.
Her clocking in Tucson of 3:43.49 surpassed the Boston age/sex group-qualifying standard of 3:45.
The 26-mile, 385-yard marathon, on April 21, 2008, begins in the rural New England town of Hopkinton and winds through the countryside before ending near the John Hancock Tower in Boston's Copley Square.
Along the way, near Boston College, Gibson will face the challenge of running up the infamous Heartbreak Hill.
The over one-half mile ascent has forced many a lesser-trained runner to walk or quit the race.
The hill is dreaded as much for its position on the marathon course, between the 20 and 21-mile mark, as for its climb. Because it is located in the latter part of the course, muscle glycogen stores are likely to run empty -- which is often referred to as "hitting the wall."
Gibson is wary of taking on the hill with muscles battered by miles on running.
"I know that it will be tough, like our Airport Hill," she said. "I plan to do some training on it."
More than 500,000 fans and well-wishers are expected to line the Massachusetts streets to cheer on the field that annually attracts the finest runners from around the world.
In excess of 20,000 are expected to compete in the annual event that was first run in 1896.
Setting a personal best
In earning a berth in the celebrated east coast run, Gibson's time not only exceeded the tough Boston standard, it was also a personal best among the six marathons in which she has competed.
For Gibson, earning a spot in the Boston event is a huge achievement in itself.
"I think it's so cool to have qualified, I'm not too concerned about my time...I just want to finish," she said. "But then my friends say as soon as the race begins, I will be thinking about my time."
Earning the berth erases some of the disappointment she suffered in 2005 when her time of 3:46.13 in Tucson came up short of the qualifying standard.
At the time, Gibson said it was her goal to someday reach Boston because "it's the goal of every runner, it's kind of like the elite, the very best (marathon)."
Before Gibson travels east for the upcoming Boston run, she also expects to compete in January 2008 at the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll marathon in Phoenix and another in Apache Junction.
"I'm in running shape, so I thought ‘why not enter,'" she said.
Gibson's ascension to earning a berth in the Boston Marathon did not come without hours and hours of training and hard work.
She began an intensive training program last August, participating in one designed by her close friend Bethany Beck.
The plan included cycles of speed training, which was done on the Payson High School track, coupled with tempo and long distance runs.
Gibson defines tempo training as running a designated distance at a pre-set pace.
Beck, herself a long distance runner, is impressed by Gibson's dedication and commitment.
"She is so mentally tough and when she sets her goals she works hard to achieve them," Beck said.
Among others who recognize and acknowledge Gibson's dedication are two of her PCS students -- 17-year-old Quinten Tank and 18-year-old Nicole Gonzales.
"She's awesome," Tank said. "I see her running all over town with her three dogs."
For Gonzales, Gibson is a role model.
"She encouraged me to run a 5K and participate in our PE hikes." She said. "We are all very proud of her, we knew she could do it."
Gibson intent in entering the Tucson event, was to qualify for Boston.
"I went into it (the Tucson marathon) wanting to meet the standard," she said. "Now, it's pure fun just to have qualified."
Help from family and friends
Gibson is crediting her stunning success in the Holualoa Tucson Marathon to her family and two close friends who encourage her to train and run.
"Without them, none of this would I've been possible," she said. "I am blessed."
The family includes husband Mark, and children Julie, 11, and Hayden, 5.
"My training has taken some time away from my family but they have always supported me," Gibson said.
"It (running) has had kind of a trickle-down effect, my daughter is now running and entering some 5K's."
Julie also participated in the Rock 'n' Roll one-mile children's fun run as an eight-year-old.
"I'm proud of what my mom did," Julie said.
The two friends who encouraged Gibson to set her sights on the Boston event are Peggy Miles and Beck.
"Peggy got me into running about eight years ago and it's been addictive," Gibson said. "She told me, ‘when you can run for an hour, call me and we'll run together'."
Beck, who took up long-distance running about the same time Gibson did, has interest in personal health training.
"She has been there all along helping me train," Gibson said. "She was even in Tucson, encouraging me along the way."
Gibson said she was attracted to long-distance running, after Miles introduced her to it because, "you don't have to belong to a gym and is not expensive -- all you really need is a good pair of shoes."
Prior to taking up running, Gibson -- a graduate of Northern Arizona University -- was the Lady Longhorn soccer coach and a teacher and counselor at Payson High School.
The only other Rim Country runner known to have qualified and participated in Boston was Gary Kutscher, a decade ago.