Molly Friel of Fresno, 47, qualifies for U.S. Olympic Trials in marathon

Molly Friel hit two milestones after running to a first-place finish in her division at the California International Marathon in Sacramento on Sunday.

The first was finishing in a personal-best 2 hours, 41 minutes and 30 seconds, good enough to win the female master’s division (ages 40-49). The second was that the 47-year-old Fresnan qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials in Los Angeles (the qualifying cutoff time is 2:43:00).

“It’s really kind of unbelievable,” Friel said. “If I could run a 2:42:59, that could’ve done it and I would’ve been happy. It was like icing on the cake and it was awesome.”

It isn’t Friel’s first time qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon. She also did it 2004, but her running career was derailed after suffering a pelvic stress fracture followed by injury after injury. In 2010, she was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, causing extreme pain on the underside of the heel.

It wasn’t until three years ago that Friel began racing competitively again. The pain hasn’t left her, she said, but she battles onward to her next goal.

“I told myself: The first thing when I get healthy is I’m going to make up for lost time,” Friel said. “It’s that self-satisfaction of getting a little bit better and improving a little bit more every day.”

The improvement started in March 2013, when Friel ran the Napa Valley Marathon in 2:44:16. In July, she finished fourth overall at the Eugene Marathon in Oregon in 2:44:59. And last month in Fresno, she was the top women’s finisher at the Two Cities Marathon in 2:54:19.

Friel continued to push, knowing full well that trimming even seconds off a marathon time isn’t an easy challenge.

“It was a stretch to think I was going to 1. PR and 2. qualify,” Friel said. “You hope, you pray, but until it actually happens it’s like Holy Moly!”