"Well, first, I never at the beginning thought I'd go this long," she says, "but I got into that fairy-tale world of running, and just when the bubble was about to burst, sponsorship became legal and money races came in, and that let me stay in the sport without changing focus. I was blessed that what I loved could become my job. Then, emotionally, I was made to see that if I loved running, surely there would be a race for me to win, and there was. And when that race turned into the marathon, I looked at runners like Carlos Lopes, winning the L.A. men's Olympic marathon at 37, and Joyce Smith placing 11th in the women's race at 46, and then Priscilla Welch running 2:26 at 42, and they all gave me hope. You know what it really was? It was never really feeling like quitting."
Neither will she feel like surrender when she hits Barcelona's final, brutal hill. Instead, she will compare the reality of that ascent with the images that have popped into her mind, unbidden, during every long, hilly training run she has taken for months. She has seen the landmarks, the distant stadium and the other runners, among them defending gold and silver medalists Mota and Australia's Lisa Ondieki, respectively, world champion Wanda Panfil of Poland and talented young Kenyans and Japanese, all of whom will have been tempted to push too hard, too soon.
"Gotta be smart, gotta be smooth," Larrieu Smith says, drilling herself even now. "That's what gives me the old hope. If I can see the finish line, I can always find something."