Sarah Horbol is taking her victory lap — well, three of them to be exact.This Saturday, the Westlake native competes in the 2020 U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Atlanta. For 26.2 hilly miles on a three-lap course, she’ll run beside 700 of the nation’s fastest distance runners.
Being realistic about her prospects of finishing in the top three, which would earn her a spot on the U.S. Olympic Marathon team for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, Horbol has her eyes on a strong performance, since just running in the race is the prize she was striving for.
“Oh, I’m not going to win. That’ll be a professional, full-time runner,” says the former high school sprinter, who spends her days as a full-time educational sales consultant. “I consider this the culmination of all the running I’ve done in my life for the past 25 years, since third grade. This is the big deal, something I’ll be able to look back at for the rest of my life and can say I achieved my ultimate running goal of making it here.”
Horbol, who ran her first marathon in 2014, first realized she might be able to qualify for the Olympic Trials in 2018, when she finished first among women in the 2018 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 51 minutes and 36 seconds, within about 6 minutes of the qualifying time for Saturday’s competition.
Suddenly, the then-32-year-old had a goal. Later that year, she qualified at the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis-St. Paul with a time of 2 hours, 42 minutes and 58 seconds.
“When I put this idea into my head, it was something I really dedicated my whole lifestyle to accomplishing,” she says. “It’s never too late to set a goal for yourself and work toward achieving it. A lot of these girls ran in college. I didn’t. But I was disciplined and determined and I worked really hard.”
This week at the event in downtown Atlanta, which she calls “very organized,” living her dream has taken her to pre-race dinners and parties with the nation’s top athletes. Brooks Running named her a “Hometown Hero,” one of a series of runners who performed at Olympic-Trial level while treating running as a side hobby.
Horbol, who does not use a coach, prepared for this marathon much like she prepared for other races in which she performed well. After studying the elevation maps and watching video reviews of the course from professional runners, however, the West Sider knew she needed to find some hills to run.
“The West Side of Cleveland is relatively flat, so I was sure to incorporate some hills into my workouts,” she says. “So, I tried to do as many of my long runs on stretches of Lake Road [in Bay Village and Rocky River] where it does roll and is not completely flat.”
Luckily, she won’t have Cleveland weather when the women’s race kicks off at 12:20 p.m. in Atlanta this weekend. Blues skies and 50-degree weather is expected. Fans can follow on NBC from noon-3 p.m. and on the app America’s Marathon Weekend throughout the entire race. As for a forecast for her performance, Horbol isn't as concerned with a specific time goal this time around since the course is so tough and hilly.
But with years of preparations and a positive outlook, Horbol is ready to lace up her shoes and hit the ground running.
“I am excited to toe the line with the country’s fastest marathoners,” she says, “And to get to say I am one of them.”
Read More: Learn more about Sarah Horbol from her profile in our January 2019 Most Interesting People issue.