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Lifelong Friends Arrive In NYC Ready To Race

They have unique goals at Sunday's race.

They have unique goals at Sunday’s race.

By Duncan Larkin
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved.
Used with permission.

Friends Jessica Augusto and Ana Dulce Felix smile for the camera a few days before the ING New York City. Photo: Duncan Larkin

NEW YORK – Running is usually considered a solitary sport. But looking at marathoners Jessica Augusto and Ana Dulce Felix, this doesn’t appear to be the case. The two Portuguese distance-running stars are practically inseparable. After all, they have known each other for over a decade and it was through running that they first met while competing as junior runners.

Initially, the 29 year-old Augusto went on to achieve more success than her friend, winning gold as a junior at the 2000 European Cross Country Championships.  Felix, on the other hand, also now 29, struggled. In the same meet, she finished 23rd. Two years later, she decided to call it quits as an elite runner and went to work as a seamstress at the JF Almeida textile factory in her hometown of Guimarães. But she never gave up on the sport she loved so much, choosing to train after work.

“I did not have many options at that point,” Felix said through an interpreter today. “Where I come from is a poor area with little opportunity, so I had to work in a factory.”

As a seamstress, the former runner was making just 500 Euros a month (approximately $687).

Meanwhile, Augusto’s star continued to rise. Her second place at the 2008 European Cross Country Championships helped Portugal win the team gold. That same year at the Olympic Games in Beijing, she doubled in the 5000m and 3000m steeplechase events.  In 2010, she won the European Cross Country Championships and won a bronze medal at the European Championships at 10,000m.

Witnessing her friend working at a backbreaking job compelled Augusto to take action. The friends continued to train together, and it was in 2007 when Augusto convinced Felix to quit her job and give professional running one more shot.  Augusto’s advice paid off.

In 2009, Felix won the Great Ireland Run in 32:18 for the 10-K distance. She placed 15th at the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships that year, helping her team win a bronze medal there.  In 2011, she won the Portuguese national championships at three disciplines: 5000m on the track, 8-K cross country, and 15-K on the road. Her first successfully completed marathon was in Vienna this year when she placed second in 2:26:30, nearly assuring her selection to the 2012 London Olympics.

In New York on Sunday, the two friends have slightly different marathon goals. For Felix, New York was not kind to her last year.  In her debut at the distance she dropped out, the only woman from the professional field to do so.

“It just wasn’t my day; I did not feel good,” she recalls of the experience. “This year, I trained differently and think that things will go well.”

For Augusto, who made her debut in London last April in 2:24:33, there’s the possibility of bettering the legendary Portuguese marathoner Rosa Mota’s national record of 2:23:29, set in Chicago 26 years ago. Doing this in New York would be especially satisfying since Mota’s mark is the only Portuguese marathon time Augusto hasn’t bettered. Her late father, who died earlier this year from cancer, once called Augusto “my little Rosa Mota,” a nickname that Augusto didn’t particularly like.

“I want to be remembered as my own runner,” she says. “I told my father I want to be better than Rosa.”

Both Augusto and Felix say they have put in the right amount of training to run well here. They’ve logged 125 miles during their maximum weeks and completed nearly two hours of race-pace simulation during their workouts.

“We are ready to race,” Augusto says with a smile. Her friend chimes in. “If we didn’t have the merits to be here, we wouldn’t be here.”

The two still train together in Braga where they live, although not as much as they used to (they have different coaches).

“We try to do workouts twice a week,” Augusto says.

Both runners will be taking on a strong contingent of East Africans on Sunday, including reigning London Marathon champion Mary Keitany who boasts a personal best time which is over four minutes faster than Augusto’s. Still, the Kenyan and Ethiopians intimidate neither of them.

“They will do their race and we will do ours,” Felix says. “Look at last year’s race. An American (Shalane Flanagan) took second place. Anything is possible. We cannot be afraid of them.”