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Like Mother, Like Son: Olympic Trials Marathoners

Bev Docherty ran in six Olympic Trials; here’s what Dan Docherty learned from her as he carries on the family legacy this month in Atlanta.

Thirty-year-old Dan Docherty went all in on his running career in January of 2018. Quit the job, dropped the Master’s classes, and drove to Albuquerque to run for six weeks. To see what he could do. He’s a single guy—doesn’t even have a dog—and a member of Minnesota Distance Elite, so the timing seemed right. And it worked! Soon after that six-week immersion he notched a PR of 66:15 at half marathon.

Maintaining the focused life of a pro back on natal ground in St. Paul, Minnesota, his times continued to fall: 64:09, then 63:47 at the half, and in October 2019, 2:15:55—an Olympic Trials qualifier—at the hometown Twin Cities Marathon, a course that runs, at the 24-½ mile mark, a couple blocks from his childhood home. He’d gone out to that point many times as a kid, with his three siblings and their dad, to cheer on his mom, Bev Docherty.

Dan Docherty trains for the Olympic Trials
photo: Ben Sathre

Bev is the only woman to have qualified and finished six Olympic Trials Marathons, maintaining her competitive level over a period of 20 years. Though both mother and son now belong to that elite club of Trials qualifiers, their circumstances could not be more different.

Married, with a full-time job, a mortgage, and eventually, four children, Bev’s training was shoehorned into an already full life. No training group, no naps, no nutritionists or physios, she made do with a very supportive husband and friends.

“When you think about the resources people have now, she really had the bare minimum,” Dan says, contrasting the 20 to 25 hours/week he spends training, with a coach, training partners, access to physios, financial support, and, yes, the occasional nap.

Modeling Mom

Though their circumstances and their goals were very different, Dan has absorbed, through long exposure and observation, some valuable lessons from his mom.

“She didn’t give much advice—more support and encouragement,” he says. “She let me figure it out, which I appreciate. For example, I saw how she was set back by some injuries, so I learned that consistency is super important, doing the little things that help you be consistent.”

Dan describes his training during the trials build-up, typically 80 to 110 miles/week, plus afternoon lifting and plyos on workout days, and time for the little things—stretching and rolling every day. Monday is a double, 10 miles am/6 miles pm; Tuesday, the team meets for a workout, maybe a 60-minute fartlek: one minute on, one off; Wednesday is a recovery run; Thursday is a medium long run of 15–16 miles; Friday, the workout might be 3 x 3 miles or a 10-mile progression; Saturday recovery; and Sunday, a long run, 20+ miles, practicing fueling.

photo: Grifftown Photography

“I think about how much time and effort I put in to qualify for this Olympic Trials: my mom did that six times!” Dan says. “That’s an amazing accomplishment. The way she geared her training toward qualifying at one race and really got the most out of herself on that day—that mindset rubbed off on me.”

Though he’s able to travel and race more often than his mom did, and could potentially take advantage of second chances to qualify, Docherty still likes to put all his eggs in one basket. Having limited opportunities, he thinks, inspires him to get the most out of himself, regardless of how he’s feeling, weather, accidents, or any of a myriad race day variables.

Another tool he’s borrowed from his mom is setting reasonable goals. “Of course you always want to win,” said the younger Docherty. “But you have to realize where you’re at, what you’ve done, and focus on yourself. You have to tune out the noise of obvious goals, other people’s goals, and hone in on what you can do.”

Tuned and Tested

The January 19 Houston Half Marathon provided an apt testing ground for goal-setting. Docherty had sustained an injury in early November, and wasn’t consistently training until late December. Of course, the field was full of very fit people, loaded for bear. It would take steely discipline and eye-popping focus to stick to his goal of 65 minutes—reasonable for his situation. In fact, he did get drawn along with a 64-minute pace group for a while, but pulled back, and finished comfortably in 66:15. “Running is not always about hitting PRs. You have to realize where you’re at, and build from there.”

While his training has been solid since Houston, he’s only got two marathons under his belt, neither of them on a course as hilly as Atlanta’s. Bearing that in mind, his goal is about hitting a PR, and to be in the top 40 finishers.

Bev and a big contingent of family and friends will be out on the course in Atlanta. “I’m just so happy for him,” Bev says. “He’s been so patient, and diligent in his training. But mostly he has the mindset—he hates to lose!”

Dan Docherty Olympic Trials qualifier
photo: Ben Sathre

Dan’s Dependable Marathon-Ready Workout

Here’s the workout Docherty will do about 18 days prior to the canter in Atlanta. Nailing this tells him, he’s ready: 3 miles at marathon pace, push 1 mile at lactate threshold; repeat that four-mile set four times for a total of 16 miles.