Maura Knestout remembers taking in the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials with some college roommates and being in awe of the event.
Knestout, who came to running prominence at Century High School (she was Maura Linde then) and then Syracuse University, watched Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan finishing the 26.2-mile race nearly stride for stride.
Cragg won the event, Flanagan took third, and Knestout was hooked.
“They just looked so bad-ass and awesome, and I remember turning to my roommate ... ‘Oh my God, wouldn’t that be so cool if we did that?’” Knestout said. “I was really inspired by that race.”
Now she’ll be participating — Knestout is in the field for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Feb. 29 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Knestout graduated from Syracuse a few months later and decided her break from competitive running wouldn’t be very long.
“It’s still a big part of my life, which is really, really cool,” she said. “I feel really lucky that it is.”
Knestout, 26, helped Century win the first two of three consecutive Class 2A state championships in 2009 and 2010. She won three individual state titles in a row (2008-10), and earned four first-team all-county honors.
The three-time Times Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year earned all-region honors at Syracuse in 2014, and ran in the NCAA Championships in 2013 and 2014. Knestout said her college coaches helped her realize her niche with longer distances (5,000 and 10,000 kilometers), and participating in marathons became one of her goals.
Knestout said she signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon in 2016 and competed without a coach or very much preparation, just to see how it would feel. She placed eighth at the DC race in a little more than 3 hours.
That led to her joining Georgetown Running Club, based in Washington DC, in 2016. Knestout landed with a group of runners that had similar goals and talent, and she participated in 5K and 10K races as well as track and field events.
Soon she was traveling to DC a few times a week for workouts and training sessions. Knestout wanted better results. And she got them in 2019 — despite dealing with a stomach virus in the days leading up to the Houston Marathon, she placed eighth in her age group and 32nd in the women’s standings.
She finished in 2:44.26. The time to beat and qualify for the Olympic Trials was 2:45.
“Maura’s performance in the Houston Marathon in 2019 was outstanding,” Georgetown Running club coach Jerry Alexander said via email. “After I talked to Maura the day before the race, I was concerned that she would not be able to finish, let alone run well. But Maura gave it a go, and she was able to hang on to the pace group and get the qualifying time.
“Maura is extremely talented, as her many state titles show, but she is also a very tough competitor, and that toughness got her to the finish line in Houston.”
The All-Decade selections were based on outstanding single seasons as well as overall careers, relying heavily on the Times’ All-County teams and Players of the Year from each season.
Knestout had a busy 2019, from her day job as an assistant coach for Johns Hopkins’ women’s cross country and track teams, to staying sharp with her with marathon training, to getting married Nov. 30.
Knestout helped the Blue Jays earn their sixth cross country national championship the week before her wedding.
The Sykesville resident said she’s trying to be realistic about her success in the Olympic Trials marathon, particularly since it will be just the third she has competed in such a race. But knowing how she endured an illness in Houston, and still performed well, has Knestout thinking about the possibilities.
“I don’t really know what I can do in a race like this,” she said. “It’s probably the most competitive race I will have ever run in to date. And this is really exciting. I’m really going in with an open mind, and a sky’s-the-limit type of thing.”