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Woman, 48, goes for dream of running race

Shown in Huntington, Kat Hankinson will be competing

Shown in Huntington, Kat Hankinson will be competing in the Long Island Marathon on Sunday. She last ran the marathon 30 years ago. (May 3, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

A purveyor of fantasy fiction, Huntington's Kat Hankinson has a story to tell in today's 40th running of the Long Island Marathon that only sounds like an invented fable.

She is 48 years old, a single mother completing her doctorate in early American literature at Stony Brook University, a published writer of the imaginary-world genre, with a novel manuscript in the works.

She also is a former high school cross country champion from Rochester who tried to walk onto the Boston University team as a freshman, only to be informed by the coach -- none other than 1984 Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit -- that she wasn't fast enough.

"I didn't understand about Division I athletics," Hankinson said. "I thought I could just join the team. Joan Benoit said, 'This is how fast you need to be running to make the team.' I was flabbergasted."

Hankinson set out to convince Benoit of her competitive worth by running her first marathon months later and reducing her personal best at 10 kilometers to 41 minutes.

Then, she remembers Benoit telling her again, "Gee, I'm sorry, but our worst girl is running 39 minutes and we can't take you on."

That was 30 years ago. Today will be something of an anniversary for Hankinson's second attempt at the marathon distance -- surrounded by almost 1,000 other marathoners and thousands more entered in the half-marathon and 10-kilometer events as part of the annual "festival of races."

"Right after my twins were born," she said, "I was recovering from my C-section, watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when a 38-year-old woman won, and I thought, 'Look at that. I'm not that much older than her.' " Romania's Constantina Tomescu became the oldest marathon champion in Olympic history

Hankinson sought training advice, found a coach on the Internet and joined the Northport Running Club, where she has established herself as one of the top masters racers in the area.

Today, she hopes to run "about an eight-minute pace," which would bring her through the 26-mile, 385-yard challenge in roughly 3 1/2 hours -- within seconds of the 3:27:28 she ran 30 years ago.

She first ran competitively at 15. "I was a bit of a loner and that's how I began to make friends. It was a wonderful way to deal with my low self-esteem. It made me feel great."

Hankinson spent years dabbling in running. She settled on Long Island eight years ago and, with the birth of her twins -- Ian and Lilah, 3 -- she said, "I thought about how I wanted to be the most complete person I could be, and I remembered how important running had been to me."

She increased her training mileage this past winter to a peak of 55 miles a week. "Every now and then, I have to crash," she said, "But my ex and I are good friends, and I get a lot of support from him with the kids."

"When I run, I'm just in the moment. On a long, easy run, it's like a meditation, sometimes very spiritual. It refreshes your mind." And it is decidedly nonfiction.

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