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

HOUSTON (30-Jan) -- Brett Gotcher turned heads here last year when he clocked 2:10:36 in his marathon debut at the Chevron Houston Marathon. Gotcher's success inspired coach Greg McMillan of Team USA Arizona to bring Gotcher, and six of his teammates, here this year to compete, each with their own goals.

Hopes were highest for Gotcher, 26, but he struggled to finish, clocking 2:19:30 in sixth place. Irish Olympian Martin Fagan, 27, also coached by McMillan, failed to finish, hampered by an ankle injury he suffered just five days before the race. Gotcher tried to be philosophical.

"It was a tough day at the office today," Gotcher lamented. "But, you know, I went for it. You know, it's the nature of our group." He added: "It was a whole lot of suffering out there that I'm going to remember and take with me next year into 2012. I'm not going to forget about this race, soon."

Instead, Nick Arciniaga, 27, who came here to pace Gotcher and Fagan, and Stephanie Rothstein, also 27, who was on crutches with a back injury in 2009 and later found out that she suffered from celiac disease, led McMillan's team with impressive results. Arciniaga finished second in 2:11:30, and Rothstein finished third in 2:29:35. Both marks were personal best times, Rothstein's by over ten minutes.

"We had some really great performances, certainly Nick and Stephanie," McMillan told Race Results Weekly in an exclusive interview. We had two of our debut athletes (Emily Harrison and Natasha Labeaud) get their Olympic Trials qualifying standards --that set them up for next year-- and then some rough ones as well." He continued: "Overall, I guess like the usual finish line when you bring seven or eight people... some people are going to have good days and some less good."

Arciniaga's performance was the most surprising to McMillan, who called his athlete a "Steady-Eddy marathoner." Arciniaga had not done a full marathon training program, and had only planned to run 25 kilometers with Gotcher. McMillan gave Arciniaga permission to go to the finish line if he felt good, but the athlete tried to keep that out of his mind in the first half of the race.

"I tried not to think about finishing until 25-K," Arciniaga told Race Results Weekly. "It's less pressure."

Ticking off 4:55 miles (3:03 kilometers), Arciniaga led Gotcher through half-way in 1:04:17, then continued with him until 25 km at the same pace. At that point, Arciniaga decided to pull back because the pace was just a little too fast for him.

"At 25-K I let Brett go," Arciniaga explained. "I was at my limit."

He decided to run a couple of more miles to see how he felt. He said to himself that if the next mile was 5:20 he'd drop out. Instead, it was "exactly 5:05" and he still felt good. The following mile was similar, and he decided to keep going. Soon he would catch Gotcher.

"I ended up bringing Brett back at mile 20," he said.

Arciniaga soldiered on alone, catching the flagging Kenyan Wilfred Murgor with about 400 meters to go to pick up second place and $17,000 in prize money. Moreover, he now has recorded an Olympic Games qualifying performance on an IAAF-recognized course, which frees him to run this summer's IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Korea, before coming back here to run the USA Olympic Trials Marathon next January.

"It's awesome," he said of having an Olympic Games qualifying mark. "If I decide to, I can do World's leading up to the Trials. It's a load off of my back."

Rothstein, who finished second at the USA 20-K Championships in New Haven last September, gave McMillan less of a surprise. She ran much of the race with New Zealand Olympian Sean Wade, a popular Houstonian who helped draw cheers for her. She ignored the leading group of four Ethiopians and stuck with her race plan, to run cautiously in the first half.

"We kind of had a conservative approach," Rothstein told the media. "We went through half in 75:30, and he was able to go 22, 23 (miles) with me, and from there said, 'Go get it girl!'"

Rothstein ran the second half in 74:05, passed two of the Ethiopians, Belainesh Gebre and Selamie Getnet, to take second. She is now the #4-ranked American on the Olympic Trials qualifying list behind Desiree Davila (2:26:20), Magdalena Lewy Boulet (2:26:22), and Shalane Flanagan (2:28:40). Kara Goucher, who has just returned to competition from maternity leave, only has a half-marathon qualifying time so far.

"Worlds can't really describe it," she said. "Dreams really became a reality today. So, I'm very pleased."

So was Coach McMillan. "Stephanie's performance was not surprising, it was expected," he said. "We knew from the training that she would have a shot to break 2:30 if she felt good in the latter part of the race. I think she's one of the most talented women I've ever worked with. We hope that this is just the start for her now that she's figured out her celiac disease."

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