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Three years ago, the prospect of competing in the 800-meter run terrified Meg Bellino.
At the time, Bellino was a senior at St. Mary Catholic Central High School in Monroe, and her coach entered her in the two-lap race, an event regarded by some track enthusiasts as a glorified sprint.
"I'd done some cross-country running and I knew I had some endurance, and I knew my speed would pull me through," Bellino said. "I remember not really knowing what I was doing, but by the end of the season, I had it down."
Running the 800 was the start of a new pursuit for Bellino, who is now a redshirt sophomore on the University of Michigan women's outdoor track and field team. An accomplished sprinter in high school, she's a middle-distance runner for the Wolverines.
Bellino set a personal-best mark of 2 minutes, 10.62 seconds in the 800 on April 29 at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Stanford, Calif., and finished a month in which she shaved four seconds off her time in the 800 -- a significant accomplishment, considering that many runners aim to reduce their personal-best times by fractions of a second.
"I really surprised myself," said Bellino, a theater/arts major whose concentration is in stage management. "It's a long sprint, a sprint race. Those milliseconds count, because that's something that could get you into the national meet or keep you out of it. To cut those four seconds off, it's everything coming into place. It's the right timing, the right training, the right workouts, and the right people around you."
She has the benefit of training with teammates who are among the top 800 runners in the country. Jillian Smith has a team-best time of 2:06.89. Bellino's roommate, Rebecca Addison, has the second-best time of 2:06.96. While her teammates push her in training, Bellino's biggest obstacle in becoming a distance runner was just that -- the distance. Despite a cross-country background, the most she had run was about 25 miles a week, for conditioning. Now, her week's training regimen includes about 40 miles of running, including 10-mile runs.
"They're not my favorite. They're mentally frustrating." said Bellino, who redshirted the 2010 outdoor season because of plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of tissue on the sole of the foot.
Michigan distance coach Mike McGuire said, "She wants to be good. At the same time, she's had some detours. But she knows how to get back up off the deck if she gets hit."
The next step for Bellino is to qualify for the 800 final at the Big Ten championship meet this weekend at the University of Wisconsin. If conditions are right and she uses proper tactics in her heat, she has the chance to bring her time below 2:10. It's another challenge.
"She's grown enough in her confidence, and her engagement in the 800 is better than it's ever been," McGuire said. "She'd hit a point earlier in her career where she'd back off if things got rough. Now she's embracing the discomfort of the event."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade