Molly Friel of Fresno, Calif., competes in a 2014 file image. At 50, she is the second-oldest woman ever to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials. (Mark Crosse/Fresno Bee/TNS)

This runner finished a marathon at Olympic pace. She’s 50.

It’s odd to think Molly Friel might not be in her prime.

She is, without a doubt, an elite-level runner. She can (and has) finished marathons in less than three hours. That’s a pace of just over six minutes a mile.

At the California International Marathon in December, the Fresno runner finished in 2:43:57 — a time that qualifies her to compete in the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials.

She is the second-oldest woman ever to qualify for the trials, according to a profile in Runner’s World. Sister Marion Irvine earned a spot at the 1984 Olympic Trials at age 54, though the times needed to qualify at the time were minutes slower.

It’s not the first time Friel has qualified for the Olympic trials. She ran in the 2004 team trails, placing 87th out of 107 runners, including bronze medal winner Deena Kastor. She qualified again in 2016, coming back from a series of injuries that prevented her from running in 2008 and 2012.

“I started back running in my mid-20s and ran the Olympic Trials when I was 36,” Friel told Northeast Neighbors in 2016.

“It took me a good 10 years to find the groove, I guess.”

She keeps that groove by running a lot — like 60 miles in a bad week — even if she doesn’t get up at the crack of dawn to do it, according to the breakdown of her training in Runner’s World. It’s light on stretching, which she can’t stand.

If Friel is extraordinary, she isn’t unique. In 2011, a study found that older runners were as physiologically economical as their younger counterparts, according to the New York Times. Older runners can still be (and are) fast, especially over long distances. For instance, Ed Whitlock became a bit of a rock star in the running world when he finished the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 3:56:34 at age 85.

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