My stomach is in knots, I couldn’t eat this morning, and I feel like I’m going to throw up. I’m not even the one running. I’m watching my sister, Kelsey Beckmann race in the California International Marathon for her last chance of the season to qualify for the Olympic Trials. I couldn’t be in Sacramento with her, so I’m glued to my iPhone waiting for text notifications from the tracking system the race uses.

Kelsey Beckmann is 24 years old, one of the youngest women competing at an elite level in the marathon, and is currently the fastest women in Jacksonville. The best part is she started running just three years ago. Beckmann has always been athletic. She played soccer since age 4 and even earned a full scholarship to Campbell University for soccer and academics, but she was never really a runner. Until she turned 21 — when she decided she’d run 21 miles for the fun of it.

Beckmann starting racing, and racing fast. She didn’t think much of it until her first half-marathon on Thanksgiving Day 2012.

“I raced with an iPod, a fanny pack and multiple layers of clothes,” she said. “I showed up 10 minutes before the race started and started at the back of the runners.” She finished at 1:26:26. Then followed it up at the 26.2 with Donna Marathon where she ran a 3:05, finishing third among local women.

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Today, Beckmann’s focus lies on two things: making the 2016 Olympic Trials and becoming a registered dietitian. There is very little downtime, as she is constantly on the move. Her day starts at 4:45 a.m. and consists of a run, rotations at the hospital she works at, grad schoolwork, another run and lots of eating.

“Currently, I am accepting that for awhile, the pieces of my life are not going to be perfectly weighted,” she explained. “Therefore, I choose to just be present where I am and not too hard on myself when I forget to do something like fold my laundry or wash my hair.”

Balancing training, work and life is a constant learning process for her, and she often has to overlap the three. So how does she do it? “We make time for the things we want to make time for,” she replied.

“Kelsey’s greatest asset is her ability to not place limits on herself,” Beckmann’s coach, Matt Hensley, explained. “Kelsey has been able to open her mind to all possibilities, focus on the process and race fearlessly. As long as she continues to believe in what she’s doing and focus on the process, she has no weakness. The sky is the limit.”

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Despite her less-than-ideal training schedule, Beckmann has not only flourished, but also dominated this season. Beckmann ran her half-marathon PR (personal record)  at the Garry Bjorklund half-marathon, finishing in 1:16:30. She also had a standout showing at the Florida Relays in the 5,000-meter and finished first among local women in the Gate River Run. Throw in a handful of 5K wins and what do you get? The Jacksonville Track Club 2015 Open Division Female Runner of the Year award.

For Beckmann, everything leads up to where she is right this moment — in Sacramento — qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Trials.

I text Kelsey the morning of the race.

Kayla: “How are you feeling? Did you sleep? No pressure, but I have a meeting at 1 p.m. — the faster you run, the less late I’ll be.”

Kelsey: “I feel great! I slept so well!” she replied. “Hahaha okay got it, finish my freaking marathon. People have things to do.”

Kayla: “Exactly. Have fun!”

She’s listening to Drake “0 to 100/The Catch Up.” I know from the screenshot she sent. After that, all I can do is await the text notifications from the tracker. Kelsey needs to run a sub 2:43 to qualify. She comes in hot at the 10K mark at 38:33 with a 6:13 minute per mile pace. The next marker is halfway through. 1:21:29 with a 6:14 pace. At mile 20, it’s reported she’s slowed down her pace a bit at 6:25. I remember her words from the first time I interviewed her. “What’s the hardest part about a marathon?” “Mile 20 and on,” she said.

There’s still a chance, but she’s cutting it close. I stare at my phone willing her to just keep fighting. Then it came in — 2:52:12. Just short of qualifying and also 11 minutes faster than she’s ever run a marathon before. It’s a victory. Maybe not in the way that we hoped for, but it is such an incredible accomplishment for a first season elite runner. Knowing how hard she can be on herself, I send a text.

Kayla: “Dude! So fast! A PR! I’m so proud of you!”

Kelsey: “I’m not upset,” she said. “I freaking went for it. And even when I knew it wasn’t happening, I never quit fighting.”

By Kayla Beckmann | Contributor