Tonya Nero in Lima

T&T DISTANCE QUEEN: Trinidad and Tobago's Tonya Nero flashes a smile at the warm-up track following her 10th-place finish in the women's 10,000 metres event, at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, on Tuesday evening.

It’s not easy running 25 laps in 15-degree Celsius temperature. Tonya Nero, however, did just that in Lima, Peru, on Tuesday evening, defying the chilly conditions in the Pan American Games women’s 10,000 metres race.

“Even though it was not my best race or time, I pushed really hard today, and It was good to have really good competition,” Nero told the Express.

The race was won by Canadian Natasha Wodak in a personal best 31 minutes, 55.17 seconds. Nero finished 10th in 34:15.36, almost a minute slower than her 33:11.71 national record. She’s happy, though, with her performance, and the opportunity to match strides with some of the best 10K runners in the Western Hemisphere. Nero was the only entrant from the English-speaking Caribbean in the 13-woman field.

“It felt really good to come out and represent because there are not as much people running long distance for Trinidad and Tobago. I felt really happy to at least represent the whole Caribbean in a long-distance race.”

Nero sacrificed this year to ensure that she qualified for the Pan American Games. The diminutive athlete left the comfort of her Maracas Valley home, returning to the United States to train with her old college team, Wichita State University.

“It’s really helpful training with those girls and having them push me, and I push them during some workouts. Last year was a bit of a struggle but this year it has been going really well since I started back training with them.”

Struggle is probably the best word to describe being a long-distance athlete in T&T. There was no women’s 10,000m event at the NGC NAAA National Open Championships, late last month. And with Nero being the only entrant in the women’s 5,000m, she was allowed to race against the men. The 30-year-old is hoping her performances will result in greater participation in distance running.

“It’s a process and it has to start somewhere. Every year I just hope I can encourage more people to start doing better and get involved in the long distances, and also try to spread what I have learnt in the United States and bring that home to Trinidad and Tobago.”

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For Nero, competing on the track is preparation for her main event, the 26.2-mile marathon.

“That’s my goal, to keep going from here on and keep increasing my mileage and my base to try and get a good marathon.”

Nero will not be at the September 27 to October 6 IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Instead, she will be in the US, continuing her marathon preparations under the guidance of Wichita State distance coach Kirk Hunter.

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