Chelsea Benson

Mt. Jewett native and Kane Area High School alumna Chelsea Benson hits her stride during the California International Marathon in Sacramento last December. Benson’s performance in that race qualified her for the Olympic Trials, set for February 2020 in Atlanta.

ITHACA, N.Y. — Roughly 25 years after Kane Area High School’s Amy Rudolph qualified for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta in the 5,000-meter run, another KAHS alumna is set to head to Georgia’s capital city in February 2020 to compete at the Olympic Trials in the marathon.

Chelsea Benson, who grew up in Mt. Jewett and graduated from Kane in 2000, qualified for the Olympic Trials in December when she turned in an impressive performance at the California International Marathon in Sacramento. 

She did so by running the 26.2-mile event in a time of 2:42:27, which qualifies under the “B standard” set at 2:45:00. 

“Obviously I was pretty excited,” Benson, 36 and a mother of 5-year-old twins, said. “I put in a lot of miles and missed out on some family stuff here and there, so I was excited to be able to convince my body to do something I set my mind to, it felt like my hard work paid off.” 

She had set the goal after running the Philadelphia Marathon in a time of roughly two hours and 50 minutes. A friend of hers told her she could shave that time off with some hard work, and after consulting with a coach, she set a plan with the goal of qualifying for the Trials. 

Benson is no stranger to success in the sport. At Kane, she qualified for the state meet in both cross country and outdoor track, and then qualified for the NCAA Division 3 National Meets in both sports while running at Allegheny College. 

She’s also recently run in a D.C. 10K, the Pittsburgh half marathon, and perhaps best of all since qualifying, won a 10K in Rochester in May. 

Her beginnings in running weren’t based in successes, though. 

“I got into running because I wasn’t great at any other sports, to be honest,” Benson said. “I tried softball, soccer and basketball, and I was always okay but never really good. So, I found that I was pretty good at running.” 

With that in mind, Benson joined the Kane High cross country and outdoor track teams, and participated in a club indoor track team during the winter. 

“That allowed me to gain a lot of confidence, and I had coaches who pushed me to do my best,” Benson said. “And then, of course, being from Kane, we knew Amy Rudolph made it to the Olympics, so we had it in the back of our minds while we ran.” 

Now, almost 25 years to the date since Rudolph first qualified for the Olympics, Benson will get her shot in the Trials, but expectations are a little different. 

“A lot of this is about the experience. About 300 of us qualified for the Trials, but only the top three go, and they’re professional athletes,” Benson said. “But to be among the pool of the fastest marathoners in the U.S. is fun and exciting.”

That said, don’t expect Benson to just roll over, either. 

“I’m really competitive, so I’ll go down there to race knowing I won’t make the team, but just to see how I do against the best,” she said. 

She hasn’t set a preferred finish time for herself, in large part because the marathon course in Atlanta is hilly, which yields slower times. 

In the meantime, Benson has begun training, but the hardest weeks are still to come. She just started a marathon cycle, and will take part in the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota on Oct. 6. 

A marathon cycle is a 16-week training regimen that includes runs from varying distances each day. A shorter day is less than 10 miles, while a long run will be about 20, with workouts in between. 

It’s a full schedule on its own, and Benson’s schedule is that much busier when her family life and job as a Pre-K-12 Program Coordinator at Cornell University in Ithaca — where she resides now — are factored in. 

To balance it, she gets up early and does her workouts in the mornings, and she gets a lot of help from her husband. 

And to release the stress of such a busy lifestyle, of course, Benson runs. 

“For me, it’s a break, especially as a parent and with work,” she said. “It’s a little meditative.” 

Benson will head to Atlanta in late February, with the Olympic Marathon Trials set for Feb. 29.