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Her showing was masterful

By Allen Lessels, Globe Staff 4/18/00

She got her running start in a physical education class in junior college, it took her to Arizona State on a scholarship, and it has taken her to the Olympics and the top of marathoning.

Yesterday, 17 years after her first Boston Marathon and 11 months after the birth of her first child, Maria Trujillo de Rios of Los Gatos, Calif., was the first American woman to finish. She was 18th overall among women, third in the women's masters division, finishing in 2 hours 42 minutes 24 seconds.

``I'm way back,'' Trujillo de Rios said with a laugh. ``I'm just happy to be running. I've had a pretty long career.''

Now 40, she first ran Boston in 1983 and was ninth in a race won by Joan Benoit. The next year, she was 25th in the inaugural women's Olympic marathon at Los Angeles, running for Mexico. Benoit won that race as well. In 1986, she became a United States citizen and in 1990 she was back in Boston for her best marathon, a 2:28:53 that put her third behind Rosa Mota and Uta Pippig.

Trujillo de Rios didn't start racing until she was 20 and attending Hartnell Junior College in Salinas, Calif., with her sister, Eva.

``We had an exercise class and they used to make us run a mile,'' she said. ``We were pretty good and they introduced us to the track coach. I liked it and my sister hated it. I stayed with it.''

While Trujillo de Rios sat on one side of an interview room yesterday, her husband and biggest fan, Carlos, stood on the other.

The American masters record of 2:35:08, set by Laurie Binder of California in 1991, he said, is not out of sight.

``I'm sure she's happy to be in the company she's in,'' Carlos Rios said. ``I think they're all disappointed in their times. She's hit 40 now and she's still running well and I really think the American masters record is within reach. With good conditions, she may go for it and it's well within reach. It's a worthwhile goal to go after it.''

Trujillo de Rios was 12th in the US Olympic Trials in South Carolina in late February.

Yesterday, she talked more of having another child _ she and Carlos met at the San Francisco Marathon in 1997 _ and having more fun with her racing than when she was younger.

``My body's older and has a lot of mileage on it,'' she said. ``In 1990 I ran 2:28:53 and it felt like nothing. Now I'm slower and I feel like I need a nap. It's a different story. Now I'm just enjoying my running. I try to do my best and if my best is not good enough, it's still better than not running at all. I enjoy my running, even if I don't get gold medals or money. I run for fun.''

She was looking to finish under 2:40 yesterday. She didn't and was disappointed, but so be it.

``It was not good conditions,'' she said. ``But it could have been worse. It could have rained. A lot of people seemed disappointed with their times. I saw some people crying out there at the end.''

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