A little over 11 years ago Trisha Drobeck was a novice runner when she took off to Portland, Ore., and her first marathon.

She hadn’t run competitively since that year in high school when she tried the 200 or 400 or something, and she was much more likely to be found on skis during her college days at the University of Montana.

“I was into journalism,” she remembered. “And I drank a lot of beer and ate a lot of grilled cheeses. I was just a student – I was active, but never got into running whatsoever.”

Portland was a revelation. A friend asked her if she wanted to try a marathon, Drobeck said sure, and trained only that summer of 2002 before heading over for the October race.

“I’ll never forget, I’m close to finishing and there’s this guy running alongside me clapping and saying, ‘BQ! BQ!’ ” Drobeck said. “And I’m like, what is this guy doing? I literally had no idea.”

He was speaking marathonese: BQ meant that Drobeck was running fast enough, in her first outing, to qualify for the Boston Marathon. She didn’t go that spring, but after qualifying again in Portland in 2003, she went to Boston in 2004.

It was another education. She struggled with the mass of runners as well as the heat, and finished in 4 hours and 12 minutes.

“Every decade there’s a good, hot year and that was a hot year,” she said. “It was 86 degrees at the start. I was young, and I didn’t train.”

Monday will be different. It’s her 25th marathon, for one thing. It should be a perfect day for running: No rain and a high of 65. And based on her recent times – a 2-hour, 44-minute mark last October at the Twin Cities Marathon – she’s starting with the elite women.

She’ll be one of 45 who start by themselves from Hopkinton, Mass., about 20 minutes ahead of the top men. It’s an honor, and well-earned. Drobeck has gotten so good, she can scarcely believe it.

Turns out that guy in Portland had no idea, either.

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Drobeck was Trisha Miller up until she married Andrew Drobeck, a local firefighter and fitness buff who recently won Seattle’s Scott Firefighter Stair Climb for a third straight year.

When they met, she said, she was into running but not competition.

“I wasn’t winning anything,” she said. “I was an average, middle-of-the-packer. And that was fine. I’d just finish and enjoy it.

“After I met Andy – he was really into fitness, too, that was one of the things that attracted us to each other – he said, ‘There’s no difference between you and a professional. You have the same body type; you just need to want it more.’ ”

That’s how it started, anyway. Trisha Drobeck said that encouragement coincided with her joining up with Run Wild Missoula.

Flanked by several like-minded running enthusiasts – a couple handfuls of RWM runners are headed to Boston – she began pushing harder. Her times improved and eventually she and her husband both started training with a nationally-known endurance coach, Elliot Bassett.

But when Drobeck says, “I started training harder and the payoffs were huge right away,” it’s all relative. To get under 3 hours took years.

She ran the 2008 Phoenix Marathon in 3:18, and you can trace her improvement through subsequent races: 3:07 at the 2008 Ogden Marathon, 3:05 in Arlington, Va., in October of 2009, 3 hours even at the 2010 Chicago Marathon.

On Jan. 15, 2012, she went back to the Phoenix Marathon and won it, in 2:49. Six months later she again ran 2:49 while setting the women’s record at the Missoula Marathon.

“That was a good year,” she said. “That was the year I got married.”

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Drobeck used to run 40 miles a week; now she does 80, and pushes into the 90s about five weeks ahead of her next marathon. She puts in more than 11 hours a week of running, and she also mixes in strength training and yoga.

In the past 6 or so years she’s dropped 25 pounds. It wasn’t intentional. It just happened, and again stands in contrast to where she started.

In the weeks and months after graduating from UM she was still delivering pizzas. She’d run a 10-kilometer race here and there, but hadn’t thought of a marathon until her friend invited her to Portland.

“Seriously, not a runner,” said the woman that, when she’s not running, is blogging about running at http://trishadrobeck.blogspot.com/.

On March 2 Drobeck, faced with a foot of snow and clogged streets, ran the equivalent of a marathon at the Peak Health and Wellness. She did half on a treadmill, and half on the Peak’s 200-meter indoor track.

“Never in a million years,” Drobeck said, did she expect to start with the top 45 women in Boston. Not in a billion could she have imagined running 104 laps to train.

As bad as the weather was in March, Drobeck still ran 392 miles – her one-month record.

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Officially, Drobeck has the 41st qualifying time for Boston. The course, despite its series of four hills at the end, actually runs mostly downhill toward the coast. Drobeck rates Missoula’s course as tougher.

“I’m hoping for a top 25 in Boston,” she said. “But there are some really fast women. So maybe top 25, or maybe top 35.”

She laughs. There will be elbow room, something often in short supply in Boston where hundreds of crushed cups make the latter water stations treacherous.

“That’s going to be pretty cool,” Drobeck said. “If I’m the last one picked, that’s fine. I’m happy to be the slowest of the fastest. I’m going to be lining up with literally the fastest women in the world.

“It’s going to be nuts.”

Reporter Fritz Neighbor can be reached at (406) 523-5247 or at fneighbor@missoulian.com.

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