In a way, Lenore Moreno is victorious in every race she runs, no matter what place she finishes, as long as she's upright and breathing at the end.
Moreno, an NCAA Division III champion at the University of La Verne in the indoor 5,000-meter run and outdoor 10,000, has exercise-induced anaphylaxis. It means she risks a severe allergic reaction if she exercises after consuming certain foods or wearing various fabrics. Eating peanuts, tree nuts, peaches, kiwis or plums — or wearing latex or a rubber headband to hold back her hair — can trigger shortness of breath, an outbreak of hives and swelling that constricts her throat.
Though she's experienced random episodes since she ran at West Covina High, it wasn't diagnosed until about five years ago, when she was 20. "There had been many runs that I'd gone on where I would have to flag someone down and hopefully make it back to my house and tell my parents and they had to take me to the hospital," she said. "It's just something I've been struggling with, but we finally caught it and I know how to deal with it now and know what foods to avoid."
Still, every run is a risk for Moreno, who qualified for Saturday's Olympic marathon trials in Los Angeles by winning the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego marathon last May 31 in 2 hours 41 minutes 39 seconds.
Her doctor has cautioned her that something in the air could cause a reaction while she's running and that she might encounter other potentially harmful foods and fabrics besides those she knows about. "I have come across some situations where I have avoided those foods that they tested me for but I still have gotten a reaction," said Moreno, who spent two years at Mt. San Antonio College before transferring to Long Beach State and then La Verne.
She wears a medical ID bracelet but doesn't always follow her doctor's advice to carry an EpiPen, which contains an injection of potentially life-saving epinephrine, because she dislikes being weighed down during long training runs. Instead, she scopes out spots along her running route where she can stash EpiPens and grab one in case something goes wrong.
For Saturday's Olympic trials, Moreno will entrust the EpiPens to her parents, Olga and Manuel, and other family members along the 26.2-mile course that loops through downtown and south through the USC campus. "I know I take a big chance and risk doing it this way," she said, "but I am confident everything will be OK."
She accepts the risks because running is part of who she is, as much as her ready smile and desire to become a health and physical education teacher. She won't let her condition define her.
"I just have this passion and this love for running," said Moreno, who won the only other marathon she has run, last October in Long Beach, in 2:40:42. "It's so hard to just stop something that you really love doing. Having this exercise-induced anaphylaxis, it's scary. A lot of people ask me, 'Why do you run if you know you have a chance of getting an attack or your throat closing up?'
"I just have the same answer. I love running. It's something that I feel like God's going to take care of me and everything is going to be OK as long as I follow what I'm supposed to."
Moreno, who coaches herself, isn't among the favorites to make the Olympic team (three women from the trials will be nominated). Shalane Flanagan, the 2012 trials winner, is a top contender again based on her qualifying time of 2:21:14, best in the field. Desiree Linden (formerly Davila), the 2012 trials runner-up, posted the second-best qualifying time, 2:23:54. Amy Hastings Cragg, who was fourth at the 2012 marathon trials but made the team in the 10,000 and finished 11th in London, also is a contender.
While the top competitors approach Saturday's marathon as a steppingstone to the Olympics, Moreno sees it as the likely finish to her competitive career. She has a bachelor's degree and one year of grad school done and thinks it might be time to focus on earning her teaching credential and moving forward with the career she has put on hold.
"I just want to finish with a bang," she said. "I just want to know that I gave it my all, I left it all out on the course come that race day and just have fun with it. Just be happy and enjoy the moment.
"I would really like to break 2 hours and 40 minutes, but I'd be really grateful and happy with anything."
What a great ending that would be — upright and breathing and going out in style.