Mind over matter

Autumn Burin

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As the clouds turned a rosy pink from the rising sun, 6,000 eager runners shook out their legs, muttered prayers under their breath, and tried to exhale all the anxiety that has built up the past few grueling months of training for this very moment.

The clock started, the nervous cheers exploded, and the participants of the 2013 Grand Rapids Marathon and Half Marathon began their 26.2- or 13.1-mile journeys.

Among the t-shirts supporting various charitable groups, the bright Grand Valley State University emblem stood out on the backs of a few dedicated GVSU running club members. Katie Whittington, Brian Wiggins, Brandon Shannon, Josh Spicer and Michelle Croad took the path to the left, revving up for the last third of their half marathon while Brandon Yonke, Aaron Moore, Jackson Lytle, Justin Davis and Dusty Stienberger braced themselves as they continued down the path for the rest of the full marathon course.

As the miles flew by for some and dragged on for others, the Running Club runners refocused on what they were trying to achieve. For some of the athletes, such as Croad, Stienberger and Davis, this was their first half or full marathon, and their biggest focus was finishing—and finishing strong. The more seasoned racers were fighting not only for the satisfaction of finishing, but they also had Boston on their minds.

The Boston Marathon is the Olympics of everyday runners. An athlete must meet the qualifying times set by the Boston Athletic Association for their age group to be eligible to take part in the Boston Marathon. For the age range of GVRC members, the time needed to qualify for the 2015 Boston Marathon is under three hours and 35 minutes (an 8:12 mile pace) for women and under three hours and five minutes (a 7:03 mile pace) for men.

When the final miles were behind them, nothing but pure determination carried the runners through to the much-anticipated finish line. Club member Jacob Shacht was a spectator at the event and was excited to watch his teammates finish.

“It was cool to see the runners at that point in the race because of the look on the runners’ faces,” Shacht said. “They came around the turn, and you could see the agony and hell they had been through mixed with determination and immense drive to finish. It was an interesting and fascinating thing to watch.”

Not only did the GVRC athletes compete, they competed well. Finishing fourth overall was Yonke, with a time of 2 hours and 43 minutes (6:13 mile pace).

“The final three miles I was very fatigued,” Yonke said. “But once I could see the buildings downtown, I knew I was close and I pushed myself hard to the finish.”

Yonke ran the Grand Rapids Marathon this year as the final piece to the Alternatives in Motion High Endurance Award given to athletes who complete the Riverbank 25k, Michigan Titanium 140.6 and the Grand Rapids Marathon all in the same year.

“Being something that very few athletes achieve, I wanted to take up the challenge of accomplishing this,” Yonke said. “I would like to use this award as an athletic resume point to hopefully get an athletic sponsor so that I can use running to travel and raise money for causes and charities.”

Yonke also has a sentimental connection with the Grand Rapids Marathon. It was the first marathon he ever ran, and he was inspired to be back where it all started. That combined with the liveliness of the course was just what he needed to hold onto fourth place.

“This course honestly has the best spectators and volunteers,” Yonke said. “There are people all over the course cheering you on, and you don’t really get much of that in most Michigan marathons.”

With a medal hanging around his neck and his head held high with pride, Yonke knew everything he poured into his race was well worth the fight.

“I was so exhausted from the run, but seeing a new (personal record) and a top placement in the race made it worth it,” he said.

Not unlike his teammate, Moore was also running for something bigger than himself. After the 2013 Boston bombings, Moore decided to compete in his first marathon to show that runners are not afraid of anything.

“I was so angry, and I went for a run,” Moore said. “I contemplated running 26 miles even though I was vastly underprepared for it. I thought better of it and decided that I should save that drive and try and qualify for the Boston Marathon.”

And that drive paid off. Moore crossed the finish line with a time of 2:59, after giving everything he had to reach his goal.

“By mile 16, it felt like each mile was three,” Moore said. “I felt more awful than I have felt in a long time, mentally and physically, but I just kept thinking to myself, as long as I keep going nice and steady, I’ll make it through this.”

Thoughts of pace and form were thrown out as he pushed through the last mile, crossing the finish line strong.

“It didn’t really hit me what I had done until later in that day when I sat down and thought about it and when I tried to walk up stairs,” Moore said.

The GVSU club runners were also successful in the half marathon. It was Croad’s first half marathon, and it was a memorable event.

“My race time was a little slower than my goal time, but just the sense of accomplishment I had from finishing made it all worth it,” Croad said.

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