Joey Whelan dominated the field and won the Austin marathon again

The defending Austin Marathon champion Joey Whelan’s emotions were concealed behind a slick pair of Oakley shades as he led Sunday morning’s race. But he needn’t have worried about revealing his strategy to competitors. 

Whelan dominated the field, breaking the tape more than three minutes ahead of his closest pursuer, Jameson Mora of Paso Robles, Calif.

Whelan, a 28-year old former Syracuse track and cross-country runner who now lives in Spring Branch, wasted no time moving to the front of the pack, hitting the first mile in five minutes and five seconds. Initially Colorado Springs’ Patrick Rizzo — whose past 2:13:42 marathon made him the fastest runner out there — gave chase, trailing behind Whelan 16:02 to 16:25 at the 5K mark. But by the 10K mark (31:26), Whelan had a full minute on him, a gap he continued to widen.

Clicking off the miles at a 5:05 pace, Whelan never once looked back.

“I didn’t know how far back any of the other runners were,” Whelan said after his victory. “I just tried to focus and not look back.”

Though he had already run a 2:16:28 at Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota last June — well below the Olympic “B” standard of 2:19 — he figured he might as well shoot for the “A” standard of 2:15 in Austin despite the challenging nature of the course.

Meantime, Mora was running shoulder-to-shoulder with Will Christian of Chesapeake, Va. in a race for second place as Rizzo faded, paying a price for his fast early pace.

Conquering the hills in the first half of the race, Whelan powered up the steep grade on Guadalupe, passing the half-way mark in 1:07:06. Considering that he had most of the toughest climbs behind him, he had a legitimate shot at breaking 2:15 at that point.

But by miles 22 and 23, he had slowed to a 5:30 pace. Still, coming down the long stretch of East Cesar Chavez, Whelan passed the 25-mile marker in 2:09:25, and the sub-2:15 was still a possibility. But the miles had really taken a toll by then, and he broke the tape in 2:17:03— the fastest men’s time since Betram Keter’s 2:16:20 victory in 2015.

Whelan said he has no regrets about aiming high with a fast first half. 

posted Monday February 18th