Keith Pierce defends Austin Marathon title
Defending champion Keith Pierce opted not to wear his customary running watch Sunday during the Livestrong Austin Marathon. Instead, he sported three white hospital bracelets on his wrist bearing the names Presley, Keegan and Ashton, the triplets born to him and his wife, Stephanie, two weeks ago.
"Normally I wear a watch," said Pierce, who lives in Cedar Park, "but I didn't want to put any added pressure on myself by seeing my splits every mile. Glancing to where my watch usually is — and seeing the bracelets — was a little extra motivation, especially late in the race. I was really struggling, searching for any motivation that I could scrounge up."
Pierce, 30, scrounged up enough motivation for a repeat victory in 2 hours, 29 minutes and 25 seconds, though he finished nearly nine minutes off his personal best of 2:20:35, set at last year's race in far better running conditions.
Phil Sneller, who recently relocated to Austin from New York City, passed a fading Sipho Ngxongo with half a mile to go, to take second place in 2:34:20. Ngxongo, a South African, was third in 2:35:11.
American Kyle Baker, the fastest marathoner entered in the field, was expected to push the pace, but he opted to cover the 26.2-mile course as a training run while nursing a knee injury. Baker, of Cleveland, has a personal best of 2:14:13; he finished in 3:14:08 on Sunday.
Battling against warm, humid weather and gusty winds that bedeviled the race's 6,000 entrants, the top finishers didn't come close to hitting the 2:19:00 qualifying standard for the 2012 U.S. Olympic marathon trials.
In Baker's absence, Ngxongo challenged Pierce, if only for a few miles following the start on Congress Avenue, just north of the Capitol.
With temperatures in the mid-60s, Ngxongo passed through the first two miles in 10:24, an ambitious marathon pace of 2:15:00. However, Pierce eased into the lead just after the five-kilometer mark — hit in 16:56 — and steadily drew away from Ngxongo as the miles clicked by.
At 10 miles, reached in 54:11, Ngxongo had fallen a minute and a half behind Pierce. With no one to push him, Pierce focused on maintaining a strong pace and keeping his lead, grabbing water at every aid station he passed.
"Going into the race, I knew the conditions would make it tough, so I tried to adjust for that," he said. "Knowing that you're out in front and have a chance to win, that kind of drives you to keep going."
Not that it was easy.
"From mile 25 to 26, I was really hurting," Pierce said. "I almost considered walking."
At that point Pierce looked down to his wrist, where his watch would be, and spotting the three bracelets there instead, he summoned the will for a final drive to the finish .
"I'm a little disappointed in my time, but I'm really happy to come out here and win again," he said.
Sneller, who didn't run competitively in high school or college, said he decided to give up his two-pack-a-day cigarette habit at age 25 and train for a marathon. Now 32, Sneller covers close to 120 miles a week in training. Sunday's race was his eighth marathon.
"It's a good way to quit smoking," remarked Pierce.
Recounting the race, Sneller recalled that Ngxongo "was just jogging when I passed him. The pace was a lot slower than what I trained for so it didn't feel that hard."
Notes: Austinite David Fuentes won the men's half marathon, finishing in 1:08:45. Austin's Scott Rantall was second in 1:09:04 and Lubbock's Nick Cordes finished third in 1:12:16. Thomas Lentz of Cincinnati topped the masters division in the marathon. His time of 2:37:08 put him in fourth overall. Austin's Osmani Hoffstatter placed second behind Lentz, in 2:38:57.