Over Memorial Day weekend, more than 7,000 runners toed the start line of the 35th annual Bayshore Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K, and among those athletes was Runner’s World editor-in-chief (and Michigan native) David Willey. This was a big race for Willey—he hoped to run fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, a 10-years-long quest of his—and the 49-year-old did just that, finishing with a time of 3 hours, 28 minutes and 55 seconds. (Willey needed to be under 3:30 in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon.) It was a journey he had been sharing in both the print magazine and on the weekly podcast he hosts, the Runner’s World Show. Saturday’s race was a homecoming of sorts, too, given his family members still live in Grand Rapids, Michigan and traveled north to cheer him on here in Traverse City.
In the final weeks of his training (with a team of Nike experts, no less), Willey sat down to talk with me for my weekly show, the Michigan Runner Girl podcast. Here’s some of what he had to say about his months-long training and why he chose the Bayshore for his “moonshot marathon quest.” Of course, we also had to chat about where to go post-race for a celebratory burger and beer—I’m a big fan of Bubba’s food (sweet potato tots!) and the burgers at Sleder’s. Willey also ends up revealing why he’ll be spending even more time in Michigan in the not-too-distant future.
You have run eight marathons so far, with a PR (personal record) of three hours and 24 minutes. You now need to run under a 3:30 to qualify for Boston. Why did you decide to not only strive for a Boston qualifying time but also share it with your readers and listeners?
I certainly did not have any intention of running a marathon in 2017. The past few marathons have been pretty rough. I have been trying to BQ for a decade … When we heard about this “Breaking 2” project at Nike, and Nike invited Runner’s World to come behind the scenes and report on this project in detail, one of the people I was working with on that, she said to me, do you have a moonshot—this is Nike’s Moonshot, to try to break a two hour marathon—so do you have a moonshot yourself? And I said, it probably would be a BQ. I had kind of turned away from it because it had gone so poorly. And she said, well, if you’re interested in going for that moonshot, we will give you access to the same team of coaches and scientists and physiologists who were working with these three Nike athletes to help them break two hours, and we’ll help you with your moonshot. I decided this was a pretty incredible opportunity. I decided to go for it.
Your training had been a bit rocky at times, because of injuries, which you shared in detail with listeners. How have the final weeks of training been for you?
I have had a really, really good month of training. I’m coming off a really strong 20-mile run, and I have gotten so much out of this project. I am not kidding, I am a new runner. My running stride is different, my body has been re-built, I have completely rejuvenated my love for marathoning and hard training. And even though I am getting a little bit nervous, I am super excited to go out and see if I can finally reach this goal that I have been striving for, for so long.
So how did you decide on the Bayshore Marathon as your goal race?
When it came time to find a race, I wanted to do it in the month of May if I could because the Breaking 2 effort was going to be in the month of May. I really wanted to find a race that had the right variables for me, to optimize my performance. And those are climate—I really do not do well in the heat—and I wanted to do a race that wasn’t crazy-hilly and also not pancake flat. I wanted something that had some variation and also was a beautiful course. I didn’t want to necessarily do a huge big-city marathon … but I also didn’t want to do a tiny one. I wanted one that had been around for a while and had a great reputation. And, you know, when I started narrowing down all those variables, I was reminded of Bayshore. And Northern Michigan, the climate is probably going to be good. The course is incredible. And it’s in Michigan—I’ve got this personal connection. I have spent a lot of time up north. All the stars aligned. It was the perfect race for me to try to do this.
Heather Johnson Durocher, who is also running this weekend’s Bayshore Marathon, writes from Traverse City. She is the founder of MichiganRunnerGirl.com.