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Half Favorite Craig Leon Using Austin As Tuneup For Boston Marathon

Entering the Austin Half Marathon on Sunday, Craig Leon will have the second fastest PR in the field (1:04:01) and be considered one of the favorites which is an odd position for him to be in.

Last year at this time as he trained for the 2013 Boston Marathon, Leon was just another anonymous American marathoner with minor-league credentials.

So much for anonymity.

In the space of just a few hours, Leon, a 29-year-old who lives in Eugene, Oregon and PR’ed in 2:14:38 at Boston, did more interviews than he had in the entirety of his running his career–combined. Leon, who had never placed high in a national-class race, finished 10th and was the third American at the tragically historic Boston.

Equally impressive is that last fall in the Chicago Marathon, Leon lowered his PR again, this time to 2:13:52 which was good for 13th place.

Although the horrific events of Patriots Day, 2013 overshadowed everything and everyone, Leon’s race on the big stage of Boston was a significant breakthrough for a guy whose biggest victory to date had been at the Mississippi Blues Marathon.

“To finish Boston and be able to say I was within 30 seconds of seventh place,” said Leon who runs for Team Mizuno, “gives me the confidence that when I get into races like this in the future, I can run more aggressively and be more competitive. I am certainly happy the way Boston turned out, but by using races like Austin, I think I can run better this year.”

Toward that end, Leon is coming to Austin to race the Austin Half Marathon. “People have told me the Austin course is a hilly one which is a perfect race simulation for me for Boston,” said Leon who ran 1:04:34 in Houston last month at the USATF Half Marathon Championships. “Plus, I’ve never been to Austin and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Still, Boston was a turning point for Leon who simply had never been competitive on a national stage. Prior to Boston, his resume showed plenty of finishes in the top 25 in such races as Chicago, the Olympic Trials, Falmouth and Gate River, but his only victories were in regional races such as half marathons in Oregon in Eugene, Corvallis and Medford. Not exactly resume-building races.

More than anything, Boston gave Leon the belief that after years of slogging it out, that he was—finally—making significant progress. “Boston gave me the reassurance that I am doing the right things with my training. I have been able to string together years of consistent training, but until you get the results to back it up, it can be pretty discouraging.”

He certainly has had his fair share of discouragement. Leon, who is from Van Wert, Ohio in the west central part of the state, near the Indiana border, wasn’t even a star in high school (11th in the state meet in cross-country and the 3200 meters) which didn’t get him so much as a nibble from any Division 1 colleges. Eventually, he walked on to the cross-country and track team at Ohio University despite never having run as far as 10 miles without stopping. But somehow Leon survived and by his senior year, had qualified for the NCAA cross-country champs. After graduating from Ohio U., Leon had no idea what he wanted to do so he stayed in Athens as a graduate student and volunteer coach. (He earned a dual masters in 2009 from Ohio University in coaching education and athletic administration.)

Only problem was working, coaching, going to school and trying to train proved too much. “I was stretching myself too thin,” said Leon. “I just decided that I wasn’t going to do this anymore.”

Leon had some friends who lived in Eugene and decided to follow them. He joined the fledgling Team Run Eugene and began to churn out 110-120 mile weeks like clockwork. To support himself, Leon got a job at the University of Oregon Law School as a program assistant.

But with fairly modest speed (29:49/14:23 on the track), Leon knew he wasn’t nearly as gifted as some of the other heavy hitters in town. “I’m just not blessed with great natural foot speed,” says Leon. “I definitely can’t break 14 minutes {for 5000 meters}, but my talent is to recover well from hard workouts and string together day after day of 20-mile days.”

His other talent is sheer determination. To prepare for Boston ’14, Leon upped his training to as high as 140 miles and has averaged about 120 miles per week through a brutal winter in Oregon.

“I can’t wait to get to Austin and run in some warmer weather,” said Leon who did a short taper for the Austin Half. His plans include a speed workout on Friday morning and an hour-run on Saturday morning with David Fuentes, who has won the Austin Half twice, but isn’t running this year.

On Monday, Leon will return to Eugene and hammer out several more high-mileage weeks before Boston. “I’ve always had to work hard for everything. I’m not a guy who has been given anything. I’ve never had immediate success,” says Leon. “I know I’m on the right path, doing the right things. I can get better. I know that. I have a lot of room to grow and my improvement won’t come from higher volume. It will come from developing greater quality in my training. If I can push that speed envelope and stay healthy, I don’t see any reason I can’t run 2:12.”

If Leon accomplishes that at Boston in April, he’d better get used to more interviews.

For more of our Austin Marathon & Half Marathon coverage, check out the Race Guide.


About Wish

Bob “Wish” Wischnia has more than 30 years of running industry experience across publishing, retail, web, and race organization. An Arizona State University alum, Wischnia has been a runner virtually his entire life, still competing in track and road race competitions. And in the free time he’s not pounding the pavement? He’s swimming, cycling, and catching days on the green.