“My day starts at 3:30 to 4:00 in the morning. Like today my family and I had to drive to Pittsburgh, so I got up at 3:30 and I got my run in before we left,” Brian said. “I’ve always been really driven in whatever my current pursuit is. I just finished a double masters program with a nearly perfect GPA on top of all of this running and full-time work and two kids. So I would say the drive translates to all parts of my life.”
It’s this type of grit and determination that makes Brian an elite marathon runner and anyone who is aiming to tackle the distance could learn a few things from him. For all athletes, training for the marathon is challenging and unpredictable: you build mileage for months, log the grueling long runs and nail the taper, but no matter how well you prepare, something can always go wrong. Brian’s Chicago Marathon was one of those races when the unexpected happened.
When he started training for Chicago, Brian was aiming for a new World Record for double-amputees. His goal was to break three hours. But early in Brian’s preparation for Chicago he developed an overuse injury that required him to modify his training.
“I didn’t run for most of July and August,” he said. “I trained for hours and hours a day on my EliptiGO, and was also mixing in the strength training, swimming … Basically up until four weeks before Chicago I was on strictly cross-training.”
Although the routine wasn’t ideal, the time away from running actually made Brian more motivated to hit his goal. When he did start ramping up his mileage in the four weeks before the race, eventually building up to a 22 mile long run, he was feeling fit and better than ever.
“I was more confident going into this marathon than I was when I did [the London Marathon] back in the spring. I had been running 70 mile weeks leading up to London, but by the time I was on the start line I was so physically and mentally drained that I was screwed before I even started,” he said. “And the weather was great. It was cool, it was cloudy, and the drizzle didn’t overly bother me. So I was really confident in the run and on top of the fact that I had three great pacers with me. So those early miles clicked by really well. I think up until about Mile 20 or 21, we were on a 2:54 pace.”
Anyone who has ever run a marathon knows what lies in wait at mile 21: the wall. But while Brian was certainly starting to fatigue, he hit something else entirely. One of his pacers, Phil Micek, had to drop out at mile 19 with a debilitating quad cramp. This left Brian with one less pacer to help break his fall when, going around a wet corner, he caught the edge of his running blade on a crack in the pavement. The prosthetic was partially removed from Brian’s leg and he tumbled to the pavement.
“I slammed my head pretty hard on the left side. I definitely blacked out,” Brian said. “I don’t know if it was for a moment or if it was for a minute or what, but my world went black. I was dizzy, nauseous. My hearing kept going in and out, vision was blurry… But somehow I managed to pull my leg back on and start moving forward again.”
As Brian got up and stumbled forward, he saw an aid station just ahead. One of his two remaining pacers, Mike Wardian, offered to go and grab some water for him. But in the confusion around the station he was lost. So Brian continued on with his only remaining pacer, Jim Akita, by his side.
“Those concussion symptoms did not go away. They either stayed the same or got worse,” Brian remembered. “My hands were going numb, my face was numb … I spent part of the last four miles holding on to my pacer Jim’s shoulder just because I was having trouble staying upright. But somehow we got to that finish line.”
Amazingly, Brian crossed the finish line in an official time of 3:03:22 – a new personal record. He was ecstatic and exhausted. It wasn’t the time he had set out to run, but after a training regime that included little running and a race that took a turn for the worst, the finish was that much sweeter.
“It was a completely different feeling from the London Marathon,” Brian reflected. “I went into London with a ton of mileage under my belt, and I had been doing long runs at a pace that suggested I could run under 2:50. And when I finished London I had run 3:03:35, and I was extremely disappointed with that. Because I just knew I had just run poorly. I had better in me. But finishing Chicago with only that 13 second PR, I was ecstatic that I just managed to finish. I know that I’m gonna go back to another marathon and I’m gonna crush that.”
But first, Brian knows he needs to take some time to rest. Fortunately, he didn’t suffer from any post-concussion symptoms. He used the weeks after the marathon to recover and spend extra time with his family, who support him throughout his training.
“None of this would have been possible without having strong family support,” Brian said. “All this training time – even though I do a lot of it in the pre-dawn hours before anyone’s up – my wife still ends up taking the brunt of the workload with the kids on top of her own full-time job. As much as these endurance sports are a solo thing, it’s completely not possible without a strong support system around me.”
This Spring, he’s aiming to diversify his training and build speed by focusing on the half-marathon distance and shorter. He’s even thinking about trying a few sprint triathlons as well. But you can bet he’ll return to the marathon next fall. And Brian has the three hour barrier in his sights.
Follow Brian Reynolds on Strava as he continues to chase his dream.