Oregonians go 1-2-3 at Chicago

Eugene's Craig Leon sets PR at Chicago Marathon

10/13/2013 12:00 AM

Local distance runner places 13th overall, and is third American to cross finish line with a lifetime best of 2 hours, 13 minutes, 53 seconds in Sunday's race


CHICAGO - Craig Leon, who competes for Team Run Eugene, and is coached by Olympian Ian Dobson, placed 13th overall at the 2013 Chicago Marathon on Sunday with a personal best of 2 hours, 13 minutes, 53 seconds over the 26.2-mile course.


Leon, 28, was the third American to cross the finish line behind Nike Oregon Project's Dathan Ritzenhein (fifth, 2:09:45) and Team Schumacher's Matt Tegenkamp (10th, 2:12:28), who was making his marathon debut.


Both of those runners are based in Portland.


Leon's previous best mark of 2:14:38 was set at the 2013 Boston Marathon last April. The former walk-on at Ohio University works 20 hours per week at the University of Oregon and also helps out at Eugene Running Company.


Kenya's Dennis Kimetto won the men's race with a course record of 2:03:45. Rita Jeptoo, also of Kenya, was the women's champion at 2:19:57.



Under the radar: Eugene marathoner Craig Leon hopes to raise his game with a PR performance at Sunday's Chicago Marathon

10/10/2013 12:00 AM

By Curtis Anderson / TrackTown


See race result


The Craig Leon File
Age: 28
Residence: Eugene, OR
Height: 5-7
Weight: 120 pounds
Coach: Ian Dobson
Club: Team Run Eugene
Twitter: @CLeonRun
Personal Records
Marathon: 2:14:38 (Boston, 2013)
Half Marathon: 1:04.01 (Duluth, 2013)
10,000: 29:49 (Penn Relays, 2011)
5,000: 14:23 (Kent, 2011)
Career Marathons
May 2, 2010: Eugene Marathon, 1st, 2:23.15
October 3, 2010: Twin Cities Marathon, 10th, 2:18.28
January 14, 2012: U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, 26th, 2:15.42
October 7, 2012: Chicago Marathon, 20th, 2:15.38
January 5, 2013: Mississippi Blues Marathon, 1st, 2:16.48
April 15, 2013: Boston Marathon, 10th, 2:14.38

EUGENE, Ore.  – Team Run Eugene’s Craig Leon won’t be shocked if Dathan Ritzenhein, of Nike Oregon Project, runs an American record at the 2013 Chicago Marathon on Sunday.


Similarly, he won’t be too surprised if Matt Tegenkamp “knocks it out of the park” in his marathon debut.


Leon just wants to be part of the conversation.


In years past, the former walk-on at Ohio University admitted that he would be a bit “starstruck” when faced with competing against such accomplished athletes.


That’s no longer the case.


On Sunday, when he toes the line with an expected field of 45,000 runners in Chicago, Leon will be shooting for a personal best. He wants to stick with the elite group that is targeting “2:11 or 2:12,” a significant drop from his marathon PR of 2 hours, 14 minutes, 38 seconds.


“It’s exciting to be in a race with guys like Dathan and Matt,” said Leon, who moved to Eugene in 2011 to pursue a career in professional running. “I look up to both of them. At the same time, I’m excited about the opportunity to race against them. I no longer put them up on a pedestal.


“I realize I’m still a ways back, certainly from Dathan, but there’s an element of the unknown with this race, and to me, that’s the fun part of the marathon … you still have to think your way through the course, because it’s not going to go as planned.”


Last year, Ritzenhein, who is coached by Alberto Salazar, clocked the third-fastest marathon in U.S. history in Chicago, covering the 26.2-mile course in a blistering 2:07:47. The American record of 2:05:38 was set by Khalid Khannouchi at the 2002 London Marathon.


As for Tegenkamp, the Portland-based runner, who is coached by Jerry Schumacher, showed off his fitness by defending his U.S. 20K title with a 10-second victory in 1:00.09 last month.


Those two Americans have shared the media spotlight leading up to Sunday’s race, which is just fine with Leon.


“I like being under the radar,” he said. “I don’t envy the scrutiny that some of these guys go through on a race-to-race basis. If they have an off day, all of a sudden, the hounds attack.”


Eugene's Craig Leon warms up prior to the start of the 2013 Boston Marathon last April. He placed 10th overall, and was the third American to cross the finish line, with a personal best of 2 hours, 14 minutes, 38 seconds. (Photo courtesy of Craig Leon)

Seeking out balance


In the realm of distance running, the 5-foot-7, 120-pound Leon is known as a grinder.


Leading up to Chicago, his training volume peaked at about 140 miles per week, logging an average of 13 runs over seven days – “twice a day, every day, with a nice 24 to 25 miler on Sundays.”


Leon, who competes for Team Run Eugene, and is coached by Olympian Ian Dobson, also seeks out balance in his life.


With a master’s degree in athletic administration, he can’t imagine not working, so he dutifully puts in 20 hours per week as assistant manager for the “Competition Not Conflict” program at the University of Oregon law school. He also helps out at Eugene Running Company.


“I have a really good balance between working and training,” said Leon, who turns 29 on Nov. 8.


“Regardless of what happens in the next couple of years, I will continue to work. It’s good for me. It’s that one part of the day where I don’t have to think about running.”


His intelligence, work ethic and consistent day-to-day approach have enabled him to enjoy another luxury as a professional runner – the ability to stay healthy through an entire training cycle.


Dobson points to those attributes as solid evidence that Leon will perform well in Chicago.


“I’m extremely confident,” Dobson said. “That might be a little presumptuous, but Craig is a solid runner. He does what he’s supposed to do. He’s the right combination of smart and tough. He’s not too much of either to get himself into trouble. As a result, he’s never had a bad marathon.


“I know he’ll get 100 percent out of himself.”


Leon has run six marathons in his still fledgling career, dating back to his winning debut at the 2010 Eugene Marathon.


This will be his second effort in Chicago, one of the fastest marathon courses in the world. Last year, he placed 20th overall in 2:15:38, despite slowing down considerably at the end, from 5:05 to 5:40 mile pace.


“You always have this idea that you’re just one race away from popping one,” Leon said. “I felt like that going into Chicago last year, and for the first 23 miles, it was a great race, but the last 5K was just OK. It kind of left a sour taste in my mouth.”


Craig Leon, of Team Run Eugene, won the Corvallis Half Marathon in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Craig Leon)

Running for a cause


Leon’s breakthrough finally came at the 2013 Boston Marathon last April.


He went into the prestigious race as a relative unknown, but he emerged as the third American to cross the finish line, placing 10th overall, with a lifetime best of 2:14:38.


“It gave me confidence,” Leon said. “It also changed how I approach races. I know my PR is not indicative of what I’m capable of doing. I’m going to go out with a group that wants to run 2:11 or 2:12 (in Chicago), and if it works, great; if not, I’ll learn something along the way …


“It’s a favorable course and I’ll be surrounded by great competition. It’s one of those situations where, outside of the weather, you don’t have many excuses. That’s what you train for and that’s what makes a week like this so much fun. Race week is the best part of my job.”


Leon’s experience at the Boston Marathon, of course, was also filled with tragedy. Two separate bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people, and inflicting horrific injuries on countless others.


Leon’s initial elation at cracking the top 10 was quickly replaced by feelings of disbelief and heartbreak.


He was profoundly affected by the death of Martin Richard, an 8-year-old boy who was killed in the blast as he waited, along with his Mom and sister, for his father to finish the race.


“People aren’t supposed to die at races,” Leon wrote on his website, www.craigleonrunning.com. “Especially kids waiting to watch their dads finish the Boston Marathon.”


In Chicago, there are more than 160 charities associated with the marathon, and in most years, over 10,000 participants choose to run on behalf of a charity organization.


Leon has partnered with CharityBets.com to help raise funds for the Richard family.


There are three ways to contribute. Make a flat donation, increase your gift if Leon runs faster than his “betting” bar of 2:14:38, or place a bet based on how much faster than 2:14:38 you think he might run.


Visit https://charitybets.com/users/322-craig-leon to play along. As of Thursday, nearly $3,500 had already been pledged.


“It was the father-son part of the story that really hit home with me,” Leon wrote. “Being able to play sports with, and against, my dad growing up were some of my favorite childhood memories. Sadly, Mr. Richard no longer gets to have these moments with Martin.”


Go back and finish strong


For Leon, there are a couple of distinct advantages to having already run the Chicago Marathon.


First of all, he’s no longer anonymous to race organizers.


“I’m being taken care of a lot better this year than I was last year,” Leon said. “The race itself handles travel, hotel and food. There’s even some money up front with a training stipend.


“And my contract, in terms of performance bonuses, is significantly better this year.”


Secondly, Leon knows the course and routine.


“With Chicago,” he said. “There is a certain advantage to having run the course before, to knowing the morning routine, and just knowing where to get on the bus. It helps calm the nerves. Anytime you can visualize the race, and actually put yourself there prior to doing something, that adds a bit of familiarity to what you are about to do.”


On Sunday, he wants to finish what he started at last year’s race, and if all goes well, he could elevate his status into the next tier of elite U.S. marathon runners.


Ritzenhein, 30, has already stated his plans to run with the leaders.


The 31-year-old Tegenkamp, meanwhile, is aiming for the 2:11:00 range, a bit shy of the U.S. marathon debut record of 2:08.24 set by Ryan Hall five years ago.


“Right now, Craig is not quite in the conversation with those guys,” Dobson said. “But if he runs 2:12 on Sunday, then it’s exciting, because he could be in that conversation … if he sniffs something like that in the last half of the race, he will really dig and go after it.”


As for Leon, he can’t wait to get on the starting line.


“I want to go back and finish what I started,” he said. “Last year, I feel like I ran a great race, and let an opportunity slip away. I want to go back and run the whole thing and finish strong …


“That’s what this weekend is all about. Go out and put up a fast time. It’s one more step in becoming a better runner and a better marathoner.”


See how Craig Leon's marathon went