Stephen VanGampleare had heard all the talk about the hills at the Boston Marathon. One of them is called “Heartbreak Hill,” a rise in the road at about Mile 20 where exhausted runners often come undone.
But the 26-year-old runner from Colorado Springs had a much different experience there. In fact, he increased his pace as the course tilted up on an unseasonably warm 75-degree day and then galloped on to finish 37th with a time of 2 hours, 25 minutes, 35 seconds. He'd beaten his former best by almost six minutes.
“I thought to myself if we’re in the uphill part now, and I’m getting faster, then this should be a pretty good result,” he says.
The warm temperatures led the news stories following the marathon's 131st running. But like the hills he flew over, the weather didn’t bother VanGampleare, either. He had trained through the Colorado winter, then shrugged off a hot sun that dished out plenty of suffering to many others.
“I would have liked it to have been cooler, but at the same time I can’t say that I would race better than I did if it had been 45 and cloudy,” he says.
A St. Mary’s High School graduate, VanGampleare ran competitively for two years at Creighton University, where he earned a degree in exercise science. He recently earned a second degree at UCCS in mechanical engineering. These days, his running is strictly his own. Self-trained, he had some tall goals in mind when he arrived in Boston.
“The plan was to shoot for 5:35 (pace per mile) before the hills, then hoping to hold on the best I could and come in under 2:28,” he says. “I thought the perfect day would be 2:26.”
VanGampleare showed impressive speed in early February when he set the course record (1:11:01) at the Super Half Marathon, in Colorado Springs. He then won the Pikes Peak Road Runners’ Winter Series (short course). His conditioning was on point.
Quiet and unassuming, he can settle his nerves before a big race. But this was Boston. Months of training had been aimed at the moment, at the gloried starting line in Hopkinton.
“There’s just kind of a little second guessing once in a while,” he says. “Am I ready to go out and run the time I was shooting for? This time I felt pretty confident that I could get close to what I wanted.”
When he engaged the initial hills he began to drop those around him. “I still was not feeling like I was running as fast as I wanted to,” he says. “But I looked at my watch and my pace had picked up a bit.”
With three miles to go he realized his day had become better than perfect. He’d break 2:26 if he could maintain the pace. And then the crowds grew larger and louder and he found a kick.
“It’s kind of fun coming around the last couple of corners and there are thousands of people going crazy,” he says. “That’s always good motivation for a nice sprint to the finish.”
The heart of his training included more miles at goal marathon pace. “I think it helped a lot,” he says.
His running routine included one run a week that began with a three-mile warmup, then 10 miles at marathon pace, then three to cool down. He hit a weekly total of 107 miles one month before Boston, then backed off. He ran about 50 miles in his final week of training. Days before the race he did two five-mile runs and then a 30-minute shakeout the day before the marathon.
He was a little shocked at his final time. He hadn’t trained on hills in Colorado Springs, logging much of his mileage on the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail where he was “just trying to go fast.”
Or, go faster than he thought he could go.