By Martin Cleary
The day after students returned to Ashbury College from the Thanksgiving Weekend break, Kieran McDaniel heard his name highlighted on the daily announcements.
Slightly embarrassed by it, but extremely proud of what he had achieved, the Grade 12 student received plenty of congratulations from fellow students and teachers for winning a race he didn’t immediately know he had won.
And it wasn’t just any race. It was a marathon. Not many 17-year-olds train for the punishing 42.195-kilometre challenge, let alone finish as the overall champion in a debut.
Count McDaniel as a member of that group.
But by using a combination of a tailor-made training program, a love of running, on-course motivation from his parents and supporters and his determination to overcome some rough spots, he completed his first-ever marathon and then was shocked to learn he was the overall champion.
Not only was he overwhelmed that he was the fastest in the field of 89 runners during the Ottawa Fall Colours Marathon in the east end of the city, but also he was filled with happiness just for completing a major athletic project.
“I had no idea I was in first place. I thought there were some in front of me running the marathon. When I crossed the finish line, they told me I had won. It was a big surprise,” said a still partially-disbelieving McDaniel in a phone interview.
“I even said, ‘Really?’ I still can’t believe it.”
McDaniel was aiming to run his first marathon under three hours and he achieved that with a winning time of two hours, 53 minutes and 41 seconds, which met the standards for entering the famed Boston Marathon. He hopes to run in the 2024 Boston Marathon, when he’s 18 years old.
Duncan Robinson was the men’s and overall runner-up at 2:55:31, while Matthew Stacey was third in 3:08:03. The top three women were: Hope Wilson, 3:29:20; Veronique Prince, 3:39:57; and Jessica Seck, 3:40:11.
When McDaniel was running the two-loop race with his fellow marathoners, he was sharing the course with 352 athletes in the half-marathon race. The half-marathon athletes did one lap of the 21.1-kilometre course, while the marathoners were required to make two trips over the layout.
For the first loop, McDaniel felt strong because he had run that distance before in his only half-marathon race in May at the Ottawa Race Weekend. He finished in one hour, 38 minutes, five seconds.
For the second loop, he gathered some knowledge from his first trip around, but his run had become a solo venture and he had no idea where he stood in the overall marathon placement picture.
“There were a lot of races going on at the same time,” said McDaniel, who was motivated by his cheering parents from the sidelines and supported in spirit by his Ashbury coaches Michelle Holman, Bryan Oates and Sheri McCready.
McDaniel started running when he was in elementary school in Washington, D.C. and loved to go for runs with his father. He carried that passion to Singapore before arriving three years ago at Ashbury, where he runs for the cross-country running and track and field teams.
During the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association East Conference cross-country running championships on Wednesday at the Hornets Nest, McDaniel was fourth in the boys’ senior 6,000-metre race.
When he wanted to test his running skills, he would enter races, usually the cross-country variety, over five or six kilometres.
But after reading Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, he was inspired to try running longer distances.
“I wanted to push my limits more,” McDaniel added. “I talked to people I know who have run marathons and they said it is something they always remember.”
McDaniel looked online to learn about a training program for a first-time marathoner and “adapted it to my needs.”
“I was up to 120 kilometres of running a week. My longest run before the marathon was 36 kilometres,” he said.
He also did a lot of stretching and improved his diet with the addition of more vegetables. But he had to show his grit during the marathon, dealing with the wind and some foot blisters.
“I really love long-distance running in the fall. I do it for inner peace. I feel grounded after a long run. The discipline I’ve learned from running I’ve applied to my school work and my whole life,” said McDaniel, who graduated Grade 11 with a 96-per-cent average. “I want to test my limits.”
The weather for the Fall Colours Marathon was almost ideal, but a little chilly and windy towards the end for McDaniel. But it didn’t affect him too much as he ran a faster pace of 4:06 per kilometre than his anticipated 4:12.
“Honestly, what helped me was the training. I got out every day and pushed myself. I love to run. I don’t run to win or lose, but for fun. It’s a big part of my life,” he continued.
“You can get bogged down with the time. But I’m grateful for the opportunity to run and I saw the fall colours. There were good parts and bad parts. Running by myself was more peaceful, but I had to push myself and motivate myself to keep going.”
McDaniel, who received the winner’s medal in a podium ceremony, encouraged himself by listening to music and thinking of the support of his family.
For his first marathon, McDaniel selected the Ottawa Fall Colours race because it had “a family feel to it” and it was a strong community race.
“I didn’t look for a big (marathon) crowd, but somewhere I could enjoy my race and push myself,” he said.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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