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Kevin Sullivan: Middle distance goes marathon

I started as a middle distance runner and have gradually run longer and longer races including the marathon and beyond. I distinctly remember my first marathon, it had a different pain than the grind of a 1500m race.

While training for my first marathon, I signed up for a race so that I could get a solid 32K training run in. While running course along the misty Nova Scotian coast, my friends insisted that I keep running and that training race turned into my first marathon. Sucking on soggy watermelon at the finish line I realized I’d officially run the infamous 42.2K distance and even qualified for Boston.

But this blog is not about me. But there are some similarities with the stories of another who once roamed the white lanes of the track and decided to run a bit further.

Kevin Sullivan at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Kevin Sullivan at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Kevin Sullivan

Kevin has been called one of the greatest Canadian distance runners of all time. He has competed at 3 Olympic Games, 22 World Championships and still holds 4 Canadian track and field records. But up until recently Kevin had not raced a marathon.

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He grew up in Brantford, Ontario and studied at Michigan University where he met his wife, former Canadian national team 3000 m steeplechaser, Karen Harvey. Growing up I remember watching and seeing Kevin Sullivan’s races and times dominate the track results.

Personal bests

800 metres 1:47.06
1000 metres 2:17.59
1500 metres 3:31.71
Mile 3:50.26
3000 metres 7:41.61
5000 metres 13:19.27

Recently at the Honolulu marathon, held on December 14, 2014, the tall red-haired Canadian runner added a marathon PB to his list of accomplishments. I gave him a shout when I found out to ask him about the experience.

What got you thinking about doing a marathon?

Sullivan: “I really had not thought of doing a marathon. I was out in Honolulu as a guest of the Honolulu Marathon with no intention of running. Nick Willis and Will Lear were also out there so I jumped in a couple of training runs with them and they mentioned they were going to run the first 16-18 miles of the marathon. I was planning on joining them for their run and then decided if I was going to go 18 miles I might as well just finish the thing.”

What was your first 42.2k race experience like?

Sullivan: “It was surprisingly enjoyable for the most part. But I didn’t got in with any real expectations. I had 5 goals: 1. finish, 2. no chafing, 3. keep all my toenails 4. no cramping 5. not be in pain when I got on my flight to Phoenix that. I accomplished the first 4 goals, and 5 was a bit of a toss up. I felt pretty good through 19 miles and then my left hamstring started to tighten up on me and by 23 I was really just focusing on maintaining my pace each minute until I made it to the line.”

Is this the first and last or will you be in search of another marathon PB?

Sullivan: “This is my first and for the moment my last marathon. I really don’t have the desire (or the time) to train for one properly and I would not want to consider another one unless I was confident in my fitness level.”

Whats harder, 1500m full out or racing a marathon?

Sullivan: “The events are so drastically different that it is really difficult to say which one is harder. They both unique events with unique types of hurt.”

Kevin Sullivan, with hands to knees after finishing the 2014 Honolulu marathon. Photo: Tonireavis.com
Kevin Sullivan, with hands to knees after finishing the 2014 Honolulu marathon. Photo: Tonireavis.com

Kevin Sullivan not only ran the marathon distance, he finished in 2:40:22, 23rd overall and won the Masters age category. Not bad.

*Kevin Sullivan lives in Florida and owns a running store called Capital City Runners he founded with fellow Canadian runner Nathan Brannen.

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You can also find me on Twitter @NoelPaine or on my personal blog.