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Runner aims to win 14th marathon in 2012 with Sunday’s Advocate Dreyer Fox Valley Marathon

Published: Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT
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Justin Gillette, 29, has won 51 marathons in his lifetime, including 13 in 2012. He’s set to compete in the Fox Valley Marathon on Sunday in St. Charles.

Two-year-old Miles Gillette scampers across his family’s living room most mornings without abandon.

If he only knew.

You’ve really got to pace yourself to be in his brood, and energy is best conserved for Sundays in his dad’s eyes. Justin Gillette of Goshen, Ind., competes in most of his marathons then, which usually is to say he wins. The 29-year-old boasts 13 marathon victories this year alone, and 51 since he began winning the morning he graduated high school in 2001.

Sunday’s Advocate Dreyer Fox Valley Marathon is next on his list. In the name of solvency and sustenance – the family is in transition as Gillette’s wife, Melissa, pursues her doctorate – Gillette has the course record in his crosshairs.

“You can’t just get second or third place; you’ve got to win the darn things,” he said. “Because it pays more to win than to place or show.”

Gillette simply pursued respect when he got into running as a “not too heavy” but still stodgy middle-schooler in Ironton, Mo. The annual Presidential Fitness mile run approached, and with it the chance to quiet the fat jokes of two trash-talking schoolmates.

Gillette finished before his hecklers and joined the cross country team the following year as an eighth-grader. He quickly caught “the bug” – runnerspeak for frenzied addiction to a sport some deem crazy – and starred from there, including a turn as an NAIA All-American at Goshen College.

He met Melissa at Goshen, showing a persistence in asking her out that would mirror his diligence in training. Melissa Gillette runs fewer marathons than her husband, and fewer still as she studies for a PhD in Notre Dame’s biology department. She marvels at her husband’s times, which have exceeded 2 hours, 40 minutes just twice in his past 15 starts.

Charlottesville, Va., resident Tim Cunningham, an equally serious runner despite his profession as a silent clown, won the 2011 marathon in 2:56.24.

“I run, too, and from my perspective, I don’t know how Justin does it week after week,” Melissa Gillette said, “and especially to do such consistent times. The marathon takes such a toll on you, mentally and physically. It truly is amazing what he does.”

A farmer until family circumstances steered the clan back to Goshen, Justin Gillette knew shortly upon Miles’ birth he’d be called upon as a stay-at-home dad.

Keeping what he called a light schedule of 10-12 marathons a year, he soon accelerated that range to 20-25 to seek more financial stability.

While Gillette would not offer a hard figure for his annual income, he compared his earnings to those of “a normal person with a college degree.” He has his own bachelor’s degree in physical education from Goshen.

Accumulating sponsorship revenue and appearance fees in addition to marathon purses, Gillette compares the structure to NASCAR.

“What does a normal person do on a Sunday morning?” he said. “I guess I’m so used to that routine and wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Fox Valley marks Gillette’s third marathon in a stretch of nine successive weekends with one. He adjusts his training to his marathon slate and his son, maxing out at 130 miles per week when time allows.

On Sunday, Gillette won the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Marathon in 2:30:10, averaging 5:44 per mile to eclipse his own course record by just over a minute.

This weekend, he’ll become the second member of his family to race at Fox Valley. His brother, Jake, finished seventh in the inaugural running in 2010.

Gillette was in between marathon victories at Keauhou, Hawaii, and Johnstown, Pa., then. His equally nimble wife and son will not be able to attend his bid for win No. 52 on Sunday, but they figure Gillette doesn’t lack for motivation.

“A guy has a little bit of success in something and he just keeps going,” Gillette said. “You set a goal and you accomplish it. Then once you do, you have to set more.”

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