In some ways, Oliver Bohac-Datz is a kid through and through.
His mom is the center of his universe, and Godzilla’s exploits can dominate his conversations.
But Saturday reinforced that the 11-year-old from Batavia is no run-of-the-mill fifth-grader. Running alongside his mother, Oliver completed the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon in Champaign-Urbana, a race that finished at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium.
“We had to tell each other to quit crying because we can’t run and cry at the same time, but we were both kind of overwhelmed with emotion [at the end],” said Amy Bohac-Datz, Oliver’s mother. “I was just so proud of him and I think he was so proud of himself. It was really emotional at that point.”
Holding hands with his mother for the final quarter-mile, Oliver completed the marathon in 4:55.02. He became the first exception in the event’s six-year history to the policy of marathoners needing to be at least 17 years old, according to race director Jan Seeley.
While Oliver dedicated each of the 26 miles to a someone influential in his life – ranging from family members to a teacher to noted U.S. ultramarathoner Scott Jurek – it’s clear who was Oliver’s primary inspiration, and not just because his mom popped one of the painful blisters that developed on his feet during the race.
“When you spend almost five hours with her, it’s hard not to like her,” Oliver said, showcasing a sense of humor that also ranges beyond his years. “She’s always just nice, trying to pull me through harder runs like she did Saturday. It’s definitely something that brings us closer together, and when you cross that finish line after so long, it’s really some sort of amazing thing, almost a miracle, that you were able to do that.”
Despite adhering to the grueling marathon training regimen, Amy Bohac-Datz said Saturday’s run was even more demanding than her son anticipated.
“Running those extra five miles [compared to a training run] really took a lot mentally out of him to push through the race,” she said. “I think he mentally had a struggle for about five miles between 16 and 21 where I don’t think he would have dropped out of the race, but he was kind of feeling ‘Oh my gosh, this is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.’ I’m not sure what pushed him through the mental hurdles at Mile 21 but he was really excited for the finish line. Something happened at Mile 21 in his head where he was like ‘I can do this.’ ”
Oliver’s interest in long-distance running blossomed after he ran the last eight miles of a marathon in Lincolnshire in 2012 with his mom. He began training with her as part of multiple local running groups and ran four half-marathons – including one in Batavia – before finishing Saturday’s marathon in Champaign.
The Champaign race came about because Amy Bohac-Datz planned to run it last year but had her registration pushed back a year because of her pregnancy. She also thought the extra fanfare and hoopla of completing the race at Memorial Stadium might provided extra fuel for Oliver.
Oliver’s father – Eric Datz – is outdoorsy but does not like to run. “He tells us ‘If I was on fire, I’d walk to the hose,’ ” Amy Bohac-Datz said.
So dad spent Saturday performing his own task with a high degree of difficulty – corralling 2-year-old Charlie and 6-month-old Wally while locating Oliver and Amy at five different points along the course to shout encouragement.
Both of Oliver’s parents come from scientific backgrounds and refute the notion that it is unsafe for children to attempt marathons until they are fully grown. Many races, including the St. Charles-based Fox Valley Marathon, have policies against runners younger than age 18 competing for liability reasons.
Oliver required physical therapy last year after experiencing Achilles tendinitis but said he’s in far better shape than he was then.
That conditioning will be tested again next month. Oliver and his mom are planning to participate in the Tryon Farm Trail 50K run – just more than 31 miles – in Michigan City, Ind.
“For the marathon, he was trying not to stop and walk at all,” Amy Bohac-Datz said. “For this ultrarace, with the uphill, we’re going to walk. … So I think it’ll be a lot less stressful on his legs. I know we’re going a farther distance but I think it’ll be a lit more leisurely.”
As is often the case for marathoners, much of Oliver’s affirmation has been internal, but Saturday’s marathon included adulation on both the front and back ends. His parents presented him with dozens of letters of encouragement the night before the race, and Monday at Alice Gustafson Elementary School in Batavia, Oliver said there was “an uproar” when his achievement was saluted over morning announcements.
While his mother said Oliver has been “more of an academic kid” than an athlete during his youth, he is interested in trying tennis, wrestling, and, yes, cross country, in the coming years.
“What they call long distance running is definitely not what I do,” Oliver said, musing about the prospect of running cross country when he hits Rotolo Middle School. “They run three miles at most. I usually run about five to 10 a day, so that’s more just an extra thing to meet up with a group and be able to run with them.”
Being just one of the boys, after all, remains in Oliver’s repertoire.