British runner Jake Smith won the Cheshire Elite Marathon this past weekend, which is not the sort of news that would typically make much of a splash outside of the British running press (I assume one exists) but for the fact that the 22-year-old Smith had never run a full marathon before. Also, he began the race without the intention of finishing it.
Smith is a decorated distance runner, and last October, he posted a 1:00:31 half marathon time. That's the third-fastest time by a British runner, though Smith's experience with the full thing before last weekend was strictly as a pacemaker for elite groups. Weeks before that impressive half marathon time, he was responsible for pacing the third group on the road of the London Marathon to a 1:03:45 time through the first 13 miles, though he continued on at pace for another mile before his coach convinced him to stop. Last month at the British Olympic Marathon Trials, Smith worked again as a pacer, and again he pushed on for some extra distance before pulling up. "Was tempted at one stage to keep going," he warned, "but think I’ll pass on the distance for a few more years."
Smith waited mere weeks to deliver on his promise, deciding on a whim (in his words, "sod it") at mile 17 to try and win after towing the leaders that far. From that point home, he split nine straight sub-five minute miles and came in with a 38-second victory over the runner-up. His time of 2:11:00 was a full 30 seconds under the Olympic qualifying time, and would have placed him second at the Olympic qualifying trials.
Smith also apparently did all of this with only one gel in his pocket, so when he decides to start trying, he's somehow got something to improve on.