UPDATE, April 17: Seth Marek’s bid for a new personal best was successful. He ran this year’s Boston Marathon in 2:50:35.
When he attempted his first half-marathon a decade ago, OPPD lineman Seth Marek never dreamed he would one day finish the Boston Marathon at a blistering sub-3-hour pace.
But there he was, heart pounding, legs pumping, rounding the famous final turn onto Boylston Street in downtown Boston. The finish line loomed in the distance. Thousands roared on the sidelines, an atmosphere unlike anything he had ever experienced.
“It was definitely emotional,” said Marek, a journeyman who joined OPPD in 2011. “You show up to a race that big, with 30,000 people, and it’s just unreal.”
The race marked the end of a long, arduous training journey for the 35-year-old distance runner and the start of an even more ambitious goal. Marek hopes to run an even faster Boston Marathon this month, then complete the “World Marathon Majors” – six of the world’s largest and most high-profile marathons.
Marek finished his first half-marathon in 2013 with a friend who talked him into it. He ran cross country at Ralston High School, but never such a long distance, and after graduating, he had gained some weight.
A full marathon seemed unattainable, but the following year, he gave it a shot and crossed the line in four and a half hours.
His first thought afterward: “I’m never doing that again.”
Marek returned to shorter races and shifted his attention to mountain and road biking. With a friend, he jumped headfirst into rides that grew progressively longer, some as long as 100 miles.
Over time, the routine left him leaner, more energetic and clear headed. He lost more than 70 pounds. His half-marathons became faster as well, culminating in his first sub-90-minute finish in 2018.
Marek started to wonder: Could he run a full marathon at that pace? Doing so would qualify him for some larger, world-renowned races – and he had one particular event in mind.
The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest and best-known annual marathon, with notoriously difficult qualifying standards.
Some runners spend years chasing a BQ (Boston Qualifier) time, which allows them to apply for the race but doesn’t guarantee acceptance.
Because of intense demand and a limited number of spots, some who narrowly make the cut may still get turned away. Others gain entry by raising money for charity, or being invited under special circumstances, but Marek wanted to time-qualify.
It wouldn’t be easy. Generally, the fastest runners in each age and gender group enjoy the best odds. For Marek, the safest bet was to run a marathon in less than three hours.
Just how fast is that?
About 1.1 million people complete a marathon each year, accounting for roughly 0.01% of the world’s population, according to the International Institute for Race Medicine.
The average time for men is 4 hours, 10 minutes and 10 seconds, and for many runners, just finishing is a huge, bucket-list accomplishment.
A three-hour marathon requires an average pace of 6 minutes, 52 seconds per mile, maintained over 26.2 miles. Of those tough souls who complete a marathon in a given year, less than 3% beat that mark.
Marek set to work, seeking any edge he could find. He already logged about 35 miles per week, on average, which is low for most people attempting a sub-three marathon.
To compensate, he mixed his runs with a steady diet of road- and mountain-biking. Gradually, he upped his mileage and hired a coach to guide him.
Twice in 2020, he pushed for a sub-three marathon in Omaha races. Both times, he fell just shy of his goal – including one where a misplaced cone made the course longer than an official marathon.
Undaunted, he traveled to Mississippi, a state that still hosted in-person marathons during the pandemic.
And there, at last, he hit it: 2 hours, 55 minutes, 59 seconds.
“You work hard, you put a plan together, and then you execute the plan,” Marek said. “It just feels amazing, accomplishing something you’ve worked really hard on.”
Marek’s profession is unusual among marathoners, who tend to work in office jobs or at home.
At OPPD, he climbs utility poles, hauls equipment, pulls wire and hangs transformers in all sorts of miserable Nebraska weather. His crew recently worked at Offutt Air Force Base, installing underground cable for a massive runway upgrade.
Marek suspects the long, outdoor workdays help him. When summer temperatures rise and many runners struggle, he tends to acclimate quickly. Most days, he heads back outside after work for several hours of exercise.
OPPD working line crew leader Carlos Lara said Marek plays an important role on his four-man, Omaha-based crew. On top his regular duties, Marek recently took an apprentice lineman under his wing to help teach him their trade.
“He’s just a great guy,” Lara said. “And when you talk about stamina, man. That guy’s got it.”
Marek’s transformation amazed his wife, Lindsey, but she wasn’t exactly surprised.
Back when they were dating in high school, she said, he obsessed over bowling and practiced fervently until he rolled a perfect game. After high school, he leaned hard into dirt bike racing.
“He’s crazy,” she said. “We’ve always called him nuts. He’s one of those people that, when he sets his mind to do something, he’s going to do it.”
Lindsey Marek said running Boston in 2022 was especially important because Seth lost his mother the previous November. Honoring her memory was one reason he ran.
Marek’s running success comes as no surprise to Brandon Farnum, a longtime friend and bicycling partner.
Farnum said he and Marek have motivated each other ever since they met at a local dirt-bike race. Eventually they switched to mountain biking, then road biking. Sometimes they bike 15-16 hours a week, on top of Marek’s running.
“He likes challenges,” Farnum said. “He’s very competitive, but not over-the-top to the point where it’s not fun to go work out with him. It’s more about self-improvement.”
Another friend, Tyson Jochum, will run his first-ever Boston Marathon this year, thanks to his training with Marek. Together, they hope to run the course in a flat 2 hours, 50 minutes, or faster.
That would shatter Marek’s current personal record of 2 hours, 55 minutes and 36 seconds. Marek has now completed 10 marathons, including two of the six “World Marathon Majors” – the Boston and the New York City marathons. In September, he’ll travel to Germany for his third, the Berlin Marathon. That will leave the Chicago, London and Tokyo marathons.
Jochum said he had never even considered a marathon, let alone Boston, until Marek asked if he wanted to run outdoors with him when their gym closed during the pandemic. Now, Jochum has run four marathons and credits Marek for giving him a foundation.
“He just kind of dragged me into that world,” Jochum said. “He was kind enough to show me the ropes, because I didn’t know anything about how to train. It was invaluable, and I’m so grateful for that.”
Subscribe and receive updates on the latest news and postings!