Written by: Dan Spaulding
We are less than one week away from one of the biggest annual events in Western Pennsylvania distance running – the 2018 Pittsburgh Marathon and Half Marathon. On Sunday, May 6th over 15,000 runners will converge on Liberty Avenue to partake in the biggest event on the Pittsburgh running calendar. Runners from all walks of life will arrive seeking to achieve a wide range of goals. Some will come seeking a new personal best. Others will come hoping to conquer the distance by simply finishing. Some will use running as an opportunity to fundraise or draw attention to an important cause. And still others will come to run with friends and to enjoy the festive environment in the city. Only a small handful of truly elite runners have the ability to contend for the win. Nick Edinger, representing the Wolf Creek Track Club, is one of these runners!
Since the Pittsburgh Marathon returned in 2009, an American has won the Men’s race only once (Jeff Eggleston in 2011). In eight of the nine other years the winner of the men’s race has hailed from either Kenya or Ethiopia; two countries regarded as distance running powerhouses. Edinger, of Mars, PA, hopes to change all of that by becoming the first local runner to take first overall in the men’s marathon. Additionally, he hopes to run faster than 2 hours and 19 minutes, the Olympic “B” standard, which would qualify him for the 2020 Olympic Trials in Atlanta, GA. When asked about his plan heading into the race, Nick said, “My main focus for this race is placing as high as I can. I will be shooting for the Olympic Trials standard, but Pittsburgh is a tough course so my main focus will be on competing against the other elites in the race. I also know that if I focus on racing, and place where I think I can, a fast time will probably come along with that.”
However, attempting to win a race and compete in a sport traditionally dominated by East African competitors is not what makes Edinger’s story unique. In fact, in recent years Americans have fared progressively better against their counterparts around the world, winning numerous medals at World Championships and Olympic Games as well as performing well at major marathons. However, the American runners that are competitive on the large stage typically live and train in distance running Meccas such as Eugene (Oregon), Flagstaff (Arizona), Park City (Utah), and Boulder (Colorado). These American elites typically attended major Division I universities that are powerhouses in cross country and track and field (such as Oregon, Colorado, and Stanford). Additionally (and most-importantly), most distance runners competitive on the big stage are full-time professionals who consider running their primary vocation. By contrast, Nick lives in the small town of Mars, PA; certainly not a “distance running Mecca.” He was not a sought after high school recruit and never ran under 10 minutes for the 3200 at Mars Area High School. Edinger attended a local Division III University (Geneva College) where under the guidance of Coach Brian Yowler he made rapid improvements as he rewrote the College’s track and cross-country record books. Finally, despite being one of the top marathon runners in the North Eastern United States, running is not his primary vocation. As Nick prepares to complete his Master’s degree in Counseling, he recently began work as a therapist at a drug and alcohol rehab facility.
So how does Nick compete with his competitors who have so many perceived advantages? The answer may seem simple (but it isn’t): old fashioned hard work over a prolonged period of time. Starting in 2011 Edinger has consistently logged in excess of 100 miles per week in training. In 2017, Nick ran almost 6,000 miles (over 15 miles per day). A typical week consisted of between 100 and 120 miles with some weeks were as high as 180 miles. Consistently grinding through high mileage weeks under difficult conditions has made Nick stronger mentally and physically. So far in 2018 Edinger has logged approximately 2,000 miles in preparation for the Pittsburgh Marathon. Included in these miles are a twenty-mile long run at 6-minute mile pace in -17 degrees F wind-chill on January 6th at North Park in Pittsburgh, individual days where he ran as much as 35 miles a day, an attempt at the indoor world record in the marathon at the Armory (NYC) in March (Nick got second), a 25 mile “tempo” runs at 5:40 pace, and long runs as far as 28 miles in training. Nick’s miles were frequently logged at 6 AM at North Park (wearing a headlamp since it was dark), or along the lonely, hilly country roads surrounding Mars, PA. A blue-collar mentality, extreme drive, and uncommon hard work have lifted Edinger’s career to heights few imagined were possible. “My biggest motivator is the compulsion to find out the limits God has given me,” Edinger says, “I want to look back on my career in 10 years and know that I gave everything I had.”
At the end of 2017 Nick entered into a partnership with the Wolf Creek Track Club. A primary aspect of the Wolf Creek Track Club’s mission is to advance distance running in all of Western Pennsylvania. Edinger shares this goal, and he hopes his performance and accomplishments can inspire others local runners to believe that anything is possible and to test their limits. “When the Wolf Creek Track Club came to me regarding a possible sponsorship opportunity, the thing I was most excited about was that we shared the same vision of helping improve distance running in Western Pennsylvania.“ Nick says, “Hopefully I can set an example for other local runners that Western Pennsylvania can be a great place to train and find your limits in this sport.” In a sport that encourages success through selfishness, Nick’s group mentality is a breath of fresh air. Nick not only seeks personal success, but desires to lift up those around him.
On May 6th, Nick aims for what would be the biggest achievement of his running career to date: qualification for the 2020 Olympic Marathon trials and victory in his hometown race. Thousands of miles in Pittsburgh’s arduous weather and terrain have carried him to the line in the best shape of his life. Only 26.2 more miles to go.