Coming into the 2014 Twin Cities Marathon, which doubled as the US Marathon Championships, third year ZAP-Reebok athlete Tyler Pennel had occupied nearly every position in the top 10 at a US Championship event over the past 18 months except the top one. That all changed when Pennel crossed the finish line in his debut marathon this past Sunday; this time he was the one breaking the tape. Pennel came into the race with a clear mission, “I set the goal to come out here and go for the win,” said Pennel after the race. That strategy included embedding himself near the front of the race through the slow opening miles that saw a back of nearly a dozen runners come through the halfway mark in 1:07:47. Just past halfway, in the 15th mile, 2013 champion Sergio Reyes threw in a quick 4:48 mile that strung the field out, but as Reyes laid off the gas the field bunched back together.
They remained that way heading into the 20th mile when Scott Smith put in a move that dramatically fractured the lead pack and left himself and Pennel out front after a 4:52 mile.
It was Pennel’s first marathon and the culmination of a brilliant 18 months of racing on the roads and the track. Over the last year and a half Pennel had finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th at US Championship events and nearly pulled off a win at the US 10k Championships this summer where he finished 2nd. Every time Pennel has moved up in distance he has found success. “Every time I move up, I run better, it seems like, so why not keep going up?,” was the thinking in moving up to the marathon. In his first marathon Pennel showed the savvy of a veteran exercising tremendous patience through the first 20 miles before striking hard and running away from the rest of the field. His 2+ minute negative split, done mostly in the final 10k over the toughest part of the course, has Pennel excited for his future in the event, “Going into the 2016 Trials I’ll run the marathon and I think I can have a very good shot of making the team.” After running a quick 20th mile Smith laid off the pace, but Pennel kept his foot on the gas and quickly opened up a 100 meter lead over the rest of field after another 4:52 mile heading into the hills. “It was scary,” said Pennel. “I went and got to the top of those hills, and I was hurting. I kept pushing and pushing, hoping that I didn’t blow up and they wouldn’t catch me at the last mile.” Nobody would catch Pennel as the gap between him and 2nd place grew to 27 seconds at the finish, which he crossed in 2:13:33. Not only did the win secure Pennel his first ever US title, but it he also earned a berth on next summer’s World Championship Team in Beijing, China.