Within 2 minutes of sitting down at a Boulder, Colo., coffee shop to discuss his return to the Boston Marathon, Jeffrey Eggleston sums up the essence of racing 26.2 miles and how he’s been framing the 119th running of the historic race on Monday.
His primary goal—“I want to compete,” he says—might seem simple and perhaps vague, but it’s actually quite calculated, and he’s worked diligently to prepare for the opportunity.
“The marathon is all about those later stages in the race, where you’ve got to have your head on straight,” he says. “Getting to 30K doesn’t matter. It’s that last 10 to 12K where you need to have that grace under pressure. You really have to be courageous and really be brave. It’s just as much psychological as it is physical. So I’m getting prepared to hurt.”
That’s not to say Eggleston thinks he can contend for victory in Boston or necessarily finish on the podium. But, with an eighth-place, 2:11:57 effort under his belt from last year, he’s ready to stick his nose in it relative to his current level of fitness and continue his time-dropping advancement of the past few years.
Despite having a 2:10:52 personal best on his resume and a 13th-place finish at the 2013 IAAF World Championships, the lanky 30-year-old native of the Rochester, N.Y., area, is still an unsung runner on the American scene.
Being out of the limelight is fine with him—and, in fact, by design—but he can’t escape the fact that his credentials and continued progression make him worthy of discussion among the top American marathoners and a strong contender to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.
Eggleston, who moved to Boulder two years ago after a four-year stint in Flagstaff, Ariz., is somewhat of an anomaly among top American marathoners in that he’s never been part of a post-collegiate training group, he’s entirely self-coached and he does almost all of his running alone. He says he thrives in that kind of autonomous atmosphere and knows it’s been a key factor in his development.
“In the marathon, if you’re not running 2:03 at the front of the race, those decisive moments that come after 30K, they come when you’ve gapped and you’re out there by yourself,” he says. “It requires you to make that conscious decision when you’re on your own to push forward.”
He’s quick to point out that he also listens to his fiancée, Ali Clark, who he’s relied on as a key training supporter. On his long interval workouts, tempo runs and progression runs on the rolling rural roads north of Boulder, Ali can often be found driving alongside of him or pacing him on a bike calling out splits. After dating for almost five years, they got engaged in December and plan to wed in late October.
“If I need to get a workout in with specific splits, we go out there and get it done,” he says. “And she’s been great in supporting my daily training routine.”
It’s a system that works for Eggleston—especially since he signed a sponsorship deal with adidas last spring. He ran personal bests at every distance last year, including his marathon PR at the the Gold Coast Marathon in Brisbane, Australia. He also won the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon Grand Prix title, capping it with a 1:03:24 victory in Las Vegas.
So far this year he ran a strong race at the U.S. half marathon championship on Jan. 18 in Houston (seventh place, 1:02:41) but had a mildly disappointing effort at the NYC Half Marathon (17th place, 1:04:03).
“I wish I would have run faster in New York, but I had an off day,” Eggleston says. “But I also realize that’s the nature of marathon training. You can’t and shouldn’t expect to hit every race when you’re putting in a high level of specificity for a longer term goal.”
Since making his debut at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon in 2010 in 2:14:32, Eggleston has run 18 marathons. He’s the first to admit that’s a lot of racing, especially by today’s standards. But, he says, there was a method to his madness as a self-described “serial racer,” just as there is now that he’s switched his focus to a more long-term approach aimed at major races and championship races.
Specifically, he has continued to adapt his training and also is taking advice from elite athletes he’s met at races, as well as legendary American coach Jack Daniels, who he got to know while both were living in Flagstaff, Ariz., a few years ago. He also gets good input from his agent, Derek Froude, a two-time New Zealand Olympic marathoner who once ran 2:11 and trained professionally in Boulder.
In recent years, Eggleston has learned how to adjust his training buildup differently for different races. He’s also increased his longest runs to about 45K (28 miles) and recently ran a 40K at 93 percent of marathon pace.
“I keep pretty quiet and I don’t share a lot of what I do, and I think it works to my advantage,” he says. “You can be pretty quiet and run 2:12 or 2:10 and even finish 13th in the world championships. But I love that. It also keeps me grounded in reality because, although I’m really happy with the things I’ve been doing, it also keeps me really hungry. And it really makes me appreciate where I have been the last few years and really wanting to seize the opportunities I have now and be able to maximize my potential in the major races and championship races.”