By Marty Farmer
Life is a marathon, not a sprint, for Drew Mullen.
Over the past eight years, the Oak Park resident has run in 107 events, collectively covering 1,200 miles. In 2018 alone, he amassed almost 3,000 miles on the road comprising both actual race and personal runs.
Mullen's personal-best times include: 2 hours, 59 minutes, 42 seconds at the Rogue Run Half Marathon (26.2 miles) in Medford, Oregon; 7:58.20 at the JFK 50-mile race in Boonsboro, Maryland; and 39:05 at Oak Park's 10K Frank Lloyd Wright Race in October 2018.
It's been a pleasant, albeit unexpected, journey for a man who once frowned on the notion of long-distance running.
"My wife [Lisa] had run some half marathons, and I thought she was crazy for running that long of a distance," Mullen said. "I just wanted to run shorter events like 5K races. I always was a slow runner as a kid but I loved it.
"I just didn't realize that I could get faster if I trained," he added. "About 10 or 11 years ago, I started cycling and improved my fitness. Then I ran a few 5K races and started seeing improvement."
Since those seminal moments, Mullen has literally and figuratively been off to the races.
"My first half marathon and marathon were in 2012," he said. "Since then, I've run 20 marathons and two 50-milers. Only six or seven of the marathons have been run well, but I'm finally learning to not fight the course and weather.
"I think what happened is as I got more into running and racing, I found out my body could handle these distances. Running became more interesting."
In 2015, Mullen won his first 26.2-mile marathon in 13 career attempts and a $1,000 prize at the Providence Rogue Valley, which is a Boston Marathon qualifying race. He recorded a winning time of 3:06.08, beating out 138 runners. The key to victory was picking up the pace at Mile 21.
"I kept going as far as I could until the end," he said.
In terms of the Boston Marathon, Mullen recently realized one of his top goals with an outstanding effort at the renowned race this year.
"My goal has always been to re-qualify for the Boston Marathon while running it," he said. "Until this year, it hadn't gone so well."
Re-qualifying for Boston in recent years had been a struggle for various reasons, including a stress fracture in 2016 and hypothermia in 2018. He missed the cut with times of 3:15.52 and 3:36.15, respectively, in 2015 and 2017.
In mid-April this year, Mullen recorded an excellent time of 3 hours, 5 minutes and 1 second (7:03 pace per mile).
Painful lessons from the past finally paid off.
"This year, the first 5K was the slowest I've run it," he said. "I think a little bit of experience and wisdom finally paid off. The Boston Marathon is a bit of a difficult course to run. You have to hold back those first few miles because if you go out too fast you can burn up your race early."
Mullen noted that the Boston Marathon is quite different than the Chicago Marathon.
"The Boston Marathon is more point to point," he said. "They take you out early in the morning on a bus 26.2 miles from the city. The course has a couple of turns; otherwise, it's a pretty straight line. There's some elevation loss, mainly in the first half of the race, and then there's some nasty hills. Climbing up those hills is tiring on your legs, but after that it's a bit downhill."
For Mullen, 45, becoming an outstanding distance runner has been a process. Many variables are involved, such as good health, consistent motivation, proper training and race experience.
"It took me a long time to figure out if you put in the work, your body will adapt," he said. "I've surprised myself at how much I've improved over the years. I've always loved running, but I've never been able to run fast. It's been rewarding to be able to have the success I've had running. I am in the best shape of my life."
Although he's run at national events, Mullen also participates in several races in the Chicago area and he's a board member of the Oak Park Runners Club.
If you're wondering how he balances career and a family of five with such a steadfast commitment to running, he says an understanding wife and some workout creativity have gone a long way.
"It helps that my wife is a runner so she understands the time commitment," Mullen said. "I've just tried to find different ways to do the training."
For example, rather than taking a 45-minute train ride to work downtown, Mullen typically runs three or four times a week into Chicago.
"I run eight miles into work, which takes about an hour, and we have a shower and gym at my work," he said. "So I figure it only costs me 15 minutes to get in some good exercise."
Answer Book 2018
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