BY DENNIS CHASE
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Jon and Kelly Gries are hoping to shatter personal bests in next month's annual Bayshore Marathon.
The Haslett couple will be among the favorites in the Memorial weekend race.
The two ran personal bests a year ago en route to second-place finishes. Jon Gries ran a 2:22:17 to take second behind Indiana's Jesse Davis, who won the men's race in 2:20:11. Kelly Gries came in at 2:54:04, over five minutes behind California's Caitlin Smith, who claimed the women's race in 2:48:33.
Jon Gries is looking to crack the 2:20 barrier in four weeks, Kelly Gries is aiming for a 2:50 finish.
"Every marathon I've run I've dropped about four minutes so that's why I'm projecting 2:50 because that would be my next four-minute increment," she said
Jon Gries, whose long term goal is to qualify for the Olympic Trials, thinks a 2:20 is achievable.
"That would be a two and half minute improvement," he said. "That would be great. I know I'm in a lot better shape."
The former Calvin College runners won last weekend's Lansing Half Marathon. Jon finished in 1:07:27, Kelly 1:20:44.
"The half marathon was a stepping stone for the marathon — to check to see where we are," Kelly said. "It went very well for both of us. We're very hopeful. We've done a lot of training and we've seen a lot of improvement. We're excited for Bayshore."
The two, who run for Playmakers, had the type of performances that solidified their Bayshore goals.
"We know the course was a little long, we don't know how long exactly, but it was still a PR by three seconds," Jon said of his half marathon time.
Kelly, 25, said she felt so "good" in the half that she believes she might be able to do even better than 2:50 here.
"I'll probably start out at a pace to do a 2:50 and then see if my second half will be faster again," she said.
A year ago, Kelly finished with a negative split, running the second half of the marathon faster than the first.
"I started out with a friend," she said. "We were both hoping to break three hours. That was our goal. On our way out (Old Mission Peninsula), we were on the pace to do that. About halfway, though, I think I was in fourth or fifth, I told my friend I have a chance to go catch the next woman, but I'm going to have to pick up the pace."
She did and ultimately came in second.
In the men's race, Davis bolted to an early lead, then settled in about 40 seconds ahead of Gries during the first half of the marathon. That spread was close enough that it changed Gries' strategy.
"Because I was chasing him I ended up going out a little fast," he said. "I hit the half at about 1:09:30, then fell off a little in the second half (over 1:12). He (Davis) pulled away.
"But it was only my third marathon," Gries added. "In the first two, there were much greater deficits in the my splits (first half to second). Lack of experience, lack of pacing. That's what I was most pleased about (at the Bayshore). I was happy to run a PR, but I was just as happy to run two pretty good halves."
Gries, 26, said he's running with confidence right now.
"Obviously, you don't know what the day will bring as far as weather and the other elements," he said. "But if all goes well, and the day's decent and if I run it smart, I should be able to run a personal best."
Although relatively new to marathon running, the two it's a distance they prefer.
"I'm stronger in the endurance races," Kelly said. "I can hold a pace, and I feel good doing it. I actually feel stronger as the race goes on. It's something (marathons) I enjoy doing. I like the environment of marathons. Everyone has worked really hard to get there. We have this common respect for each other, for how hard we've worked to get there."
"Anybody who runs a marathon probably has a love-hate relationship with it," Jon added. "It's such a long race. Both Kelly and I are built for distance. We're made for the longer distances. Neither of us have great leg speed. We don't have that quick turnover. We're built more for endurance. For that reason, I like the marathon. It plays more to my strength."
- Marathon starts at 7:15 a.m. with the half marathon and 10K follow at 7:30.
- Races start at Northwestern Michigan College and end on the track at Traverse City Central High School.
- All race spots have been filled. The field includes 2,750 runners in the marathon and 2,400 in the half marathon
- The event is put on by the Traverse City Track Club.
- The Record-Eagle will be previewing the annual race over the next four weeks