March 30, 2012

E&H Cross Country Star Chases Away Ghost Of Past Failure To Win First Marathon

re·demp·tion (noun):  atonement for guilt.

ABINGDON, Va.
­- Over the 26.2 mile distance of of a marathon, there are plenty of lessons to be learned. Those lessons are even more painful for first-time participants, a role Emory & Henry cross country standout Keran Billaud of Dublin, Va. found himself playing during the 2011 Virginia Creeper Marathon.

During that first Virginia Creeper race, the E&H senior found himself at the front of the pack. A blistering first 19 miles found Billaud with a commanding lead, yet it was his inexperience that was closing the gap more than his chasers. In the world of marathon racing, improper fueling strategies are the most common cause of race day catastrophes.

“I was inexperienced with the distance and tactics for avoiding the infamous wall that so many runners hit,” Billaud said. “My glycogen and hydration levels ran out almost immediately after mile 19. Imagine the feeling in your stomach when you are extremely hungry taking over your entire body and mind, and that’s how I felt.”

Billaud struggled through the next seven plus miles, before eventually finishing in third place overall. His final time was 3:01:51, a time fast enough to qualify him for the Boston Marathon.

Many marathon racers spend a lifetime hoping to achieve the Boston standard, so it seems a little odd that as he prepared to toe the line in the 2012 Virginia Creeper Marathon, which was held March 24, Billaud felt he had something to prove.

“What bothered me (about last year) was taking third overall,” Billaud commented. “It's like defeating yourself instead of carrying out what you are capable of. This year, I wanted to do things correctly.”

As the 2012 race started under threatening skies, Billaud showed the patience he lacked the previous year. A painfully slow pace had him questioning whether or not he should take the lead position, a choice he made just a mile or so into the run when the field's pace was well slower than his training runs.

The out and back nature of the course allows competitors the opportunity to see their competition on numerous occasions. At the five-mile mark, Billaud noticed that no one was near him.

“I was going slower than goal-pace so that I would notice any runner who might want to shadow me during the race, and when I saw none, I sped up to my realistic goal-pace knowing I had already won,” Billaud said.

As the rain began to fall, the crowd and volunteers who had witnessed his collapse the previous year began to question whether or not this year would be any different. A third of the way into the race, Billaud’s lead was an impressive 10 minutes on his nearest competitor.

As he approached the area where the previous year’s wall was built, Billaud burst through with some of his best running of the day. As he started his kick near mile 24, Billaud clocked his fastest mile of the day.

Crossing the finish line, even the ghosts of last year had long given up on catching Billaud this year. As he was greeted by his parents, friends and E&H cross country assistant coach Tim Murr, Billaud couldn’t help but joke about his first win at the marathon distance.

“I guess ghosts don't like rain.”

For the record, Billaud clocked a time of 2:55:11, almost a full 27 minutes ahead of second place. That is a big dose of redemption.

---E&H---

-Story courtesy of Brent Treash, Emory & Henry Assistant Director of Public Relations

-Photo courtesty of Beth Minnick