HURLEY — Ben Schneider’s third straight Paavo Nurmi Marathon win back in 2008 was one of his toughest as he didn’t pass Wakefield’s Ryan Holm until late in the race.
His wife, Candice, 28, shoots for her third consecutive title in Saturday’s 45th Paavo, which starts at 7:30 a.m. along Wisconsin 77 in Upson, Wis. It could be her toughest as she recovers from an injury.
Only two women have ever won three straight Paavos, Ann Heaslett (eight, 2001-08) and Mary Bange (seven, 1978-84).
No male has done what Ben, 29, is trying to do Saturday.
He has won seven straight marathons, already torching the men’s record of four straight, held by Rick Stefanovic of Milwaukee (2000-03). Schneider tied Joe Perske last year for total Paavo wins at seven; Perske won in 1985, 1990-92 and 1996-98.
Schneider has won every Paavo since 2006, most easily, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do it again. It’s tough to predict marathons with the annual wild card of who else will show up, and in what shape, to challenge the defending champion.
But the favorites still come from the same Minneapolis residence.
“It will be interesting to see when they finish and if they can keep their streaks going,” race director Rita Franzoi said.
Ben ran his first marathon in 2003, and just three years later, started his Paavo streak.
“It’s amazing how it sort of added up over the years,” Ben said. “I haven’t been running that many years.”
He wasn’t too worried about who won the women’s race when he first started. He wasn’t married then and Candice has only run the full Paavo the past three years, winning the last two.
“It’s great to be able to go up with Candice and have us both get into the race,” Ben said. “It’s been great to take home both titles the last couple years. Hopefully we’ll keep it going.”
The Paavo bucks their trend in marathons. One has a good race, the other doesn’t. In Berlin last fall, Ben ran his best marathon at about 2:26, while Candice’s injury started there.
“We’ve won other distances (together),” Candice said. “But the marathon is our distance. It’s really cool we both won it.”
Candice’s hip has been injured all year. It’s a nagging injury; an MRI ruled out anything too serious. She had to skip her planned spring marathon and has run about 20 fewer miles per week this summer. She ran one race this year, a 5K, and she came in a minute slower than normal.
“I don’t quite have my speed back yet,” she said. “But that doesn’t matter so much in a marathon (an endurance race). That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.”
Her plan was to train with the Paavo in mind, but the injury sidetracked that idea.
“I don’t know that I’ll run as fast as I did last year and the year before,” Candice said. “It also depends on who shows up. I’d like to win, but if you don’t, it’s still running and I’ll be there next year.
“Of course, I have to consider that I won’t win due to injury and anything. I just hope to make it to the start line and finish line.”
Not that is has been fun dealing with the injury. She had five different diagnoses and has tried remedies from going to the chiropractor to acupuncture. Then a different doctor told her it is piriformis syndrome, where the piriformis muscle compresses against the sciatic nerve.
The injury caused by running doesn’t hurt the most while running.
“But sitting or riding in a car,” she said. “It got to where I couldn’t even go to the movie or anywhere in the car. It was too painful. I couldn’t enjoy it. That’s gotten better.
“It’s been super frustrating. All my friends are running well. I took off for about a month in April, after I realized I couldn’t do my spring marathon. Just frustrating. I just spent time in the pool. I hate being in a pool. It’s been a long road. I’m finally running decent, doing speed work, trying to get back into shape.”
Her doctor said running shouldn’t make the injury worse and she is doing physical therapy and running.
“I’m looking forward to it, it should be a fun weekend,” Candice said.
Ben skipped a spring marathon also, but it wasn’t because of injury.
“I sort of focused on short distances, half marathon and down, to try to improve my time at those distances, hoping that would translate to a faster marathon this fall,” Ben said.
It seems to have worked; the Paavo will be the first test of that.
“I set a personal milestone in every distance from 5K to half marathon,” Ben said. “I cut about two minutes off my half-marathon time. The idea is to sort of teach your legs to turn over a little faster and try and build on the endurance and feel more comfortable for longer distances for faster paces. At least that’s what my coach tells me anyway.”
His goal race in the fall is the Twin Cities Marathon, but he said he’d be happy with a faster Paavo, “something similar to last year and the year before.”
The Schneiders spend the weekend at their family cabin near Whitecap.
“I just really enjoy the race, how people in town turn out and everything,” he said. “It’s really well organized. It’s funny, something I don’t really plan on missing. It’s just a part of the year. It’s just a lot of fun to get up there and do the race.”