HURLEY — When runners turned back onto Wisconsin 77, off County E near Iron Belt, Wis., it looked like the 45th Paavo Nurmi Marathon might have a tight race.
Candice Schneider, 28, of Minneapolis, led Denise Hefferin, 31, of St. Charles, Ill., by just a few yards.
“I just ran panicked after that,” Schneider said. “I didn’t want her to have it.”
Schneider fought through her hip injury to pull away from Hefferin and win her third straight Paavo women’s marathon, about 40 minutes after her husband, Ben, 29, won a record breaking eighth men’s marathon on a cool Saturday morning made for running 26.2 miles.
Another Schneider sweep.
Get used to it. Neither one of them is 30 years old yet.
Coming into the race, Ben was tied with Joe Perske for total number of men’s marathon wins at seven. Schneider has won all eight consecutively; that was a separate record when he won his fifth straight.
“It’s tough to keep getting out here every year,” Ben said. “Running itself, it just seems like you wide up on the bench all the time, so I feel particularly fortunate I’ve been able to run this eight times in a row, much less win it eight times.”
Candice became just the third woman to win three Paavos in a row (Ann Heaslett, eight; Mary Bange, seven).
A nagging hip injury with the endurance of a marathon runner kept Candice from her spring marathon and has kept her weekly mileage down. It didn’t hurt her first six or seven miles Saturday, but it didn’t go away much after that.
“I felt like I was carrying a 600-pound gorilla the whole time,” she said. “I just had to keep it going. I had a really good stretch after mile 16 to mile 22. I just felt good. I think that’s where I really made some time.”
Hefferin ran with Schneider for about another mile after the 77/E intersection, which is just over seven miles into the race.
“I was like, ‘I got to do something,’” Schneider said. “I tried to put out a gap. I didn’t really want to worry about anybody else.”
She won by a comfortable distance, 3:15:35 to Hefferin’s 3:26:34.8. But having received no updates on what was going on – she didn’t even know Ben won – Candice wasn’t exactly comfortable out front.
“When I got on top of the cemetery hill, the little blonde girl in the relay passed me and I’m like, ‘No!” Candice said. “’You can’t take it on mile 26.’ I looked down and noticed she had a relay bib on. I was pretty happy to see that.”
Ben was in the dark, too. He watched other women come in first, breathing a sigh of relief with every relay and half-marathon bib that came in, all before Candice could be seen coming down Silver Street in her bright green running shirt.
“She’s been fighting all year to get ready for this race because she really wanted to come back and defend the title and everything,” Ben said. “I was getting nervous. I kept seeing women coming down the hill, checking their numbers to see what race they were in. Then, sure enough, she came down the hill, big smile on her face. She’s real tough to get here today and she ran a great race today.”
Her time was the worse of her three Paavo wins, but only by about 1 minute, 57 seconds from 2011. Of those winning at least three marathons, she had the second best time in her third win, better than Heaslett’s 3:16.38 in 2003 but worse than Bange’s 2:47:49 in 1979.
Candice’s longest training run this year was about 18 miles, again because of her injury that took awhile to be diagnosed but is piriformis syndrome, where the piriformis muscle compresses against the sciatic nerve. An MRI ruled out anything more serious.
“I just tried to put it out of my mind,” Candice said. “It was hurting the whole time, but you can’t focus on that. You’ve got to gather all your mental toughness to pull through.”
Ben finished in 2:35.44, his fourth fastest time but slowest since a 2:39:52 in 2010. His fastest time came last year in 2:34:50.
While Candice had competition for more than a quarter of the race, Ben barely had any, which has been the case for all but maybe two years.
“Two guys went out really fast. I wasn’t sure if they were in the relay or not. I was happy to see them exchange at the relay point,” Ben said. “I did run with another marathoner maybe through mile three or so, but for the most part it was solo.”
He hadn’t run a marathon since November; the most he ran was 18 miles, so there was a bit of rust to shake off.
He is usually faster in the second half because of the steady climb from mile 4 to 10 in the first half.
“It’s easy to get out too fast, then really suffer at the end, particularly the last climb,” Ben said. “It was nice to have something left and not feel like I was going to have pull over in the cemetery there.”
But he did notice his time at the halfway point was slower this year than in the past.
“So I tried to get going, particularly in that downhill by mile 15 or so,” Ben said. “It’s nice, by County Road C, you can actually start to get rolling.”
Now they just want to keep the Paavo championship in the family for years to come.
“He’s so consistent,” Candice said. “He’s such a great athlete. He’s what keeps me motivated.
“He’s like a machine. He just keeps putting in miles week after week and can tolerate it.”
It was a cool 50 degrees to start the race, but cloud cover in Upson kept it a little warmer than the more fall-like morning in town.
“It was about perfect, particularly when the sun was behind the clouds early on,” Ben said.
The leaders encountered a lot more runners after the halfway point in Gile because the half-marathon started an hour later than the full marathon.
“Usually it’s me and my thoughts, it was nice to have some people out there,” Ben said. “I got a lot of ‘keep goings’ and ‘good jobs’ and everything. I told them the same; it was encouraging.”
But there was one negative on busy U.S. 51.
“A few times out on the highway, it felt like there were some close calls out there with some cars because I had to weave out on the highway to get around some half runners. But the cars were really good for the most part, slow.”
“I thought it would be sort of tough to go around people, but it was actually sort of motivating because I could focus on people,” Candice said. “Sometimes it gets lonely out there when you don’t see anyone.”