BY CHRIS RILEY
Now that the calendar has reached mid-April, one quarter of 2014 is gone, just like many of the resolutions and goals set months ago for the New Year. But for one Yankton native, his lofty goal of running a marathon fast enough to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials is just entering its first test phase.
Matt Dewald will toe the starting line of the Boston Marathon on Monday lining up next to some of the fastest runners that the world has to offer as he earned his way into the elite men’s starting wave. Over the course of the 26.2 miles, the former Yankton High School and University of South Dakota standout hopes to build on a phenomenal eight month stretch of running that began one year ago.
Dewald, 31 and now a resident of Denver where he is a physical therapist, had run 14 marathons prior to 2013, winning both the Monumental Marathon Challenge (Black Hills) in 2007 and the 2009 Lincoln (Neb.) National Guard Marathon. But it was at last April’s Boston Marathon where Dewald found that he could compete with America’s elite distance talent, clocking a sub-2:20 time and crossing the finish line as the ninth American and 20th competitor overall (out of more than 17,000 finishers before the race was cut short due to the bombings).
“Boston had to be one of my biggest breakthroughs,” Dewald said. “I have since run faster twice, but to break the 2:20 barrier is a big one.”
Before Boston, Dewald’s personal record was 2:22:06. To shave two and a half minutes off of that time in a single race, which happened to be on the notoriously difficult Boston course, showed how much effort Matt put into his Boston debut.
“I have to make sacrifices to make the training work,” Dewald added. “But when you have a day like I did in Boston last year, you don’t second guess all those 4:30 am morning runs before work and all those nights that you choose to go to bed early to make sure you were well rested for the next morning’s long run.”
Despite his personal record-setting race in Boston, Dewald was just warming up for what he would accomplish in 2013. Two months after Boston, Dewald bested his time by nearly two minutes at Duluth’s Grandma’s Marathon, finishing 16th out of 5,600 runners in 2:17:42. Even more impressive was the fact that this time was under the Olympic Trials “B” qualifying standard of 2:18 and ranks fifth fastest ever marathon by a South Dakota native (and the fastest overall since 2002).
Unfortunately for Dewald, the 2016 Olympic Trials qualifying window did not open until August 1, so his sub-2:18 came six weeks too soon to qualify.
“I am not officially qualified yet but I know I will do so very soon,” Dewald said. “I have proven that I am at that level, and will just have to do it again, now that the qualifying window has opened up.”
Last October brought Dewald to the Chicago Marathon for his first official chance at hitting the 2:18 standard, but he just missed that, running an almost identical time to his Boston race six months previously, 2:19:30. That was good enough to place Matt 26th out of over 39,000 runners.
A final 2013 race for Dewald was the California International Marathon in Sacramento in December, but nagging injuries set in and limited him to a 15th place finish in 2:22:39.
Still, three sub-2:20 marathons in six months and a fourth effort under 2:23 two months later capped off a remarkable 2013 year of racing that could not be matched by anyone but the most talented elite runners in the nation.
One person not surprised by his success is Dewald’s former high school coach and current USD cross country head coach Dan Fitzsimmons.
“You would be hard pressed to find too many people who work harder than Matt,” Fitzsimmons said. “Add in his tremendous love and passion for the sport and you have a very dynamic and intrinsically motivated young man who also happens to be a student of his craft as well. Success is written all over him! It is very gratifying as a coach to see someone as unselfish and compassionate as Matt finally reach the elite level.”
Reaching the elite level in the marathon was something Dewald has gravitated to since he finished his college running career at the University of South Dakota in 2005.
“Coming out of college I knew I wanted to run the marathon,” Dewald said. “I ran my first one about six weeks after I completed my last college race. I figured I would do well in the marathon because I have always trained hard, and did not shy away from long runs and high weekly mileage.”
Adapting to the high mileage training required for the marathon – Dewald logs weeks in excess of 130 miles – has cost him some of his speed for shorter distances, Matt said that lost speed might be negated by his improved aerobic capacity. That is something he would like to work on if he can nail down his Olympic Trials qualifying time.
“Once I accomplish that (a qualifying time) I would like to step down in distance for a year and try to get faster,” Dewald added. “That should help me be more competitive in the big races (New York, Chicago etc.).”
For now, Dewald looks to run at least 2:18 to get qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials which were awarded to the city of Los Angeles back in December. If he can run under 2:15, then he would also receive funding support from USA Track & Field.
Matt credits his former coaches including Fitzsimmons, Dave Gottsleben, and Matt Hoyt along with some world renowned coaches such as Brad Hudson and Jack Daniels for guiding his training.
“I have learned that there is never any one perfect formula,” Dewald said. “There are no secret workouts, or weekly mileage totals to hit. The key is consistent well rounded training.”
In addition to the confidence boost that running the three fastest races of his life in a six month stretch provided, Dewald’s stellar year also earned him a small endorsement deal with Brooks Running.
“My Brooks sponsorship is more about pride and will help me mentally more than anything,” Dewald added. “It justifies all the hard work and time that I have put into the sport. I am sure there will be other perks that come with it, such as special treatment at races and bonuses, but the main thing it gives me is confidence, knowing that I have such a great company in the running world wanting to put their name on me is a huge confidence boaster.”
Even if Monday does not go as hoped, Dewald has proved that he can run multiple fast races in a short span of time. Even more importantly, he now has the confidence that he can run with some of the best distance runners that the United States has to offer, even while holding down a full time job.
His first coach sums up why Dewald’s accomplishments and future goals are so special.
“Every coach tries to convey to their athletes that you get out of it (running) what you put into it, but for many years, I felt Matt put way more into it than he was getting out of it which was very frustrating for both he as the athlete and for me as his former coach,” Fitzsimmons said. “Matt’s persistent and perseverance are an inspiration and rallying cry to all of us to never give up hope and always give it your best.”