By Rick Sheek
Austin Ellis capped his collegiate career in spectacular fashion.
The Milligan College senior earned All- American honors last Saturday in the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Indiana Wesleyan University. Ellis finished sixth in the marathon, covering the 26.2-mile course in 2:34.22.
“I feel real good about it,” Ellis said on Monday as he was headed back to his hometown of Charlottesville, Va. “The times were generally slower this year than last year. My time was a little slower than what it normally would have been, but I’m real happy with it. I thought it was a great race.”
The hot, muggy conditions slowed the pace.
“Once we got in the race, times didn’t matter,” Ellis said. “It was really hot out there, and I was just trying to myself in position to get a good placement. Sixth overall, I’m really happy about it. I couldn’t be happier.”
This was only Ellis’ second marathon. A year ago at this same event, he clocked a 2:33.08.
“But last year’s weather was completely different than this year,” Ellis said. “It was a lot cooler last year, and this year the region was hot and humid. You do what you’ve got to do sometimes, and throw times out the window.”
Park University’s Daniel Tubai broke the tape in 2:24.56 in Marion, followed by teammate Chelui Thomas (2:30.30). Evangel’s Austin Jacobs was third (2:31.32), with fourth and fifth going to Hannibal-LaGrange’s Philiph Tonui (2:33.57) and West Minister’s Oliver Large (2:34.13).
“I was pretty close to fourth and fifth,” Ellis said. “They started to come back to me the last couple of miles. I just didn’t have anything to catch them.”
Tubai was defending champion.
“He was flying,” Ellis said. “He’s a maniac.”
Ellis had Tonui and Large in his sights set on Tonui and Large, but couldn’t reel them in.
“They weren’t too far ahead of me,” Ellis said. “I just didn’t quite have enough in the tank to take them that last quarter mile.”
Ellis didn’t second guess his approach to the event.
“I wouldn’t have done anything different at all,” Ellis said. “Even the night before the race I was adjusting my strategy, because of the heat a little bit. I decided to start out a little slower.
“I would have been going the other direction at the end, instead of catching guys.”
What Ellis relishes most in reflecting back, was his kick down the stretch.
“I was running in a pack of four or five guys, and a few broke off,” Ellis said. “That’s what happened last year. I started off a little conservative.
“There were four or five guys I was catching the last four or five miles, and one guy dropped out in front of me. I feel like I finished strong. I had a strong finish, as opposed to most of the guys.”
Half marathons were the basis of Ellis’ preparation for the national marathon. That and training runs which exceeded 21 miles.
“There were a lot of long workouts,” Ellis said. “A lot of miles were put into it.”
Ellis garnered All-American honors in cross country his freshman, sophomore and senior years. As a sophomore, he was also an All-American in the 10-kilometer run.
“I am going to take two or three weeks off now and relax a little,” Ellis, who recently graduated with a communications degree, said. “I’ll get back into it in some capacity. It’s one of those things I’ve done so long, I can’t really imagine not doing it.”
No doubt his running shoes will be back on shortly as he hits the Old Dominion pavement.
“I’m excited,” Ellis said. “I’ll probably stick to having fun with it. I’ll probably do a little bit of everything.
“I’d definitely like to cut a few minutes off my last (marathon) time, and do it in the next year. Five- and 10-ks I know are down the road, and a few halfs. It’s kind of an addiction. It’s one of those things that is really painful, but when it’s over you want to do another one. I will definitely be continuing that in some capacity.”