It was a fateful day when Arne Gabius received an email from the renowned coach Renato Canova in the last stages of his build-up to his marathon debut in Frankfurt on Sunday. Gabius was about to put an experiment to the test, as befitted the doctor he is, and see if he could translate a talent which had brought a European medal on the track to even better use in the marathon. The Italian Canova, having advised the German in recent years, delivered a clear message:
"He told me that if I could run a faster second half for the marathon in Frankfurt, the next target after a successful debut at the distance would be the German record the following year," said Gabius post-race in fluent English.
He achieved that with credit, the only male runner among the elite to run a negative split en route to his time of 2:09:32, the first German to break 2:10 for 24 years.
Certainly his ninth place in the BMW Frankfurt Marathon means that an attack on Joerg Peter’s national record of 2:08:47, set in Tokyo in 1998, is a realistic ambition.
More than that, Gabius has become overnight a beacon for European distance runners. Leaving the success of Mo Farah on the track apart, the European scene has struggled in recent years. The 33-year-old proved what readiness to learn and adapt, can achieve. He is an advocate of training in Kenya and also the benefits of gaining experience on the American road circuit.
"It all came good in Frankfurt. I ran from 30 to 35 k in around 15:03 and I thought, hey, amazing, I’m really on to something here. It was just like Renato said, you fill up the tank, the training makes you lose weight, you’re lighter and you gain speed."
The pre-race intention of finishing a marathon debut between 2:12 and 2:10 was achieved in style as Gabius crossed the finish line in the Festhalle to jubilation.
Gabius is self-coached but credits Canova as his adviser. At first the Italian, who spends time in China these days for coaching along with his longterm commitments in Africa, was sceptical about Gabius’ marathon potential.
"Traning runs of 20, 25 and 30 kilometres became enjoyable," reflected Gabius. Canova saw the dawn of a marathon prospect and a European one at that.
Gabius is open about the difference in reception for a non-African who can make the grade in the marathon.
"You are appreciated much more in the marathon. Nothing against the track races and the Diamond League, in fact, I joke that my road races finance my track appearances!"
He plans to combine both track and road running, despite the marathon breakthrough. Next year he will aim for selection either at 5 or 10,000m for the World Championships in Beijing and an autumn marathon to follow. Given his debut success and personable manner, factors which carry considerable weight among road race promoters, he should be much in demand.
He’d already shown he was making good progress on the high road to the marathon with a 62:09 for his debut half marathon in New York this March. Gabius’ racing schedule next year is likely to be similar, taking in a spring half marathon before getting ready for the track season.
"Marathon training, including running up to 200 km per week, has made me stronger for the track, I’m certain of that. So I see no reason to give up track just because of what I’ve done in the marathon," said Gabius.
A vegetarian for the past 18 years, Gabius credits this with paying attention to his diet but not in a faddish way.
"I eat five to seven pieces of fruit at breakfast but in general it’s more a question of being aware of what I eat, eating healthily, should I eat more cottage cheese etc," admitted Gabius.
As for the ultimate marathon test which awaits in the Rio in 2016, Arne Gabius is candid in his ambition.
"The Olympic Marathon is everyone’s dream, so why not mine?"
Top Germans of all time
2:08:47 Jörg Peter (Dresden) Tokio 1988
2:09:03 Michael Heilmann (Berlin) Hiroshima 1985
2:09:23 Christoph Herle (Waldkraiburg) London 1985
2:09:32 Arne Gabius (Tübingen) Frankfurt 2014
2:09:45 Stephan Freigang (Cottbus) Berlin 1990
2:09:55 Waldemar Cierpinski (Halle) Montreal 1976
2:10:01 Ralf Salzmann (Kassel) Tokio 1988
2:10:22 Carsten Eich (Fürth) Hamburg 1999
2:10:59 Michael Fietz (Münster) Frankfurt 1997
2:11:17 Herbert Steffny (Freiburg) Chicago 1986
More information is available at: BMW-Frankfurt-Marathon.com.
Arne Gabius, Photo Credit: www.photorun.net