Nick Eccher was born in Boca Raton 24 years ago. His childhood handprints remain embedded in the concrete at Sugar Sand Park to prove it. But now he lives in Nashville so he needed the mission of Sunday's FITTEAM Palm Beaches Marathon presented by Jupiter Medical Center to inspire a return to South Florida.
It was just the third marathon of Eccher's life, his first in West Palm Beach, but he felt optimistic that the flat and fast course along Flagler Drive with ocean breezes coming across the Intracoastal Waterway would be perfect for him to try to break the three-hour barrier and qualify to run in next year's Boston Marathon.
"Third one's the charm baby," he screamed as he crossed the finish line in 2:58:00 and burned off any remaining energy in his body with a victory strut. "It's not hilly here like in Nashville.
"There was a guy behind me the whole time. I had to fight him off. You try not to look behind you. But it's good knowing there's a guy chasing after you."
That guy was second place finisher Arthur Borelli, who finished 1:44 behind (2:59:44) after Eccher's sprint to the finish line.
Marianne Sapra of Alpharetta, GA. won the Women's Marathon in a time of 3:25:59.
Two local runners won their respective half marathon races. King's Academy High senior Cameron Dunn finished in 1:19:50, more than a minute quicker than Hannes Grobler (1:20:50). Jupiter mom Jennifer Sober, 44, one of the top runners in the country in her age group, prevailed in her first hometown race, covering the 13.1 miles in 1:22:22.
It was the third year the race was produced by K2 Road Sports, which also held 10K and 5K glow runs Friday night as part of FITTEAM Palm Beaches Marathon weekend. Sunday's race was run in temperatures in the 70's with the picturesque backdrop of the downtown waterfront. The energy of the course was enhanced by added music and water views as well as the traditional Wacky Water Stations, with charities and homeowners groups manning themed stations.
"We were really pleased with this year's Marathon and how the new course we implemented brought so much additional energy to the race," said FITTEAM Palm Beaches Marathon owner Kenneth R. Kennerly, whose K2 Road Sports acquired the event three years ago. "We will continue reimagining ourselves each year to sustain our mission to create a wonderful high energy and fun community experience for our runners and the spectators who come to watch them."
Eccher was concerned about the humidity he felt after the sun peeked over the horizon to the east.
"I was not confident coming in, man I was scared that I would die out," he said. "I feel good now. My feet definitely hurt though."
Sapra, 31, was a winner for the first time at the Marathon distance after a dozen attempts.
"I felt like an elite runner," she said. "I am so thankful that I had this chance. It's such an amazing accomplishment. I feel like I ran the race of my life. It just gave me a lot of tears of joy to win today."
Dunn, who is 17, is still learning how to manage the distance of a half marathon, Last year, he finished second in the race when he ran out of gas down the stretch.
"I just wanted to run hard and smart," Dunn said. "I started out conservatively, stayed in about 20th place for the first five miles. I didn't want to burn myself out. Then I started picking people off. I realized I had a shot at six miles so I went for it."
Sober has four kids who keep her busy, but she gets up every morning at 5 a.m. to get her training in before returning home to get the kids off to school and herself ready for work. She only started running four years ago, but met instant success. She finished in the top 10 in her age group at the Chicago and Boston Marathons.
"Running was a way to feel better about myself, and a way to set goals for myself other than kids and career," she said. "I started small, running 5k races, and setting goals I could work towards really got something out of me.
"I think running has really changed me. It has brought out more of a competitive side in me. I'm not an aggressive person, but on the race course, and feeling fit and fast, I'm going to put it out there and compete and go after people."
Registration will begin Monday December 9, 2019 for the 2020 Palm Beaches Marathon, which will be held December 11-13, a week later than Sunday's race to capitalize on cooler temperatures..
Visit the race website at FitTeamPalmBeachesMarathon.com.
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