BOSTON (08-Oct) -- Parker Stinson may be the only man in the elite field for Monday's Boston Marathon who wasn't able to train for eight months last year. The 29 year-old Saucony-sponsored athlete did not record a single race result in 2020, the result of persistent knee pain which he at first tried to manage through therapy, but later accepted that a surgery to shave a fat pad and adjust a tendon would have to be done. Often demoralized, Stinson struggled to stay in the sport.
PHOTO: Parker Stinson out in Back Bay Boston in advance of the 2021 Boston Marathon (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"My COVID year was incredibly difficult," Stinson told Race Results Weekly at a press conference here today. "I was facing COVID, I was facing knee surgery, I had a lot of personal stuff going on, too. It was a lot."
But Stinson's family and support system in Boulder, where he has lived for the last six years, helped carry him back to health and to Monday's starting line. Most importantly, his coach, three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein, got permission to continue to coach Stinson despite founding and coaching the On Athletics Club. It's rare that a "branded" coach can continue to work with an athlete sponsored by a rival company, but Ritzenhein and Stinson made it work.
"He said he talked to the On Athletics Club (OAC) and said that he still really wanted to coach me," Stinson explained. "I think it took a little bit of time, but they respected Dathan and wanted to let him do that. It makes him happy to keep coaching me and they want Dathan happy."
In 2021 Stinson worked out with the OAC as a sort of an affiliate member. The group is track-focused, so Stinson found a kindred spirit in the club's 10,000m man, Joe Klecker. The pair hit it off and were able to help each other: Stinson with his road back to health and Klecker with his drive to make his first Olympic team. Everything clicked.
"I was good with the culture and that's really important to Dathan," Stinson said, sporting a new haircut. "I think if I wasn't getting along with people in the group it would be a different story."
Where the pair real really helped each other was with long runs and long intervals on the track.
"We had some really good long runs together," Stinson said. "We really appreciate each other's company."
Stinson finished a promising 2019 season on a up note. He ran a 2:10:53 personal best at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, and was excited for the Olympic Year ahead, including the USA Olympic Trials in Atlanta in February, 2020. He had no idea on that joyous day in Chicago that he wouldn't race again for 15 months. The year-ago surgery got him back in the game, but his recovery is ongoing.
"Once you get knee surgery, it's kind of like a deal with the devil," Stinson said, turning serious. "They fix your problem, but then the problem is that you got surgery. I still have, like, issues that go on."
In January, 2021, Stinson ran a controlled half-marathon in Naples, Florida, clocking 1:03:34 and winning by over a minute. Then last July, he ran in a "micro race" along the Row River in Oregon and ran about 62 minutes for a half-marathon. At that point, he and Coach Ritzenhein decided that he could start preparations for a fall marathon, and they chose Boston where Stinson hoped to contend for a top-10 spot and to be among the first Americans to cross the Boylston Street finish line. He's excited that the race doesn't use pacemakers and that the course is hilly.
"I ran a good half-marathon on the Row River trail," Stinson said. "I ran like 62-flat, 62:07 or so. So, that was really exciting. That's when Dathan and I were like, I think this guy can train for a marathon again."
Stinson broke up his marathon training with a trip to the Falmouth Road Race last August, and finished eighth. He went back to Boulder to train, then last month flew to Germany to run a special promotional 10-K for Saucony in Essen clocking 29:50, again on tired legs. His knee was holding, but it hasn't been a perfect build-up.
"A lot more volume and I've been really fatigued," Stinson said. "So, it's been hard to have the really flashy workouts that I'm really used to. But Dathan told me that that's what was going to happen. He planned that. I'm very fit, but it came with a lot of setbacks."
Stinson, who tried to get an invitation to Boston in earlier years but was turned down because he only had a 2:14 personal best, plans to be careful in Monday's race. He knows that the early downhills can be seductive and he wants to make sure he saves critical energy for the second half. All along, he'll be thinking about the people who helped him get the opportunity to compete at a high level again.
"I just had to lean on some really, really special friends," Stinson said somberly. "I got a lot closer with my family, so I'm really grateful for that."