Wilmington, N.C., man runs away from field in Myrtle Beach Marathon

ablondin@thesunnews.comFebruary 15, 2014 

Tom Clifford was a lonesome man Saturday.

The 30-year-old resident of Wilmington, N.C., was looking for at least one companion during the 17th MyrtleBeach.com Myrtle Beach Marathon, but there was no one to be found. Clifford was too far ahead of the other runners in the race.

The founder and owner of Without Limits running, coaching and apparel won the marathon in a time of 2 hours, 30 minutes and 5 seconds.

“It’s nice to win, but I like to run races too where I can work with guys the whole race,” Clifford said. “You know, being in the lead gets lonely.”

Clifford came 5 seconds shy of his goal to finish in 2:30 on a morning that featured consistent 20 mph winds. “I was just rolling,” Clifford said. “I felt awesome. I had a 5:25 to 5:30 pace [per mile] and got to 20 [miles] and knew I had sub-2:30 in the bag, and then I turned into the wind and it was a fight just to finish. … But I’ll take it.”

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In calmer conditions, Clifford might have made a run at the race record time of 2:26:26 set by Stuart Moran of Arden, N.C., in 2012.

Runner-up Jon Hager, 37, of Alpharetta, Ga., finished 6:50 behind Clifford, who could have used the aid of another strong runner to exchange drafts with him through the last several miles into the wind.

“I had a couple miles in there where the wind was so strong there was nothing I could do,” Clifford said. “I just needed somebody to get in front of me for maybe one mile of it and I would have been under 2:30. Drafting saves energy. But there was nobody out there. It was totally barren.”

He also lost a few seconds when he nearly went straight at an intersection when he had to turn right, and took a few extra steps and hesitated. “It was marked, but when you get later in a race you’re kind of delirious,” Clifford said.

Clifford is the race director of the Wrightsville Beach Marathon outside Wilmington on March 16, and he’ll be too busy to train that week for his next race in Boston. “I thought if I run and kind of fatigue myself then I’ll need the week off anyway,” Clifford said. “Then I do a three-week build for Boston then taper. It’s not an ideal training plan but it is what it is.”

Though a disappointment, his time was still a personal best and the victory was his first in just his third marathon. “The best part about the race is I didn’t hit the wall,” Clifford said. “I felt really good the whole time, I just couldn’t hold that pace in the wind.”

Clifford’s previous marathons were the 2008 Myrtle Beach Marathon and the New York Marathon this past November.

In between he competed for five years in triathlons. “I stopped triathlons because of the demand,” Clifford said. “There was just a high demand for cycling and swimming and I needed to focus on my business. So I went back to running and enjoying trying to conquer the marathon. This is my most successful one.”

Clifford is a running and triathlon coach through Without Limits, and his company’s endurance team was represented by 40 athletes on the weekend, mostly in the half marathon.

He competed in a couple Ironman Triathlons consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26.2-mile marathon run, and many Half Ironmans in which each leg of the Ironman distance is cut in half. He peaked with a third-place finish in the 25-29 age group in the World Half Ironman Championships in Clearwater, Fla.

“It was a successful run but I just couldn’t commit to the time it takes to run that long,” said Clifford, who was a personal trainer after graduating from college before embarking on his running and coaching careers. “I took a risk and started a coaching business, and it ended up being something I love to do and it became successful.”

Clifford expects to eclipse 2:30 in his next race in Boston in April. “That was my goal but I’ll do it in Boston in two months,” he said. “That’s my ultimate goal. This was more of a training run. Boston is point-to-point so I’m crossing my fingers for a tailwind.”

The standard time needed to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials has dropped to 2:18 and Clifford doesn’t believe he can hit that number. “I would just like to run a solid mid-2:20s in Boston if I can get the training in,” Clifford said. “My bigger goal is to help my athletes achieve their goals, and along the way if I get to do it too, then it’s a bonus.”

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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