It seems like Stephen VanGampleare’s status as a regular guy is running away from him.
Sure, the Colorado Springs native and St. Mary’s graduate works a nine-to-five as an engineer on the North side and likes to wind down at local breweries or on the couch with some Netflix. But when he’s not in the office, sampling a craft beer or binging the latest release, he’s likely pounding pavement, and that’s when he becomes much less ordinary.
VanGampleare, 28, was the first “non-elite” runner to finish the Boston Marathon on April 15. His time of 2 hours, 18 minutes, 40 seconds — good for 26th place — qualified him for next year’s Olympic trials and fooled some race workers.
“There were some volunteers kinda herding us along and they ended up kind of just taking me with these other two elite runner guys off to the side, and I didn’t really realize it at first but eventually they were like ‘All right, you can go in the tent, and it was the elite athlete tent,’” VanGampleare said.
“And I was like ‘Oh, I’m not supposed to be here.’”
His bag with dry clothes was among tens of thousands of other participants, people finishing with an average time just under four hours. Belongings and a nearly six-minute personal best in hand, VanGampleare returned to normalcy, meeting up with a friend who lets him crash on a couch for what’s become an annual visit to Boston.
“We had a few beers after the race,” VanGampleare said.
“That’s pretty typical for post-race celebration.”
VanGampleare’s customary two-week hiatus from all things running after a race comes to an end Monday. Now, it’s back to balancing work at Philips and 100-plus-mile weeks in preparation for a fall marathon.
“Doing some manufacturing engineering for one of their new product-development teams, so I’m pretty busy right now,” he said.
“I guess the hardest part is the days where getting up at 5 in the morning to go get in a quick run before work just really doesn’t sound like that much fun, especially over the winter months when it’s cold and it’s always dark out. Those days can get old pretty quick.”
After another break, preparations for the Olympic trials begin. It’s a race he’s long thought about and he admitted there were doubts he’d ever break the 2:19 qualifying time, especially during the previous year in Boston when persistent rain ruined plenty of races, VanGampleare’s included.
“Trying to hit that qualifying time has been kind of my No. 1, long-term running goal for the last several years,” VanGampleare said. “I’m just happy that I get to go, but I’m obviously going to still keep doing what I normally do and still hopefully have a fast race once I get there.”
His most recent attempt in Boston did the trick, and he has the college friend from Creighton to thank for more than the hospitality. After the 2013 bombings near the Boston finish line, the friend suggested they run a marathon.
Since runners must record a qualifying time to get into one of the world’s biggest races, the duo started with a race in their college town, Omaha, Neb., a race VanGampleare won the following year. He ran his first marathon in rough 2:45 and made big cuts after his body adjusted to the demands of weekly mileage in the triple digits.
“It took a few years to build up to that point, but that was probably the main thing as far as the level of commitment goes,” he said.
VanGampleare started running competitively at St. Mary’s where he set school records in cross country and track. He won the Tri Peaks League cross country meet as a senior and was named the league’s runner of the year before going off to Creighton, where he ran cross country for a couple years, establishing the base for his future success at longer distances.
As elite as his Boston Marathon may have been, he retains some characteristics of the typical weekend warrior. He pays for all of his own shoes and gear, coaches himself and hasn’t yet experienced the accommodations the world’s elite runners get at races — things like tents, toilets that flush, rides to the starting line and a more convenient bag check.
Maybe that will soon change with an elite time in hand and a chance to make the team for the Tokyo Olympics.
“I’ll definitely still be trying to get a little faster every time I go to another race,” VanGampleare said.
“We’ll see how that works out.”