By Nicole Minier
COLUMBIA CITY — For the first time since its inception eight years ago, a local runner won the Columbia City Veterans Marathon.
Brenden Zoltek is a 2012 Columbia City High School graduate and won the 26.2-mile race — his first ever marathon.
Zoltek began his running career in sixth grade at Indian Springs Middle School, with his mother, Krystal, and Gary Bird as coaches.
Bird and his wife, Joann, were the ones who started the Veterans Marathon, and are owners of Running Around Screen Printing — a shop in downtown Columbia City.
Zoltek works for Running Around Screen Printing, which sponsored his entry fee for the race.
“Joann is a huge supporter of me and knew I wanted to run the marathon,” Zoltek said.
Zoltek’s main goal wasn’t to win the marathon, but to finish with a qualifying time to advance to the Boston Marathon. The qualifying time for Boston is typically about 3:05, but Zoltek’s goal was 2:45. He finished in 2:47.
Zoltek had been running 18-mile workouts for three weeks leading up to the marathon.
“I got through 18 miles and kept saying, this is unknown territory — it could have been great or I could have done worse than I expected,” Zoltek said. “I was happy with how I finished.”
Zoltek tried to keep a steady, 6:30-mile pace. He thought if he could hold that pace for 18 miles, he could do it for 26.2.
The cooler weather Saturday slowed him down in the last two miles, as his legs began cramping, but he pushed through to finish close to his goal time.
“I was very comfortable in the first half,” Zoltek said. “The cold got to me in the last two miles, but I was able to hold the pace I needed to run.”
The marathon is the longest distance Zoltek has run competitively, but he’s no stranger to success in the running arena.
Zoltek’s eighth-grade year at ISMS, the team won the conference championship, but that was just the start. In high school, Zoltek advanced to semi-state several times between track and cross country.
He went on to run for Indiana Tech, where he graduated in 2016. In college, his team made it to nationals three years in a row, and also advanced to nationals three times in indoor competition.
“I have always wanted to run a marathon but in high school and college I was focused on being an All-American,” Zoltek said.
Zoltek was named All-American in the steeple chase his senior year, ranked seventh in the nation.
He hasn’t ran a competitive race in 2.5 years and spent the past five months training for the marathon, using the knowledge he learned from his mother, uncle and former coaches.
“I did my own plan,” Zoltek said.
But he didn’t do it all on his own. Zoltek had a large support group at the marathon, which he says helped him be successful.
“It was unbelievable to have such a huge support group — family, friends, teammates, coaches — it made it more memorable,” Zoltek said.
Zoltek’s mother Krystal and uncle, Mike Walker, have been key in his success. Krystal Zoltek is an assistant coach at Indiana Tech and his uncle coached at Leo High School. Both were runners for Elmhurst High School.