In fact, it only took him five years to reach those distances.
Though COVID-19 has essentially knocked McIlroy off the trail for 2020, the lifelong Lethbridge resident and member of the Henderson Lake Parkrun kept active until the pandemic shut things down in March.
That active schedule took him around the globe to Germany and, most recently the 2019 New York Marathon last November, where McIlroy posted a time of 2:39.11, the second-fastest time among 1,203 Canadians, placing him 211th in a field of over 53,000 runners.
“It was really exciting,” said McIlroy. “The streets of New York are lined with fans cheering you on pretty much the whole way. A marathon is 26.2 miles long and there are pretty much fans shoulder to shoulder the entire way. You get a lot of energy from the crowd and running with a lot of people around you is pretty exciting.”
It was a pretty impressive feat for someone who took up running in 2015 and chose the sport as one of three to partake in when Lethbridge hosted the Southern Alberta Summer Games.
“I wanted to register for golf, but you can register for three events at the same price as one,” said McIlroy. “I picked golf, clay shooting and entered the running race just to pick three sports to compete in. I did all right in the running race. That fall I join the Runner’s Soul racing team. They get groups of people to train together once a week and meet some friends to run with. I used that to get a little better and improve my running.”
The New York Marathon was McIlroy’s second major marathon, having competed in Berlin, Germany.
“The way I got in was a qualified by having a good enough time in my first marathon that I could just go straight into the registration,” said McIlroy, who put up a time of two hours and 50 minutes in Berlin. “I can’t remember what the cut off time was, but there was a certain time for the New York marathon. If your time is below that you just go straight into the race.”
Aiming for a time of two hours and 40 minutes at the New York Marathon, McIlroy in a little less than a minute under that time.
“It was pretty close,” he said. “Coming down the last 200 metres you can see the clock, so you know what the official time is. I could see I was really cutting it closer than I wanted it to be. But in the end I got the time I wanted to. I was pretty happy about that.”
In a large marathon, McIlroy said his biggest opponent is himself.
“In big races like this I don’t really compete with the other racers. It’s more to see if I can achieve the goal I set ahead of time. I’m more competing against myself. In the training I have a time goal of where I expect to finish. I came in 11 seconds under that goal, so I was getting pretty close. I guess I came in right where I expected to.”
Before COVID hit earlier this year, McIlroy was eyeing up the second big marathon in the States, the Chicago Marathon.
“That was scheduled in October, but the event was canceled,” he said. “So instead of that I took a little bit of a break from running. I haven’t run since August and even in the summer I was running less than I would have if the Chicago Marathon was still on. I spent a lot of time mountain biking instead in the coulees and in the mountains in the Crowsnest Pass and Fernie.”
Once the races resume, McIlroy – who also has plans to attend the Boston Marathon – will take the starting line once again.
For now, he’s taking a breather.
“It’s been a little bit hard on my body,” said McIlroy. “My legs are sore, so I take a couple months off to rest them and recover and make sure they get back to normal.”
Still, McIlroy has come a long way since 2015.
“The first race I did was five km,” he said. “A marathon is 42.2 kilometres and after that (5km) race I was laying on the ground after I crossed the finish line and was pretty sore. But now 5km is kind of a short run for me. But at the time when I finished that first 5km I couldn’t of imagine why anyone would want to do a marathon distance.”
Five years and many kilometres later, that mindset has changed.
“The competitive part of running is really my favourite part, but it’s more of the group of people that goes along with it,” said McIlroy. “That’s the number one thing that I like about the sport, the friendships that I have made over the past five years with these other runners.”
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