DANBURY, Conn. -- The college years are all about self-discovery. Sometimes, as Danbury’s Ryan Fox learned on Saturday, those revelations don’t occur in a classroom or even a college campus.
Fox, 19, finished second in the Charleston Marathon in South Carolina. He covered the 26.2 miles in his first attempt at the distance in 2 hours, 45 minutes and 52 seconds, an average of 6:19 per mile. The winner — 39 year-old Jeffrey Greene of Leesburg, Va., — finished in 2:44:45.
“For a first marathon, I don’t think it could have gone any better,’’ said Fox, a sophomore at SUNY-Albany. “It was everything I expected and more.”
Fox even found himself leading with about 8 miles to go. After running conservatively for the first half, Fox picked up his pace and overtook the only two runners who had been leading him. “I’ve watched the Boston Marathon and saw how the Kenyans run with police cars alongside them,’’ Fox said. “Not that this was Boston, but that was pretty cool. It was my own Boston Marathon moment.”
Greene passed Fox with about 3 miles to go, and the Danbury High graduate could not answer. After running close to 6:20 miles for the first 23 miles, his average mile split over the last 3 miles crept toward seven minutes.
“He knows the game a little bit more than I do at this point,’’ said Fox, who ran for the State Open cross country champions at Danbury High School in 2014. “I tried to go with him for maybe a half mile. I kind of envisioned what it would be like to win, and I actually thought there might be a chance. Unfortunately, once he took off my legs started to lock up and I knew it wasn’t going to happen.”
Still, the runner-up finish is astonishing for a young man who decided to run the race only two months ago. After an injury-riddled winter and spring track seasons with the Albany track and field team, Fox competed for the Great Danes during the cross country season. In his last race of the year in late October, he finished second to last. He quit the team shortly thereafter.
“It was great to have a good group of guys to run with and I appreciated the team spirit,’’ Fox said. “But a part of me wanted to break loose and do my own thing. I’ve always been itching to do a marathon. I love to test the limits of how far and how long a body can do something. The marathon is the ultimate test of what the human body can endure.”
Fox ran for two hours the day following his final cross country race. After another two-hour run a few weeks later, a friend convinced Fox to attempt a marathon. “I expected I’d do it in a year or so,’’ Fox said. “He said I just should go for it.”
Fox committed to the Charleston race about nine weeks ago. He focused on extending his training runs to get comfortable with longer distances. He hit the ground running, waking before dawn and logging high mileage before classes. He reached 80 miles per week while also volunteering at a local high school, working with a Jewish organization on campus and concentrating on his academics.
“I was very confident in my training,’’ Fox said. “I was more confident than in any race that I had run in high school or college. I knew this going to go pretty well for me. I knew that I was prepared, that this was my day and this was my race. I had this confidence that I never could tap into in high school or college.”
Fox feels now that he has found the endurance distance that best suits him. It’s going to be hard to top a second place finish, but the Danbury teenager figures his best running days might be ahead of him.
“I learned that I never really should let a race or a whole season of running define me,’’ Fox said. “I realized that just because I had a long string of injuries and really bad experiences, at no point did I ever consider quitting the sport. That wasn’t the end, it was a beginning. I had so much trust that I was going to be able to put the work in to make something special happen. At the end of the day, it’s all about being the person you’re meant to be, pushing yourself and doing the best that you can.”