SAVANNAH, Ga. — Nathan O’Connell made about 19,000 people disappear.
That was the effect from his point of view Saturday morning, as O’Connell ran away from the pack in the inaugural Savannah Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon.
O’Connell, a 20-year-old junior at Kennesaw State University, covered 26.2 miles in 2 hours, 29 minutes and 5 seconds, about five minutes faster than his nearest competitor.
“He was way ahead of me,” said Chris Lake, 24, who finished in second place in 2:34:02. “I couldn’t see him. He was too far ahead.”
Making for all-Georgia champions, Rome’s Jill Horst won the women’s full marathon in 2:45:12, qualifying her for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in January in Houston.
Once a couple of the elite runners in the concurrent half marathon had sped ahead on their shorter journey, O’Connell basically had the road to himself after two miles.
Other than a few spots on the winding course where O’Connell could eye slower runners covering ground he had long since traversed, he was by himself – with the exceptions of his bicyclist escort, the media truck and police vehicles.
“It was definitely hard mentally to push myself along,” O’Connell said. “The guy on the bike was awesome. It definitely takes a lot mentally to run 26 miles by myself.”
He kept a strong pace until the last four miles or so, when windy conditions slowed him down. Using the cyclist to block the wind helped him.
O’Connell covered the first 4 miles unofficially in 23 minutes flat, 10K in 35:22, 10 miles in 56:38, 20 miles in 1:52:34 and 22 miles in 2:04:10.
O’Connell is relatively new in this commitment to road races. He doesn’t run for his hometown Kennesaw State, where he is a biology and pre-med major, and he didn’t even run track while at Harrison High. He started running in his second year of college
Horst, 33, played soccer for two years at Furman in Greenville, S.C., before switching in 1999 to cross country and track.
In the back of her mind was running at an Olympic trials, a possibility for 2012 if she could run a marathon in 2:46 or better.
“I wanted to do that someday. It took me 12 years,” said Horst, who also won the 2008 Huntsville (Ala.) marathon and the 2011 Country Music half marathon in Nashville, Tenn. “I know I’m not the most talented runner. ... I don’t have any ideas about qualifying for the Olympics.”