Sunday morning in Houston, Antonio Arreola and Steve Schmidt became the first runners to accumulate six decades of sub-3-hour marathons (6DS3). Both ran a sub-3 in the late 1970s and every decade since, adding the 2020s in Houston. Sunday they finished hand-in-hand, with arms raised, after running the last five miles together.

Antonio Arreola and Steve Schmidt on way to 6 decades record
photo: Janice Schmidt

They finished in chip times of 2:58:07 for Schmidt, and 2:58:18 for Arreola, who started ahead of Schmidt in the start-corral throng.

Schmidt caught Arreola from behind at 21.5 miles, and encouraged him the rest of the way. “I had the strong sense that he was holding back to run with me,” said Arreola. “Steve was a godsend. He really pulled me along.”

 

Pacing, Poise and Partnership

Arreola and Schmidt proved several things about veteran runners. First, that they have high Marathon IQs: Both ran perfectly paced efforts. Second, that they have high Emotional IQs, able to handle pressure with aplomb.

Schmidt, 59, is a retired helicopter pilot from Orion Township, Michigan. He ran his first sub-3, 2:46:22, in 1979, and set his marathon PR, 2:37:03, in 1984.

Arreola, 60, is a retired project manager from San Jose, California. He ran his first sub-3, 2:58:03, in 1976,  and his marathon best, 2:46:17, in 2001.

Conditions for the Aramco Half Marathon and Chevron Houston Marathon were near perfect with temps in the high 40s most of the way. Runners felt a bit buffeted from the wind at times, but all the races produced excellent performances, particularly the half marathon where nine runners broke 60 minutes, and 14 Americans bettered 62 minutes.

Schmidt had been battling a cold 10 days before the marathon, and felt a bit rough the first 10 miles. “I had to tell myself, ‘Believe in the process. Trust your training. I knew I had put in the work.’” After the halfway mark, reached in 1:29:13, he kept feeling better and better. He was also wondering where Arreola was.

The two had met the previous day, and hoped to run together, but didn’t lay down a firm plan. During the first half, Schmidt scanned the field ahead, hoping to spot Arreola, but never could. They came together quite suddenly at 21.5.

“Tony, I’ve been looking all over for you,” Schmidt said to his new friend.

first 6 decade sub 3 finishers
photo: Janice Schmidt

Battling Through Bad Patches

Arreola also said he felt bad in the early going, especially when he passed the first mile in 7:23. “That scared me,” he said. “It didn’t feel good the way it should have. I couldn’t figure it out.”

When the crowded streets thinned a little, he worked his pace down to 6:43, and passed the half marathon in 1:28:34. From 21 to 23, he suffered through several ups-and-downs at highway underpasses, but by then Schmidt had arrived to help. “I started lifting my knees a little more to relieve the quads, and that seemed to help,” Arreola said.

At the 25 mile mark, Schmidt looked over at Arreola, and said, “We got this.” They ran the last mile in 6:36, the fastest mile of the marathon for both. “I’m elated and a little relieved, Schmidt said after the race. “I put a fair amount of pressure on myself this last year. It’s been a focus. I wasn’t sure it would happen, but now it has. I don’t think it has sunk in yet.”

Steve Schmidt and Tony Arreola 6 decade marathoners
photo: Janice Schmidt

Fast Finish, New Friend

“Today was the highlight of my 48 years in running,” said Arreola. “I feel great. This was hard to plan for. I  had some health issues. But it was a great experience to run another sub-3 today, and especially to meet and finish with Steve. He’s an outstanding guy.”

With his performance, Arreola leapt back to the top of the list for “longest span between sub-3s.” He had been supplanted in December by Iain Mickle. The current top three are:

  1. Antonio Arreola, 43 years, 45 days: from Dec.5, 1976 to Jan. 19, 2019
  2. Iain Mickle, 42 years, 151 days: from Jul. 10, 1977 to Dec. 8, 2019.
  3. Blake Wood, 41y, 102 days: from Dec. 7, 1975 to Mar. 19, 2017

Another group of 6DS3 aspirants are planning to chase the goal next month in the Phoenix Marathon: Reno Stirrat, Jim Garcia, and Peter Lagoy. The Phoenix course has a net elevation drop of 900 feet, so it’s open season on razzing these guys about their race selection.

On the other hand, Stirrat is the Methuselah of the group at 65 years old, so maybe we should cut him a little slack.

Read more about the few tough men—and one woman—have run a marathon under 3 hours in every one of the five decade since the ’70s, and, now that the 2020s have rolled around, are still fit and fast enough to aim for their 6th decade sub-3. In our first article about the 6DS3 group, we introduced a few of them. In our second and third articles shared their secrets to longevity and favorite marathon test workouts.

Amby Burfoot won the 1968 Boston Marathon. He offers KISS Training Programs (Keep It Simple & Smart) at RunWithAmby.com