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Two Runners Will Attempt a 6th Decade Sub 3-Hour Marathon Sunday in Houston

Antonio Arreola and Steve Schmidt, who ran their first 3 hour marathons in the 70s, are both aiming for 1:29 at the half. And then?

A few tough men—and one woman—have run a marathon under 3 hours in every one of the five decade since the ’70s. Now that the 2020s have rolled around, some of them 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, and in our second and third articles shared their secrets to longevity and favorite marathon test workouts.

Sunday morning in Houston, Antonio Arreola and Steve Schmidt will attempt to become the first two runners to achieve Six Decades Sub 3-Hours (6DS3) status. Others will follow at various marathons in February, March, April and throughout the year.

It’s not really a race. After all, these runners have been waiting 10 years simply to get to this start line. What counts most is achieving 6DS3 whenever you get the chance. That said, who doesn’t like to be first?

Arreola, 60, and Schmidt, 59, appear to have a solid chance at going S3 in Houston. But their margins are thin, and they know it. If they feel good and the weather is accommodating, they could have big smiles as they approach the finish banner. If things begin to unravel … well, you know what the marathon can turn into.

If Arreola breaks 3:00 in Houston, he will also jump to the top of the list for Longest Time Span Between Sub-3-Hour Marathons. He currently stands in second, behind Iain Mickle’s 42 years, 151 days, set at the Cal International Marathon in December. Here’s more on Arreola and Schmidt.

Antonio Arreola going for 6 Decades sub 3
Antonio Arreola / photo: courtesy Antonio Arreola

Early Start, Steady Results

Antonio Arreola

• First sub-3 marathon: 2:58:03, 1976

• Achieved 5DS3: 2:59:43, 2010

• Most recent marathon: 2:54:48, 2018

Arreola ran his first marathon as a 15-year-old in 1974, finishing in 3:05. Looking back, he thinks he could have broken 3:00 (and wishes he had) except for stopping and walking a good bit with several high school friends who eventually dropped out. At which point, Arreola continued on more strongly. He broke 3:00 for the first time two years later, and has a lifetime PR of 2:46:17—the slowest of any 6DS3 runner.

“I feel that I’ve never accomplished much in my running,” says Arreola. “If I’m fortunate enough to get the 6DS3, that will definitely be the highlight.”

A recently retired manager of defense-contract programs, Arreola ran two strong marathons last fall—a 1:22:43 and a 1:22:57. He’s been troubled by recent episodes of “heavy legs” during runs and races, and says he can never tell if he’s going to have a good day or not.

Arreola races frequently, about 16 times a year. He has been active in the “Senior Grand Prix” circuit of the Pacific USATF, often in close races with Mark Murray, another member of group attempting 6DS3. Murray had originally planned to run the Carlsbad Marathon this Sunday, but now has switched to Napa Valley in  March.

To prepare for Houston, Arreola has been logging 60 to 70 miles a week. He did a 20-miler a month ago, and a 16-miler three weeks ago. “Both were really tough,” he reports, “but I’m tapering a little longer than usual, and hoping that will help.”

On Sunday morning, he plans to run about 6:48 per mile, and to reach the halfway in just under 1:29. “My confidence isn’t high,” he admits. “But I’ll give it my best.”

Steve Schmidt
Steve Schmidt keeps racing and dreaming / photo: courtesy Steve Schmidt

Relaxed and Ready

Steve Schmidt

• First sub-3 marathon: 2:46:22, 1979

• Achieved 5DS3: 2:59:54, 2014

• Most recent marathon: 3:01:57, 2019

Schmidt’s early marathon years are similar to Arreola’s. He ran his first as a 16-year old high schooler in 1977, finishing in 3:05. Two years later, he recorded a 2:46 for his first sub-3:00. Five years later, he got down to 2:37.

“Most of the marathons I ran, I did without too much prep or planning,” he says. “I wish I could still get away with that now.”

He has raced the marathon distance as recently as last May, hitting the 23-mile mark at 2:58 pace, but then tearing a hamstring muscle. “I limped to the finish in 3:01:54,” he says.

Prior to last May, Schmidt missed a trio of big marathon efforts due to injuries—Chicago ’16, Twin Cities ’17, and NYC ’18. “Getting older sucks,” he notes.

A retired helicopter pilot with the Marine Corps and then the Drug Enforcement Administration, he has been pleased with his training for Houston. He’s averaged 60 to 70 miles a week and reports, “I did a final 18-miler three weeks out, and felt very relaxed and fit.”

Like Arreola, Schmidt is hoping for a first half in 1:29. After that? “Then I’ll see how everything feels,”  Schmidt says. He and Arreola have never met, but they are in touch with each other now, and may run with each other if the logistics work out.

You can track Arreola and Schmidt’s progress on the Chevron Houston Marathon site.