On Sunday morning, August 30, just outside Burlington, Vt., Jim Miller became the first runner to achieve a sixth decade of sub-3-hour marathons under the pall of COVID-19. Miller, who will be 62 on Sunday, ran 2:53:59 in a race that he essentially organized, sanctioned and certified for himself and 13 other runner friends.
Miller becomes the fourth runner known to have run sub-3 marathons in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s (41 runners achieved the 5 decades from the 1970’s to the 2010’s). Miller is also the oldest of the quartet by a small margin. In addition, he now holds the record for the longest elapsed time between his first and most-recent sub-3. He clocks in at 43 years, 77 days. (See bottom of article for full stats).
Steve Schmidt and Antonio Arreola reached their sixth decades last January in the Houston Marathon — about two months before Covid-19 ended most in-person road races. A month later, Peter Lagoy ran his sixth decade sub-3 in the Sprouts Mesa Marathon on a point-to-point Arizona course with an 800-foot elevation drop.
Miller, a two-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier with a marathon PR of 2:18:18, had hoped to run Houston, but got sidetracked by injury. He next entered the mid-March Tobacco Road Marathon in North Carolina, but it was canceled. He entered the Fargo Marathon (Aug. 29), then learned in late July that it also would not take place
“At that point, I realized I was probably going to have to put on a race myself if I wanted to catch this time when I was really fit and healthy,” says Miller, a financial advisor with two grown children and a year-old grandchild. He had been running up to 80 miles a week, and figured he was in 2:50 to 3:00 shape depending on the weather.
He had never organized a race before, but found a local club, the Green Mountain Athletic Association, and a local certifier, Joe Connolly, to help him put the pieces together. Best of all, he realized that the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail in Johnson, Vt. (40 miles northeast of Burlington) would make the perfect course. It passed through beautiful settings, offered a good surface, had only gentle inclines, and lent itself to a 10-mile out-and back, a 6 mile out-and-back in the other direction, and then a repeat of the first out-and back. The start and finish were just two-tenths of a mile apart.
The Old Mill Marathon was limited to just 14 runners, and followed strict USATF Covid-19 screening measures. There were no mile markers, but Miller insisted on having video teams film each turn-around to make sure all runners covered the entire course.
Race day, temps were in the low 60s, with gusty winds 10-15 mph. Miller wore a pair of Saucony Endorphin Pros — “My first carbon-fiber race,” he says.
He planned to run 6:45s from the start (2:57 pace) but felt too good, passing the first five miles at 6:30 pace, and holding sub-6:40s through 20 miles before slowing slightly. “In most of my marathons I’ve been able to maintain pace pretty well,” Miller says, “but I always notice that it takes much more mental focus late in the race.”
Miller channeled his focus by staying positive. “I felt blessed to have this opportunity at a time when I’ve been running so injury-free,” he said. “And to be out there with my buddies, and running through such a fantastic landscape. I felt really grateful.”
Several pacers pulled away from him after 16 miles, confident that he was well ahead of schedule. Another friend on a bike joined him at 24 miles, and turned on the cheerleader exhortations. These didn’t settle well. “He was talking too much,” Miller says. “I had to ask him to move away from me.”
Mastering the marathon through the decades
A 4:33 miler and 31-minute 10K runner at a small Wisconsin college, Lawrence University, Miller won the first marathon he entered when he ran 2:34:24 in the 1977 North Dakota Marathon. He won again the next year in 2:26:58. He likes to tell friends that this was Dick Beardsley’s first “Duel in the Sun.” The two battled for 19 miles before Miller pulled away.
By the time of the 1982 Boston Marathon, Beardsley had improved to 2:09 in the marathon. That year Beardsley lost Boston to Alberto Salazar in the dramatic and much-retold “Duel in the Sun.” Miller ran his own marathon PR, 2:18:18, in the 1983 Boston.
He says he’s always been drawn to personal challenges, which is what has kept him running strong and fast through the years. “I love being outside and feeling myself in good shape,” he says. “I enjoy the way it feels when you’re fit enough that the miles just flow past. I get excited to see what my potential is.
“It’s fun to make the adjustments we all have to make with age, and to see what you can do. Once I decide on a new goal, I get just as excited as I did when I was chasing Olympic Trials qualifiers in the old days.”
Training carefully and thoroughly
Miller trained for the Old Mill Marathon with early-morning, one-a-day workouts that included the usual weekly mix of long runs (hard one week, easy the next), progression runs, hill repeats and eight to 10 x 200 meters for speed work.
He notes that he gauges his fitness by “how I feel the next day,” and that the most important description of how he trains is “very carefully.” He does 30 minutes of warm up exercises and drills before each run and 20 minutes after. And then more again in the evening.
“I’ve picked up various routines after various injuries,” he notes, “and then I’m afraid to stop any of them when I’m healthy again because I don’t know which helped me get back. I do a little yoga, foam rolling, pull-ups, squats, and a few other things.”
Miller missed a lot of racing from 50 to 55 with recurrent calf injuries, and still wears calf compression sleeves on every run. In his last big-city marathon, the 2018 Chicago Marathon, he ran 2:50:32 to win the 60+ age-division.
Of course, seven decades looms. It’s out there somewhere in the hazy distance. “I don’t know if it’s reasonable,” says Miller. “It’s impossible to say where your body is going to be in 10 years.”
So he’ll run one year at a time. He’s already entered in next March’s Tobacco Road Marathon.
Six Decades Sub 3 Hours Club, in chronological order of first to reach six decades
Steve Schmidt (DOB: Sep 28, 1960)
Jan 19, 2020–2:57:07
Oct 12, 2014–2:59:54
Oct 30, 2005–2:49:23
Jan 17, 1999–2:49:23
Dec 1, 1984–2:37:03
Feb 25, 1979–2:46:22
Antonio Arreola (DOB: Aug 24, 1959)
Jan 19, 2020–2:57:18
May 15, 2010–2:59:43
Dec 9, 2001–2:46:17
Oct 2, 1999–2:48:00
Mar 22, 1981–2:54:53
Dec 5, 1976–2:58:03
Peter LaGoy (DOB: Jul 21, 1959)
Feb 8, 2020–2:58:33
Oct 9, 2011–2:57:29
May 3, 2009–2:58:49
Apr 28, 1991–2:44:39
Nov 2, 1980–2:47:xx
Nov 4, 1979–2:50:24
Jim Miller (DOB: Sep 6, 1958)
Aug 30, 2020–2:53:59
Mar 6, 2016–2:54:42
May 28, 2000–2:35:12
Oct 18, 1997–2:25:49
Apr 18, 1983–2:18:18
Longest Span (Most Days) Between Sub-3 Marathons
Jim Miller: 15,772 (43 years, 77 days)
Antonio Arreola: 15,750 (43 years, 55 days)
Iain Mickle: 15,491 (42 years, 161 days)
Blake Wood: 15,078 (41 years, 113 days)
Read more about the runners who have completed a sub-3 hour marathon in each of the last 6 decades, and how they train and race, in our 6DS3 collection.