Funny thing about Jesse Gibbs.
The New Zealand native is a marathon runner who doesn’t really like to, well, run.
It’s unexpected given Gibbs, who has spent the past year at Brock on exchange, can pound 42 kilometres of pavement into submission like few can. He proved that recently when he was the first to cross the finish line at the Hamilton Marathon earlier this month.
And yet, while Gibbs was thrilled to win his first marathon, there are probably other activities he would have enjoyed doing more to propel him to the front of the crowd.
“To be honest, I can’t really say I like running,” Gibbs said. “I like competing and doing well but that’s not necessarily related to running. That’s what drives me, it’s competition, and running is the vehicle to get there.”
Clocking a time of 2:31:38, Gibbs had nearly a five-minute lead on his closest competitor to win in Hamilton – only the fourth marathon he has ever run.
It was also a race with a couple hundred extra competitors after superstorm Sandy knocked the legs out from under the New York City Marathon the same weekend, diverting some of those runners to Hamilton instead.
In the end, Gibbs beat out 1,080 others in the race for top spot, a berth that he wasn’t sure he’d secure.
A few weeks earlier, Gibbs, who runs twice a day sometimes and trained without a coach while in Canada, was scheduled to tackle the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. But illness forced him to pull out eight kilometres in.
“I was destroyed about that. It was the first time I pulled out of a race and it was my biggest race by far,” Gibbs recalled.
Both his mother and his running coach back home in Timaru encouraged him to try another race soon, given how hard he had trained for Toronto.
Enter Hamilton. Still, with most winning times in a marathon hovering near the 2:20:00 mark, Gibbs wasn’t counting on a first place finish, even after sizing up his competition at the starting line.
Soon after the crowd was on its way, Gibbs was out in front, though one runner eventually caught up to him and pulled ahead.
“It wasn’t long before I couldn’t even see him,” Gibbs said. “For the first half of the race it was me by myself with 1,200 people behind me… . I didn’t expect my position to change.”
Comfortable with his second-place standing, Gibbs just took it one step at a time before the first-place runner started to come into view again, then got closer and closer.
By the 26-kilomtre mark, Gibbs’s competition appeared to be taken out by a leg cramp.
“That’s when it hit me I could win this race … so I shoot past him,” he recalled.
Accompanied by race marshals on bikes, who told him they couldn’t see any other runner gaining ground, Gibbs started to get a runner’s high unlike any other but by 30 clicks, it stopped being fun.
“It’s really hard being out in front,” he said. “You’ve go no one in front of you and no one to keep an eye on.”
Still, he kept his eye on the prize and when he crossed the finish line 12 kilometres later, he threw his hands up in the air – in relief as much as victory.
“Your first priority is to stop running more than anything. Obviously I was aware it was my biggest finish of my career and I did a fist pump in the air but I was more tired than anything,” Gibbs said.
Ever since, he has been getting used to media attention, gearing up to return to New Zealand in a few weeks and plotting how to shave a few more minutes off his time as he runs more races and sets his sights on the Olympics, likely in 2020.
“My goal has always been to go to the Olympics, no matter what the sport,” Gibbs said. “I picked running because I have the best chance of getting there.”