- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 24, 2004

Chris Banks says he is still learning about the marathon.

In his fifth stab at the 26.2-mile distance last month, he posted a passing grade. Now he is training to ace the final, a spot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team.

“I know I need to run 2:12 to be competitive,” said Banks, a 26-year-old Northern Virginia native.

Banks is a legitimate contender. His 2:17:07 performance at the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis three weeks ago was a personal best, nearly two minutes off his time at the U.S. Olympic trials in Birmingham, Ala., eight months ago.

Better yet, it was nearly five minutes faster than Banks ran in his marathon debut, a 2:21:57 at Twin Cities in 2002. It also was his biggest payday ever, $10,000 for finishing seventh overall.

“After three marathons, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how it goes,” said Banks, who now lives in Alexandria. “Leading up to each one of thesehonho, I pick up something new in training. I’m improving with each one of them.”

Even more exciting to Banks than his 2:17 personal best was the fact that he was on pace for a 2:15 through 21 miles.

“Heading into it, I knew I was fit because I had a lot of good races, and I was hoping to run 2:17, 2:16,” said Banks, who passed the halfway mark at 1:07:33 and 30K in 1:35:52. “I was definitely hurting the last five miles.”

Andre Williams, a former elite 5,000- and 10,000-meter specialist and Bank’s employer at Gotta Run running store in Arlington, sees a future in Bank’s marathoning career.

“Once he gets the last part of the training down, he’ll run 2:13 or so,” Williams said.

Williams has been a Banks supporter for years, coaxing the 1996 West Springfield High School graduate back to the area last year.

After Banks graduated from Princeton in 2000, where he was the only Ivy Leaguer to win the outdoor 10,000 three years in a row, he came home to Springfield. But for two years, he saw little improvement in his running.

“I moved to Albuquerque [N.M.] not only for the altitude but to just get away from here because I was stuck in a rut,” said Banks, who spent eight months out west. “I went from running 90 miles a week to 100, 120 miles. I achieved everything I could in Albuquerque. Then I heard Andre was opening up a store.”

Williams and Banks have known each since 2000. They worked together at the former Fleet Feet store (now Metro Run & Walk), and Williams brought Banks over to the Georgetown Running Co. store in 2002. They also trained together. Banks started working for Gotta Run when the store opened in July 2003.

“I’m working 30 hours a week,” Banks said. “It gets tough during peak season, with workouts twice a day, but Andre has been great with the schedule. He knows what it’s like — he’s been there.”

Williams and Banks engage in constant discussions of training philosophy as they fill the hours at work. Banks is one of the few top American marathoners who is a pure marathoner, much like a Khalid Khannouchi. His training is based on long distance runs, with his bread-and-butter workout consisting of 21 to 22 miles over the soft trails of Lake Accotink in Springfield, close to where he grew up. Williams, though, is a track fanatic who emphasizes speed training.

“My only criticism of Chris is that he should focus on the speed stuff for the marathon,” said Williams, who had signed up for next weekend’s Marine Corps Marathon, his debut, but canceled because his store is keeping him too busy. “[Alan] Culpepper, Meb [Keflezighi], Dan Browne — they do a lot of track work. We’ve had huge debates on training.”

Next up for Banks is the Boston Marathon in April, a race his father used to run in the ‘70s. Asked if he would ever run Marine Corps, Banks said, “It’s definitely not one of those races where you can set a personal record or pick up some money. You can only run two to three marathons a year, so you have to take earnings into account.”

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