Fisher's Chittick is going the distance — all the way to the Boston Marathon

Fisher's Chittick is going the distance — all the way to the Boston Marathon

FISHER — The path to Lucas Chittick's impending involvement in Monday's 123rd Boston Marathon is unorthodox, to say the least.

That Chittick is competing at all is fairly unique.

The Fisher senior is just 18 years old — the absolute minimum to line up for one of the world's premier 26.2-mile races. Only 26 individuals of the same age finished the 2018 Boston Marathon.

Two other factors make Chittick's' story even more interesting.

First, he only started distance running in eighth grade as a means to achieve some cross-training for his true love, wrestling.

"I found I really liked (running)," Chittick said this past Tuesday, less than a week from his second-ever marathon. "I've found I like being able to think a lot when I run."

Secondly, Chittick only became interested in marathoning because Fisher's school board declined the creation of a cross-country team prior to his sophomore year.

"I was like, well, I don't want to sign up and do a bunch of 5Ks and spend a lot of money," Chittick said of much-shorter 3.1-mile jaunts. "So I was like, I just want to test my abilities and get a good amount of training in."

Turns out Chittick's abilities are more vast than he could've imagined.

But that's the most basic explanation for how Chittick reached this moment.

There's much to unpack with a youngster whose only goal in his inaugural marathon was "to just finish the race."

Who only took up running full-time earlier this school year.

Who desires on Monday to post a time none of those aforementioned 26 individuals could touch during Boston's previous version.

"I'm definitely the only guy, only person in town that runs like I do," Chittick said. "People around town have been really excited to hear from me."

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One of the most excited is Jake Chittick, Lucas' dad and the Fisher boys' track and field coach.

"Running was a punishment for me when I was his age," the elder Chittick said with a laugh. "It's turned into a real great journey for him. I couldn't be prouder of him."

Jake's mentality throughout Lucas' brief running career has been to fully support whatever his son wants to try next.

So when Lucas shifted from Mahomet-Seymour to Fisher between his freshman and sophomore years, that meant Jake backed Lucas' efforts to start a Bunnies cross-country program.

When that didn't work, it also meant helping Lucas find "a place to put his energy" when it came to running.

After Lucas settled on the marathon option, Jake said, the initial plan was to map out a 26.2-mile route between Fisher and Mahomet. But Jake and his mother, Michele Spading, encouraged Lucas to extend his boundaries.

"We really pushed him and said, 'This is cool what you're doing. We want you to go to Shawnee,'" Jake said.

That would be the Shawnee Marathon, contested more than 200 miles south of Fisher in Harrisburg.

On Oct. 28, 2017, Lucas and 44 other runners traversed the rural layout. Just three of those folks finished in less than three hours.

Lucas was the third of them, clocking in at 2 hours, 59 minutes, 44.67 seconds.

"I don't think I had a watch on during that race. I had no idea what my time was," Lucas said. "The final bit, I could kind of see the clock ... and I was like, I've got to move. I want to be under three hours."

During a 21-mile practice session not long before Shawnee, Lucas felt like he might be able to crack the 3-hour marathon mark.

And when he did so, he knew exactly what it meant for his marathoning future.

"I was pretty excited," Lucas said. "I was exhausted, but I was definitely as happy as an exhausted person could be."

"I didn't know that it was a great time," Jake added. "When he came to me and said, 'I qualified for Boston,' I was really happy, really excited. And when he said, 'Is this something I can do?' I said, 'Absolutely.'"

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Garnering a spot at Boston isn't as straightforward as posting a strong time at an earlier event.

According to the Boston Athletic Association's website, "7,384 qualifiers were unable to be accepted due to field size limitations."

That same webpage also noted that while the men's qualification standard for ages 18-34 is 3:05:00, the times in that group accepted didn't exceed 3:00:08.

That means Lucas made the cut by less than a minute.

"I got an e-mail from the Boston Marathon director during Spanish class (in September 2018)," Lucas said. "I did like a little fist pump and smiled."

Lucas already had been preparing as if he was going to be accepted into the event.

He spent the summer of 2018 "building a really big base" of mileage.

"I hit a point in like mid-October where I was putting in about two hours a day," Lucas said.

And then there's the assistance of Joe Bails.

A Parkland College kinesiology instructor, Bails also serves as Champaign Next Generation middle school's track and field leader and owns Coach Bails Running, through which he trains numerous distance runners.

On top of that, Bails coached Lucas when the latter ran for Mahomet-Seymour Junior High. The two connected over the winter after a mutual friend pointed out what Lucas was undertaking.

"To me, it says a lot about his work ethic," Bails said. "To be honest, I wasn't surprised (he qualified). It's a little surprising to see someone this young do it, but it's not unheard of."

Bails isn't reinventing the wheel in his work with Lucas. The former's biggest concerns are making sure Lucas isn't completing his lengthier runs too quickly and that Lucas' training doesn't conflict with the ongoing Fisher track and field campaign.

"I'm thoroughly impressed," Bails said. "He's in the middle of his marathon training and runs a 3,200 indoors and runs a (9:35) ... He's healthy, he's fit and I think he's going to do great on Monday."

Lucas feels he's also benefited from Bails' insistence on cross training, with Lucas occasionally hitting the pool and hopping on a bike to switch things up.

"The biggest thing I think he's done has just made the training that I do smarter," Lucas said. "It's just healthier and smarter."

Jake has seen firsthand just how seriously Lucas is taking this task.

"It's been really impressive," Jake said. "He gets up before anyone else in the house, 5:30 in the morning to get up for his training. I don't have that kind of self-discipline."

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All that remains for Lucas is the race itself.

Lucas, Jake and Michele flew out of Chicago at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. Outside the actual running, Lucas said he was most looking forward to the Boston Marathon Expo and taking part in a Sunday tour of the course.

Jake's aim is to make Lucas as comfortable as possible during this trip.

"I want him to enjoy the experience," Jake said. "I strongly believe he'll finish it, but not only finish it, but feel better after this one than he did after the first one."

Although Boston provides one of marathoning's grandest stages — both nationally and beyond — Lucas is taking a minimalist approach to the situation.

"As much as I understand the importance of it, I've been almost acting like I'll believe it when I'm on the starting line," Lucas said. "At the end of the day, it's just a run with lots of people around you."

Lucas also possesses a specific plan for his pre-race diet.

"Monday morning, I'm going to get up and have myself a peanut butter sandwich — heavy on the peanut butter," Lucas said, "and an apple."

The question Lucas has fielded most frequently over the past several months, of course, is what time he hopes to put up in his surge from Hopkinton to downtown Boston.

"The main goal is just enjoy it," Lucas said. "But then I'd like to be under three hours again. ... Ideally, I'd like to run a 2:55."

Lucas had to miss last Thursday's Fisher track meet and will be held from Tuesday's senior night racing as a result of his Boston participation.

Even so, he'd still like to be back at school by Tuesday afternoon to better prepare for a Wednesday calculus test.

At the heart of this adventure is the fact Lucas isn't a professional runner. He's still a kid — albeit a kid with big goals.

That ties into his final, Bunnies-themed message ahead of the biggest race of his life.

"A previous interview I did ... they asked me what I wanted to say (about Fisher)," Lucas said. "One of my friends was in the vehicle with me, and he goes, 'Tell them to fear the ears.' So, yeah, that's kind of what I'm thinking about is fear the ears."