Local-Elite Preview

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Matt Blume has a flair for the dramatic.

So regardless of how his well-rehearsed trashing of a 2:28:38 marathon PR goes at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, he already has notoriety that’s hard to beat.

“I actually hold the world record for the 5K dressed as a bear,” 32-year-old Blume says. “Last September, I was talked into running a 5K in a bear suit as part of a promotion for Karhu. I suffered through an 18:25, which broke the previous ‘world record’ by 22 seconds. It may not be the most prestigious world record on the books, but my parents are very proud!”

Blume of Chicago and a native of Logansport, Ind., is looking for an eye-opening breakthrough—minus the bear outfit—in his fourth 26.2-miler. Targeting his PR, set at Chicago in 2009, Blume wants to break 2:20 and has stepped up his prepping to do it.

“I ran Chicago in 2010 and 2011 as well, but both years the heat got to me and I did not run well,” Blume says. “Since that time, I have increased my training substantially and focused on other distances. My PRs have improved pretty dramatically. In June I lowered my half-marathon PR from 1:08:15 (run in November) to 1:06:31 at the USA Half Marathon Championships in Duluth, Minn. I also have run PRs at 5K, 4 miles, 8K, 10K, 15K and 10 miles so far this year.

“I feel that this improvement at the other distances indicated I should be capable of running under 2:20 for the marathon, provided that the weather cooperates, I’m healthy and I don’t screw something up or race like an idiot.”

Once a “very mediocre” high school runner (4:51 mile, 10:25 two-mile), Blume truly is a late bloomer.

Also looking to get below 2:20 is Brandon Mull, 27, of Rockford. He has experience at it because he’s already been there. His PR is 2:19:23, run last year at the Osaka, Japan Marathon.

“I’m really excited to be back at Chicago this fall and would love to crack 2:19,” Mull says. “My secondary goal would be the Olympic trials qualifier (below 2:18). I’ll also add that I have a hunch the weather is finally going to cooperate for this year’s race. We’re due for it.”

Among those joining Blume and Mull is first-time marathoner Dan Kremske, 24, of Woodstock. Kremske has burned up the local races he’s entered and will be exciting to watch.

“I ran a 1:04:08 half-marathon this summer (June) at the USA Half Marathon Championships,” Kremske says. “I’m hoping to run under the 2:18 mark at Chicago and at least qualify myself for the 2016 Olympic marathon trials.”

Other locals to watch in this sampler of top-tier Chicago-area runners include Eric Wallor, 30, of Palatine, who brings 2:26:48 PR to the table. His goal is “sub 2:24.”

Right with Wallor will be Jim Akita, 33, of Lombard, who coaches track and cross-country at Elmhurst College. He also finds time to train and will try to run Chicago in the “2:27-2:28 range.”

“Last year, I ran 2:31, but on awful training and going out (the first half) in 1:11, which was silly,” Akita says. He ran his PR of 2:24 at Chicago in 2006.

Breaking the 2:30 barrier is on Daniel Kittaka’s to-do list for 2013. Kittaka, 25, of Chicago, ran a PR 2:31:43 in 2010 at the Dallas White Rock Marathon and feels strong.

“I’d really like to run under 2:30,” Kittaka says. “I’ve dealt with inconsistent training due to injury since 2010 and am excited to finally be healthy and training well. I grew up competing for Northside College Prep in the Chicago Public League and would really like to set a PR in my hometown.”

Likely to be among the fastest Chicago-area women, Kristen Heckert, 26, of Lisle is training with a sub-2:45 in mind. That would erase her PR of 2:47:56 and get her closer to her real goal, which is to break 2:43 and qualify for the 2016 Olympic trials.

Columba Montes, 34, of Chicago, has a PR of 2:51 and ran 2:55 at Chicago in 2012, the same year she was named the Chicago Area Runners Association Female Runner of the Year. Montes, known for her effervescent smile, has won the Korean Fest 5K and PAWS 8K this year while placing in the top three in many top local races.

Julie Wankowski, 43, of Glen Ellyn, set her PR of 2:59:44 at Chicago in 2009. Since then, it’s been tough.

“After having to sit out this race the past three years due to injury, I am looking forward to returning to my favorite course and setting another huge PR,” Wankowski says. “I have been working with my current coach, Dave Walters, since last November and have made tremendous progress during that time.

“As a masters athlete, I want to set an example for all younger runners that you can continue to dream and set goals no matter what your age.”

This will be Wankowski’s 30th marathon. She won the Masters Division of the Illinois Marathon in May with a 3:02:49. A native of Valders, Wis., she is dedicating her Chicago run to her high school track coach, Charles Rutowski, who died in July.

Also from Glen Ellyn and also a top area masters runner, Sanya Syrstad, 48, is back after setting her “40-and-over PR” last year with a 3:01.

“My goal for this year is to run close to three hours again,” she says.

Besides Kremske, two local marathon newcomers to watch are Pamela Staton and Adam Palumbo.

“This will be my first marathon,” Staton, 26, of Chicago, says. “Although I am feeling fit, I don’t know what I am capable of running in the distance. My overall goal is to be patient from the start and get after it if feeling good. Most importantly I want to enjoy the experience!”

Staton has made her presence felt on the Chicago-area racing scene this year, winning the Chicago Women’s Half Marathon in 1:22:05 and placing second at the Community Bank of Elmhurst 4 on the 4th. She also ran a personal best of 1:00:56 at the Fleet Feet Soldier Field 10 Mile, placing fourth.

Palumbo, 31, of Chicago, is on a comeback.

“Training has been going great,” he says. “I took almost eight years off from running, so it has taken a while to get back into shape. Adjusting to long runs was tough at first, but has gradually gotten better. Having a consistent training cycle and group has helped me greatly.”

Once a top runner at York High School (he ran with Donald Sage) and the University of Illinois, the Bensenville native has rebounded well, including a 32:20 at the BTN Big 10K in July.

He’s aware of marathon rookie mistakes.

“Yeah, I for sure don’t want to go out too hard and pay the price,” he says.

That sounds like good advice.

Oct. 13 is coming. The locals will be ready.