Jonathan Keller is one of those runners for whom the longer the race is, the better he does.
The 24-year-old Circle Pines native has finished in the top one percent in his first two marathons, after a solid cross country career at Centennial High School and the University of Miami.
“I do think my body is built to handle longer distances better than most, but (that) has little to do with my times,” Keller assessed. “Rather, it's due to the fact that I've never had any serious injury that pulls me out of practice or competition.”
All that foot-pounding, and forcing muscles to work for long periods, are hard on most distance runners’ bodies, Keller said, but somehow he’s always evaded injury, even at Miami, where teammates and trainers always noticed at his indestructibility.
The 6-foot, 150-pound harrier placed 52nd of 7,144 entrants at the Twin Cities Marathon last October with a time of two hours, 42 minutes, 49 seconds in his first 40K race.
For his second attempt, Keller entered the London Marathon, one of the world’s six “majors,” and placed 87th of 42,906 runners in London in 2:30:07, on April 29.
“I was very happy with the results of both marathons,” Keller said.
With the Cougars, Keller ran in two state meets, placing 48th as a junior and 62nd as a senior. He was also in track and did well but was not a state qualifier.
Keller went to Miami on an academic scholarship and continued in both sports. He was attracted by their audio engineering program, in which he compiled a 4.0 GPA over four years.
With the Hurricane cross country team, Keller had several top-10 finishes in invitationals, while his top Atlantic Coast Conference finish was 97th, and his top NCAA South Regional finish was 104th.
Keller pointed out that in state meets, and D-1 college meets, you compete against “only the top one or two percent” of runners, in contrast to marathons, which are “a grab bag” of serious runners alongside people happy just to finish the race.
In high school, Keller’s other passion was music, as a percussionist in the band and the drum line, and piano player. “I had a hard time deciding between music and engineering for a major,” Keller said. But he wound up combining the two, in effect. His first “non-intern job” is engineering for a start-up called Zivix, based in Golden Valley, which makes “smart” guitars.
Keller ran in London because he and his mother, Kathy, were visiting his sister Jennifer, who is married to a London resident and pursuing a music career there. They also toured Rome on the trip. (Aside: Jennifer’s stage name is Astraea, and her videos can be seen on her Astraea Facebook site.)
The London race, which his brother Matthew also ran, in 2007, has seven times as many runners as his first race, the TCM. (The New York Marathon has the most runners, 52,000 last year). The crowds were also massive as the runners traversed the major London streets, crossed the Thames River at Tower Bridge, and passed Buckingham Palace on the final corner.
“It was insane, the number of people on the starting line. A never ending river of people,” Keller said. “Even though I finished 87th, I was wading through people all the way.”
His four years in Miami, he said, were unforgettable, never mind that cross country got little attention outside of the college web site (hurricanesports.com). “Nobody is going to Miami to watch cross country meets,” he quipped. Football, basketball and baseball are huge there. He went to most of the football games.
“Miami was a different world,” said the otherwise-lifelong Minnesotan. “It was hot year-round, for one thing. Instead of pine trees, we had palm trees. The foliage was a darker shade of green, the sky was a darker shade of blue. Instead of lakes, we had the ocean. And the people came from all over the world.”
Keller will forego the TCM this year and make the Chicago Marathon his third one, in October, where he’s set a goal of getting under 2:19.