Joe Viavattine was nothing special as a 5K runner in high school, but is developing into a standout in a race eight times longer, the marathon.
The 22-year-old Vadnais Heights made his presence felt at the New York Marathon on Nov. 5.
Running a personal-best time of 2:36:37, he placed 89th overall, 74th among men, 30th among American men, third in his age/gender group — and first among Minnesota residents.
“The synergy with the crowds, volunteers, and other runners throughout all four boroughs was incredible and certainly helped,” stated Viavattine about his strong run in the world’s largest marathon, with 50,000 runners on those streets.
“I also came into the race with my best fitness level yet, the experience to pace for a slight fade in the second half, and more resolve to suffer in the last 10K.”
The 5-foot-10, 138-pound athlete has run Grandma's in Duluth three times, Boston twice, the Twin Cities twice, and the Dick Beardsley once.
Viavattine, who was accompanied to New York by his father, also named Joe, said he was excited to participate in a race of such a colossal scale with such noteworthy results. Shane Flanagan of Colorado became the first American woman to win it since 1977, while legendary Meb Keflezighi, an American born in East Africa, won his 26th and final marathon.
The 2013 graduate of White Bear Lake never got higher than JV’s in the school’s strong cross country program. Bear coach Dan Kovacich is impressed but not overly surprised at what the youngster has done in marathons.
“Joey is a late bloomer and just starting to hit his stride,” Kovacich observed. “Marathon is the perfect event for him, because he is patient and can run pace forever.”
Viavattine, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, is a mechanical engineering researcher, specializing in robotics and control system design. He lives in Minneapolis.
He qualified for the NYM by beating the 2:53 standard for men 18-34 in the Twin Cities Marathon in 2016. His last three times before the NYM were 2:51:41 at the TCM, 2:47:28 at Boston, and 2:43:45 at Grandma’s.
About being the fastest Minnesotan there, he pointed out: “There are many other Minnesotans that run faster at the Twin Cities and Grandma's marathons every year.”
Security was paramount in the city, especially in the light of recent terrorism in the U.S. The New York Times reported the presence of drones, helicopters, dump trucks filled with sand at larger intersections, military vehicles and personal, and NYPD officers dressed in normal clothes.
“The NYPD was very thorough and polite at the starting area on Staten Island, where marathoners passed through bag check and metal detectors,” Viavattine noted. “The event felt safe, with officers, who were also frequently cheering, located at almost every intersection throughout the course.”
Prepping for the NYM, Viavatine said, he consistently trekked 40 to 60 miles per week, performed strength and core workouts before each run, began following a Vegan diet after reading Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run, increased his cadence to 175 steps/minute, worked to achieve a better racing weight, and occasionally biked 40 to 80 miles along the Gateway and Sunrise Prairie trails.
Running has grown from a hobby to an integral part his my daily life.
Viavattine focuses on marathons, relishing “the unique physical and mental challenges in the second half of the race, after enjoying the fun and ease of the first half.” He prefers “extended periods of focused, strategic build-up” to racing shorter events every few weekends.
And he hopes his story will “help others discover an interest in running, road racing, and living healthier.”