Lawrence runner races to a top-10 finish in his age group at New York City Marathon

photo by: Isabelle Pro

Lawrence resident Stephan Pro runs during the New York City Marathon. Pro finished with the eighth-best time in his age group and the 120th-best time out of nearly 48,000 runners overall.

Lawrence resident Stephan Pro is remarkably humble when speaking about his finish in this year’s New York City Marathon.

But it’s hard to overlook just how impressive his placement was — 120th out of nearly 48,000 total participants, and eighth in the 40- to 44-year-old age group. Pro ran the race in two hours and 41 minutes on Nov. 6.

“I certainly ran well; I was hoping to run a little faster,” Pro told the Journal-World. “It was hot. I don’t know how much you’ve looked into it, but it was the second-hottest New York City Marathon on record, and the only hotter one was when they used to have it in September.”

Pro called it a respectable performance, but was quick to note that there were countless other runners fighting their own battles to finish the race, and they’re all just as deserving of praise and recognition.

Pro, now an orthopedic surgeon with LMH Health and a member of the University of Kansas athletic department’s physicians team, got into running in high school. He said he was fortunate enough to encounter plenty of valued mentors and coaches who helped instill in him a love for running. They also emphasized that running is a sport that can be a lifelong pursuit, he said, provided you can maintain your health.

“It’s something that is deeply ingrained now in who I am and what I do, and it’s something that I gain a lot of enjoyment out of, running on a daily basis,” Pro said. “And even more so, the process of training for a race, almost as much as the race itself.”

Training for the New York City Marathon has been a bit of a change of pace for Pro. It was Pro’s first marathon since the 2007 Portland Marathon; he joked with friends and colleagues that he was “coming out of retirement” to run in New York. Coincidentally, Pro said, he ran roughly the same time 15 years ago in Portland, finishing in 2:40:16. That earned him 15th place overall and, according to archived results from that race, would have been a good enough time to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Pro said it was only in the last few years that he rekindled his desire to compete in road races. That’s largely due to what was happening in Pro’s life in the past 15 years. He ran for fitness during that time, but running was placed on the back burner throughout his medical training — from medical school to his years of medical residency and later establishing a practice — and in the early years of starting a family.

Pro credited a local running group — an offshoot of Lawrence’s free Red Dog’s Dog Days fitness program — with getting him back into it. The group runs together four times a week. Pro and the group competed in the Hood to Coast Relay in Oregon, a relay race that runs from the top of Mount Hood to the beach of the Pacific Ocean.

From there, some of the group started talking about running a marathon again, so Pro started preparing. That included running in two half marathons in the past year — the 2021 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon last October and Kansas City’s Hospital Hill Run earlier this year in June. Pro placed third overall in both races, and his time qualified him for the New York City Marathon.

“New York had always been a bucket list thing,” said Pro, who turns 45 this week. “I always wanted to do some of the world’s major marathons and with the realization that I’m not getting any younger, I thought I’d best start doing these before the wheels fall off, so to speak.”

And yet again, Pro’s 2022 marathon time was good enough to qualify for Boston. Registration for the 2023 race is already closed, so he said he’ll be aiming to run in that race in 2024 as long as he can stay healthy. In 2023, that’ll likely mean entering a half marathon and a full marathon. Pro said he’s debating between running in the Chicago Marathon and doing New York City’s again, but hasn’t committed either way quite yet.

photo by: Isabelle Pro

Stephan Pro shows off his medal after completing the New York City Marathon, his first marathon in 15 years.

As for running in New York, Pro described it as an “unbelievable” experience. It was the biggest race he’d ever been involved in, and it ranks among the largest in the world in terms of number of participants. He said another enjoyable part of the experience was seeing how much the city embraces the marathon; there was tremendous support along every single mile of the run, and the race winds through all five of New York City’s boroughs.

It wasn’t Pro’s first time in New York, since he ran there while competing for Wake Forest University, but he said it was his first time exploring the city.

“It’s a great way to do it, by foot,” Pro said. “You get a great feel for all the neighborhoods, and honestly, the ability to run across the (Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge) that goes from Staten Island into Brooklyn, that’s a beautiful view when you’re crossing that 2-mile bridge.”

Pro wasn’t the only runner with a Lawrence connection to compete in New York. Former University of Kansas distance runner Sharon Lokedi finished first in the women’s division in her marathon debut, which Pro called out as an “awesome” feat.

An added bonus was that Pro was able to bring his family, including his two daughters, along to New York. During the race, an old friend who has run the course before helped shepherd the family around to three or four spots along the race route via the subway. Pro’s oldest daughter, a junior at Free State High School, spent the whole time taking photos of the event.

“It was unique, it was fun,” Pro said. “I was able to give my daughter a high five at mile eight; we found my family and gave them a high five. They saw me a couple other times at mile 18 and mile 22 or 23. That kept me going.”

Pro credited KU long-distance coach Michael Whittlesey with providing him with some workouts, which in turn brought some structure and guidance as he trained. Pro said he was also privileged enough to train with some high-quality marathon runners — James Wilson and Evan Landes, who have previously qualified for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials. Zack Sanchez, who works with LMH Health’s RunStrong injury prevention program and ran the New York City Marathon with Pro, was another valuable training partner.

“I wanted to try to train hard but not let it affect family or work, but at the same time I felt like it was a good example not only for my daughters as far as a commitment to the process but also for my patients,” Pro said. “It’s amazing how supportive the patients that knew I was training for it were … I think it’s a good example, not only at home but hopefully at work, as well. I certainly take a lot of pride in what I do at the office and also with KU Athletics, so it was nice to be able to maintain both.”

COMMENTS

Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.