I’ve worked really hard for all my times and I want to keep working to make myself a better runner. I have a goal to finish in the top 3-5% of every race that I run.”

There’s power in numbers. For Chicago runner Mike Morua, that power comes from the support within his running group, as well as the analytics that allow him to assess past performances and strategize his next race. In fact, numbers weave throughout Morua’s story—his journey from heavy high school kid to sub-three-hour marathoner.

“I was always on the heavier side growing up, which lead to many years of playing football on the offensive line. My junior year in high school I was the heaviest I’ve ever been at 230 pounds, and I wasn’t enjoying the sport anymore, so I quit,” says Morua. “I took up running to help lose weight, but never really considered myself to be a ‘runner.’”

Now 30 years old, Morua’s interest in running increased as he worked on going longer and faster. He registered for his first race in 2015 (Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle) and was immediately hooked on the sport and the race environment. “Athlinks shows I ran nine races that year, including my first marathon. I followed that up with 15 races in 2016, and 14 this year, plus two Ragnar Relays. I came on late to being a runner, but I am now fully embracing the lifestyle and culture of the sport. I’ve always been highly competitive, so running has filled that role,” he says.

Photographed by Micaela Bernal.

“The best thing about running,” continues Morua, “is you’re not only competing against others, you’re competing against yourself. I want to run my best every race and leave it all out on the course. I’ve worked really hard for all my times and I want to keep working to make myself a better runner. I have a goal to finish in the top 3-5% of every race that I run.”

With that goal front of mind, Morua does the work and also dives deep into the data that shows his progress. “With Athlinks, I can go back and compare myself to other runners and see how far off I am from taking the next step. I’ll check the runners who finished before me and see what paces they finished with and what their pace was at each checkpoint. I can view what their pacing strategy was and see how far off I am from them. It helps motivate me to get to that next level,” he says.

Morua’s careful analysis has indeed helped him make significant steps up this season. One mark of progress was a PR of 1:25:25 at the September Chicago Half Marathon. Prior to that, he ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon in July. “I hit the wall towards the end, but managed to finish with a huge PR, going from 1:28:28 to 1:25:51,” says Morua. “I was not expecting that type of jump again with this half marathon, but I knew I could get a better time since I’ve been working hard since July. Unfortunately, the weather made this race a bit tough with the race starting in the mid to high 70s, and clear, sunny skies. Despite the conditions, I was able to finish the race strong, 26 seconds faster than my July time and third in my age group. This was my first age group top three finish for a half marathon, so this race will always be special to me.”

A review of his detailed results gave Morua insight into his race—and confidence in a job well done. “Besides being able to see my official time and pace on Athlinks, I can also review my ranking and timing mat splits,” he explains. “For this race I started out strong, but my pace began to drop at the 10-mile mark. But I was able to maintain my pace until the end and finish strong. At the 5-mile mark, I was 55th overall, at 10 miles I was 43rd, and I finished 39th. It’s cool to see how I was doing during the race compared to the other runners, and know I was able to maintain my pace as other runners were slowing down.”

Photographed by Micaela Bernal.

Another important aspect of his half marathon PR race? Morua helped his running crew, Three Run Two, score second place in the team competition. In fact, the three teams they entered all finished in the top ten, a sweet reward for a group that is focused on supporting runners of all backgrounds and skill levels, with an emphasis on the fun and social aspects of sport.

“I can’t stress enough how much running with Three Run Two has changed my life,” Morua says. “I never would have thought I’d be running multiple marathons or have qualifying for the Boston Marathon as one of my goals until I met this crew. They’ve pushed me and motivated me to goals I didn’t think were possible. And it’s always inspiring to see their cheer squad out on the course, cheering on not only runners from the crew, but all runners. They’re doing great things for the running community in Chicago and I’m happy to be a part of the group. I consider them family.”

The Three Run Two crew was certainly there for Morua in a big way when he earned his next major PR, cracking the elusive three-hour barrier at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 8th. “My wife helped organize the crew’s cheer squad at mile 18, and my parents were there also, so I knew to expect something special. It was a huge boost. I can’t thank my wife enough for her support during the race and all through the long summer of training,” says Morua. On race day, despite nerves and an emergency bathroom break that caused him to fall off his planned pace—and therefore risk blowing up as he pushed ahead far too fast, trying to cut back the deficit—Morua succeeded. He nailed a negative split, a finish time of 2:59:21, and the holy grail of marathon accolades: his first BQ (Boston Qualification).

Photographed by Micaela Bernal.

It’s nearly time for a winter break for Morua. But he’ll continue to connect with his running crew, as well as dig into the numbers that inform his journey through the sport. “It’s great to be able to visit one site that lists all my racing history. I can easily look up times and paces on Athlinks to help set new goals for myself,” says Morua. “It’s much more convenient than having to go to each individual result page for the races I’ve run, and other running tracking sites are not easy to navigate back to your race results. With Athlinks, all the information is right there as soon as I pull up the site. I also like how it gives a small summary of how the weather was on race day, since that plays a factor in races.”

Some of the weather conditions he’s sure to find interesting include New York, London, Berlin, and Tokyo, as Morua is intent on eventually running all the World Marathon Majors. And of course, there’s Boston, Morua’s number one focus for 2019, the year he’ll proudly step up to the line—informed, encouraged, and ready to run another personal best.

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