One of the Goshen resident’s long-term goals is to be No. 1 in the world.
No. 1 is Engle. And with 173 victories, the North Bend, Ore., man has well over twice as many as Gillette.
The 43-year-old Engle, though, also has 12 years on the 31-year-old Gillette.
“I think I’ll catch him,” Gillette said this week. “There’s not a doubt in mind. He’s a hundred in front of me, but if you divide a hundred by 12, you get what, eight? I’ve had a rough year so far this year, and I’ve already won seven.”
MARATHON WIN TOTALS
All-Time Men’s U.S. Leaders
173: Chuck Engle (age 43)
77: Justin Gillette (31)
41: Michael Wardian (40)
41: Robert Preston (45)
40: Doug Kurtis (62)
40: Steve Holehan (48)
37: Gary Krugger (29)
All-Time Men’s Int’l Leaders
173: Chuck Engle (U.S. age 43)
165: Helge Hafsas (Nor, 48)
159: Jobst vonPalombini (Ger, 44)
123: Miroslav Krisko (Svk, 56)
79: Ole Sporleder (Ger, 45)
77: Justin Gillette (U.S., 31)
66: Frantisek Michalicka (Svk, 49)
Source: Association of Road Racing Statisticians
Gillette’s quick to acknowledge, though, that there are variables outside his control that could implode his plans, including health, other emerging runners and exactly how long Engle can go on.
“Chuck Engle is just a freak of nature,” Gillette said of the man who resembles a bodybuilder more than a distance runner. “I don’t know how he does what he does, but I just have to be happy with what I can do.”
Gillette, a Goshen College graduate who grew up in Missouri, won his first ARRS-recognized marathon in 2001 when he was 18. He didn’t add his second until four years later, but then he started making a habit of it in 2006, when he won five more.
Blessed with rapid recovery ability that he’s further developed with dedicated training, Gillette has captured 54 victories over the last 46 months. In November 2011, he won marathons on back-to-back days, a feat he’d like to try again sometime.
Engle, meanwhile, didn’t win his first ARRS-recognized marathon until he was 29.
However, he’s won 155 over the last nine years, including an outrageous 40 in 2011 (Gillette’s best calendar year is 19 in 2012).
Overall, though, Engle may be slowing. His fastest time in any of his last nine victories is 2 hours, 46 minutes, 17 seconds. Gillette’s been faster than that in 10 of his last 11 wins.
The two have not competed in the same marathon since 2008, according to Gillette.
“He won’t race against me,” Gillette claimed. “We were in Alabama in January at the starting line and he went back to the hotel.”
A year ago, Gillette suggested that maybe Engle “hates me,” but this week Gillette said “hate might’ve been too strong of a word. I guess if somebody can do something better than you, sometimes you may not like them. I can consistently run week in and week out faster than his best times now.”
For both men, the bottom line if they strictly wanted to add to their win totals is that they would need to assess the rest of the potential fields in the events they enter.
“I could choose them that way, but what’s the point?” said Gillette, who’s competed in about 150 marathons, including Boston three times. “That would be like beating your grandma at checkers over and over. You have a chance to make more money running a bigger race. And I take more pride in running a better time than I do running a sub time and winning a small race.”
Gillette’s career-best time of 2 hours, 25 minutes, came during a second-place finish. He estimates he’s finished second “dozens” of times.
While Gillette would like to pass Engle, he also insists it’s “not very important.”
“If I were to prioritize,” Gillette said, “it’s always been that I needed to run hard enough and frequent enough to make enough money at it so my wife could get out of college and move on with her life. To get a Ph.D (which wife Melissa recently earned) is kind of tough, so for the past four years, I stayed home with the kids (Miles, 4, and Jasmine, 1) and just trained as hard as I could train.”
With that degree behind Melissa, who is a counselor at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, Justin’s training flexibility may increase.
His win totals are almost certain to keep increasing, and regardless of whether they’re ever enough to catch Engle, there’s one particular total that Gillette finds appealing.
“A marathon is 26.2 miles, so I was thinking, 262 wins would be pretty cool,” Gillette said. “If I don’t make it, fine, but if I can have 10 years of about 15 wins a year, that puts me right there.”