GOSHEN — As Justin Gillette fielded questions this week from a group of middle-schoolers during a Goshen College camp session for aspiring sports journalists, a theme developed in the queries, one that suggested maybe running isn’t really work.
“You guys are making me feel like I got to get a job or something,” the good-natured Gillette said with a smile.
Gillette, an elite marathoner, truly didn’t mind the inference. Rather, he may have been charmed.
After all, “I’ve always wanted to not work,” the Goshen resident said in response to why he pursued running in the first place. “I’ve always thought it would be fun not to have a job.”
Gillette, 31, sells himself short on at least a couple counts. One, he’s made a decent living at running so far from prize purses. Two, it’s not like he really detests work.
“I like being outside, like doing farm work,” said Gillette, who this week was helping his in-laws with such chores. “If I didn’t run, I’d probably be a farmer.”
As for the money, “One year, I made $61,000, but I was (also) watching the kids, so what’s child care worth?” Gillette pointed out. “If I can stay home and watch the kids and do running, it’s like more money. It’s not like basketball, or even a six-figure income, but I like it.”
Further, Gillette has invested in a number of properties and is hopeful about those results.
The stay-at-home-dad approach worked well for the Gillettes while wife Melissa was pursuing a doctorate, which she recently earned. Melissa, also an avid runner, is a cancer center director at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center.
The couple has two children, 4-year-old Miles and 1-year-old Jasmine.
“I’ve always enjoyed staying home with kids,” said Gillette, who has a teaching degree from Goshen College but seems to be a big kid at heart. “Kids are more fun than winning any race. Like yesterday, my 1-year-old, all she wanted to do was kiss me all day long. That’s way more fun than hearing people clap for me as I finish a race. She’d play with her toy, then come over and kiss Daddy some more. I’m like, OK, not sure why, but that’s fun stuff.”
Gillette says between changing diapers, competing on weekends and training — he’s averaging 110 miles per week lately — he’s plenty busy.
"It gets pretty tricky,” he said of incorporating child care and training. “When it’s summer and nice weather, you can put the kids in a jog stroller and go out. Days are longer, you can run in the evening. But when it’s winter, it’s cold and dark, you can’t take the kids outside, and it’s one day after another of being inside. It gets to be kind of a drag.”
Still, Gillette makes the best of it. For instance, pushing the jog stroller has helped with some of his muscle development.
And now that Melissa’s degree has been secured, Justin says there’s been a sense of “relief.”
“My wife’s working, I did my job, now I can just watch the kids and (theoretically) not have to push as hard,” Gillette said. “But, I still got goals I want to achieve. I’d like to race in every state. I still got 20 states to go there.”
Another goal for Gillette is to simply get back to the top of his game.
He says he’s been “lucky” overall when it comes to injuries, but around July 2013, he was hit by plantar fasciitis. That cost him about two months of training. He returned to competition in October in less than peak shape, then had a flare-up of the ailment in February, leading to multiple medical procedures.
“I’m healthy now,” Gillette said, “but I got to get in shape.”
He’s averaged about 2 hours, 42 minutes over his 12 marathon wins since last October, whereas the seven wins prior to that had yielded an average of about 2:34.
“I’ve been embarrassed by how I’ve run this year,” said Gillette, who went 2:47:52 and 2:44:43 in his two most recent wins, “but I know it’s the injury and the bad winter we had. I got to build back up, but I’ll get there. Long term, this last year may have been the best thing for my body ever. I was able to recharge, and if you’re away from something, it makes you want it more. I’m as excited getting out there as I’ve ever been. Now it’s just about getting a rhythm.”