When Jeffrey Eggleston ran at the University of Virginia, no one could have studied his stride, researched his times and predicted professional road-racing success. For one, he didn’t compete much. One indoor track season. One outdoor track season. Two seasons of cross country.
“I was sixth man in cross country,” says Eggleston. “On a good day I could score some points for our team.”
Today, he’s 30 years old and of the 138 individuals who have qualified for 2016 U.S. Olympic Men’s Marathon Team Trials, Eggleston boasts the third fastest time: a 2:10:52 last year in Australia.
Like the tortoise chasing the hare, Eggleston’s progress has been slow and steady.
“It’s not always natural talent,” says Eggleston, born in New York, now living in Boulder, Colo. “Sometimes you’ve got to learn to direct your focus and ability the right way, then you can become successful.”
In preparation for the World Championships marathon on Aug. 22 in Beijing, Eggleston will be running in Sunday’s Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon. He won the race in 2013, then went on to place 13th in the marathon at the World Championships in Moscow.
Eggleston began contemplating running professionally in 2006 when he studied abroad in Switzerland and met Swiss pro Viktor Rothin. Rothin placed sixth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the marathon (the first non-African) and 11th at the 2012 London Games.
“I was really impressed with his demeanor and how professional he was,” Eggleston says. “I watched him run and thought, ‘Wow, he’s really good at what he does.’ It can be inspiring to brush against somebody like that.”
Raised outside of Rochester, N.Y., Eggleston worked for a Rochester running store after graduating from Virginia in 2007 where he majored in English. He trained hard that summer and ran in the USA 20K national championships in September. He finished 10th in 1:02:54, pocketing, by his recollection, $200.
“I beat some pros and thought, ‘Hey, there’s some potential here,’ ” he says.
Before entry fees and a hotel room were covered by race directors, Eggleston often rang up friends he knew at races and slummed on their couch.
“It wasn’t like I was extremely struggling (financially),” he says. “It wasn’t like I was running to eat or running to pay rent. But you do learn to live frugally. It makes you want to perform.”
When living in Flagstaff, Ariz., for four years he worked at a library to help pay the bills.
A breakthrough performance came when he finished second in the 2010 USA Marathon Championships at the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis, Minn. His financial haul: $15,000.
“It paid off my student loans,” says Eggleston.
He has run at the World Championships twice, in 2011 (39th in 2:23:33) and the 13th-place finish two years ago in Moscow (2:14:23). He placed 8th at Boston in 2014 (2:11:57).
With steady improvement has come financial support. He has been sponsored since last year by adidas.
Interestingly, Eggleston does not train with an organized program nor does he have a coach.
“I enjoy being self-reliant,” he says. “A lot of races, the most decisive point comes when you’re either in the lead or you’ve fallen off the group and you’re by yourself. Being alone, that’s part of racing.”
As for Sunday’s race in Chicago, Eggleston isn’t tapering for the half marathon. His bigger focus is the World Championships in August.
“My biggest opponent right now is marathon training,” he says. “If I win, great. If I finish second or third, that’s no problem. I’m achieving my objective of competing, shaking off some rust.”
Eggleston and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series make for a good match. He debuted at the marathon distance in 2010 at Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona, running 2:14:32. Last year, wins at Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathons in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Virginia Beach helped him win the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon Grand Prix.
“People ask me, ‘Why are you doing so many of these Rock ‘n’ Roll races?” he says. “I really like the organization. They’ve given me such a great opportunity. It’s kind of nice that I’ve grown in parallel with them.
“They really care about growing the sport. But they also care about the professional side. They’re giving athletes who are developing an opportunity. If I can show up, run my best and tune up for the World Championships, that would be a thank you to them.”