Brian Clas ’94 had never run a marathon; he had never even gone for a 26.2 mile run until he competed in the Philadelphia Marathon on Nov. 19th. And yet he certainly made quite an impression in his debut.
The former Cornell trackster ran the course in 2 hours 18 minutes and 3 seconds, shattering the record by exactly one minute. Clas took the lead between the seventh and eighth mile and never relinquished it.
But the Philadelphia Marathon trophy and the spoils that go with it are just one of the many of his fruitful racing career.
“Coming out of high school I was probably one of the top ten two-milers in the country,” he reflected.
Clas’s impressive feats on the track started with his days at Union-Endicott High School. As a senior, he was the New York state champion in the mile and two-mile. He was also invited to be part of the 32-person field at the Foot Locker Championships, a nationwide cross country race of the eight best high school runners of the four regions of the country.
Despite an injury-plagued career, Clas’s resume on the East Hill is equally, if not more, impressive. Four times nominated as an All-American, he owns the Heptagonal record in the 10,000 meters and was named the Athlete of the Outdoor Heps when he competed in the meet his senior year.
Women’s track head coach Lou Duesing was Clas’s coach when he was competing for the Red.
“Brian demonstrated those attributes that coaches always appreciate: determination, commitment, tenacity and willingness to do whatever it takes to be competitive,” Duesing explained. “What he did during his performances inspired the other [on the team].”
Unlike other Red athletes who hang up their equipment after graduation, Clas continued running avidly.
“I ran in a professional club called the Reebok Enclave in Washington D.C.,” he reflected. “It was as intense a group that you could get at the time. There were several [former] All-Americans.”
Clas had his sights set on goals bigger than Heps, namely to compete in Atlanta in ’96. He finished 5th at the Olympic trials, two places away from a bid to the games.
“After the trials I had a motivational letdown and I got into an accident where I fractured my spleen,” he recalled.
Although running remained an integral part of his life, Clas did not ascribe as much attention to his sport as he did earlier. He moved to New York where he worked at an AIDS research facility and rode the subway for one and a half hours to an indoor track.
An opportunity to refocus on running arose when Clas accepted a research job in molecular biology and genetics back on campus.
“When you get out of a university environment its hard to find facilities,” he explained. “Having [Duesing] and [an indoor track] and having so many places to run in Ithaca makes one really enjoy running.”
Duesing was also delighted that his former athlete decided to return. With their old relationship reaffirmed, the two set their sights on the 10,000 m at the Sydney Games. Unfortunately, Clas suffered a hamstring injury just prior to the trials.
Rather than contemplate his misfortune, Clas turned to marathon running.
“It is sort of a natural progression [to marathon running]. As you generally get older and lose muscle you think of running longer distances,” he said.
After nursing himself back to heath, Clas began training for marathons. He entered the Philadelphia race as a novice, but a novice with a definite vision of winning. The timing and the setting of the Philadelphia seemed just right.
His goal was to finish the race in 2:20; one minute greater than the course record. That means that Clas would have to run 5:20 minute miles in order to accomplish his time. For mortals, that number seems ludicrously fast. Clas had the opposite problem.
“I had to hold back to 5:20. I wanted to make sure that I stayed within that pace or even slower to make sure that I’d finish,” he said.
“The only error in my race was after the 13th mile. I ran miles 13 through 15 close to a 5:00 pace.”
Clas’s actually averaged about 5:13 a mile which was just enough to give the Cornellian a 5:27 lead over his closest competitor, Andrey Shalagan.
Clas intends to enter into other races such as the Boston Marathon in April, but first he must finish recuperating from this last endeavor.
No matter what, Duesing does not see Clas hanging up anytime soon.
“The marathon exemplifies Brian, and his unwillingness to give up,” Duesing emoted “He’s been tested with a lot of frustrations but he endures.”
Clas, however, does not see himself struggling in one long race. Rather he believes that, “Life sometimes just takes you in directions, and you follow up on them.”
Archived article by Amanda Angel