What it Takes to Win: Verrelle Wyatt

words and photos by Claude Christensen

07/23/2018

(Note: This is part of a series of stories about the Akron Marathon. To view the first story, click here).

As summer winds down this August, competitors in the FirstEnergy Akron Marathon reach the peak of their conditioning and turn their thoughts toward race day on September 29.

And I wonder: Who will win this year? And what kind of person finishes first in a marathon? I went to find out.

Two hours, 24 minutes, 57 seconds. That’s how long it took Verrelle Wyatt to run the Akron Marathon. He won second place in 2017. That means he ran an average pace of 5:32 per mile. For 26.2 miles. I dream about running that fast.

Only 1:18 behind the winner of last year’s Akron Marathon, Blair Teal from North Carolina, Verrelle is itching for a win when he competes in the Akron Marathon this September.

I caught up with Verrelle in July on an easy day of his marathon training. Lean and bespectacled, Verrelle has the easy grace of someone well accustomed to long distances.

An Akron native, Verrelle grew up on the west side near Buchtel High, but he moved when his mom, Veronica Walker, uprooted the family to Copley.

“My brothers and I were getting into trouble. We all joined different gangs. My mother didn’t want any of that. So, we moved.”

At Copley, Verrelle had difficulty adjusting to his new school, the absence of his friends and the complete change in culture and skin tone that Copley represented. As an outsider, he often butted heads with his classmates and with the Copley cross-country team

“I bragged that I was faster than any of the other guys on the team,” says Verrelle. So, the summer after his freshman year, he trained to prove his brag. He ran a lot.

When cross-country season rolled around, Verrelle won the JV race at an invitational. Two days later, he finished second in the varsity race at another invitational. He kept on winning, and he enjoyed it.

Verrelle is 31 years old this year, edging into the end of his prime as a long-distance runner. After the 2018 Akron Marathon, he doesn’t plan on training for another marathon, at least not competitively.

This is why he’s putting it all in this year and taking a risk that could be the difference between gold or no medal whatsoever.

He’s going on a diet.

The keto (short for ketogenic) diet, to be exact. That means Verrelle has forsaken the runner’s preferred source of fuel, carbohydrates and sugars, for fat. “I can only eat 50 grams of carbohydrates a day,” he says.

That’s right. Only 50 grams of carbohydrates. That’s equivalent to about four slices of white bread. It’s also less than 300 calories.

By changing his diet, Verrelle is hoping he can successfully tackle an age-old problem facing distance runners: the wall.

Many runners, even experienced ones, can hit “the wall.”

Runners rely on a combination of glycogen, a carbohydrate stored in their muscles, and fat to fuel their exertion. And that store of glycogen can run out. For some, it often occurs about an hour and a half into a run, for others, around 20 miles.

After that, runner’s bodies’ will switch to burning just fat. Fat is a much more complex molecule than glycogen, and, as a result, a lot harder to burn.

This is why when runners deplete their glycogen stores, it’s like they’ve “hit a wall.”

It’s incredibly difficult not to slow down when this happens.

The fear of slowing down is why Verrelle is adapting his body to burning a higher ratio of fat while training. Hopefully, his new diet will help him achieve a faster overall time.

By forcing his body to adjust to burning fat, thus making the process more efficient, he might be able to jump the wall and speed through to the finish.

Maybe.

Verrelle’s positive about his chances. But he also doesn’t have the time to fret.

His younger brother, Virgil Walker, died in a car crash when Verrelle was an undergrad. As a result of that loss, he threw himself into his studies.

Running isn’t his only passion anymore. As a physical therapist, he gets a kick helping others recover, whether from injury or illness.

Still, running has come to define Verrelle’s life. “It’s the only way I can relieve stress,” he concedes. So, no matter what happens at the Akron Marathon this September, he’ll still be on his feet, running.

The Akron Marathon will be held on Saturday, September 29.

For more details, visit akronmarathon.org

 

Claude’s not ready to try a new fat-focused diet and run a marathon. He’ll definitely be slurping down running gel on race day.

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