Keith Pierce used to be a fixture on the marathon scene. Then he scaled back — way back.
His hiatus wasn't because of age, injury or mental burnout from hundreds of training miles. The year was 2011 and he was at his peak. But Pierce's wife, Stephanie, was expecting triplets.
"I had just run a personal record at the Austin Marathon in 2010 and was close enough to the Olympic trial standard that I decided to take a year off from teaching and coaching to train hard to hit that," said Pierce, now a teacher and assistant track and cross country coach at Ryan. "Then we found out we were having triplets. I was so excited to be a dad.
"I was also thinking, 'OK, well, this [training] is going to be short-lived.'"
The Pierce triplets — Keegan, Ashton and Presley — are now 6 and in kindergarten. And after five years of laying low, Keith, 36, has picked up where he left off on the big stage. He'll compete Monday at the Boston Marathon.
Monday marks Pierce's 17th marathon. It's only his fourth since the kids were born and third in just more than a year. He placed fourth at Fort Worth's Cowtown Marathon in February 2016 with a time of two hours, 33 minutes and 39 seconds. He then won the Dallas Marathon in December with a time of 2:29:27.
This is Pierce's second time to run the Boston Marathon. He finished 36th in 2006.
"I always wanted to run Boston again, but I just now felt like I was in good enough shape where I could do as well as I did in 2006 — if not better. It's all about celebrating the process with the other runners out there. It's going to be a fun, quick trip."
Qualifying for Boston isn't easy, and each year thousands of obsessed runners like Pierce miss out by mere seconds — even if they technically qualified. Runners for this year's race had to be at least 2:09 faster than the qualifying standard for their age group and gender.
For example, the time standard for men ages 35-39 is 3:10:00. The accepted time needed to secure a slot is 3:07:51.
Pierce qualified with his time from the 2016 Cowtown, then submitted his faster time from Dallas to improve his positioning in the race.
"The email went out [Thursday] to watch for him on Monday. He's on our district web page too," Ryan girls track coach and head cross country coach Jayme Kiraly said. "It's too good to be true having Keith here — he's training with our kids, he's training himself, he's keeping up with triplets and he's always got this great attitude about everything. It's infectious. He's Superman."
Who is this new guy?
Kiraly admitted she knew very little about Pierce when he was hired as her assistant for this school year. Pierce spent the first six years of his career at Krum before moving to the Austin area. Over the next several years, he taught at a handful of schools during what Pierce called a "tour of Texas."
He and Stephanie, who was pregnant with the triplets, moved to Lewisville to get closer to her parents. Keith taught at Coppell before being hired at Ryan.
"He and [boys track coach Janson Head] ended up meeting in a church group, and I remember Janson coming to me when I needed to hire an assistant and saying, 'Hey, I have a guy. I don't know a whole lot about him, but he's a good guy and he's a runner,'" Kiraly said.
Over time, word began to spread that Pierce wasn't just a weekend warrior. He had run in college at Rice, and after graduating in 2003 began stringing together a series of big marathon wins that included winning the Cowtown three times between 2007 and 2009. His third win set what was then a course record at 2:25:13.
"It's the hardest thing to get him to brag on himself," Kiraly said. "It's like he's just going out for a Sunday run — 'Hey, I'm going to go run Dallas today. No big deal.' Next thing I know my phone is blowing up with people saying that he won the Dallas Marathon. Everyone went nuts.
"He doesn't play any of it up, though. He's a great guy to get behind."
Going off course for the right reasons
Pierce ran the Austin Marathon in 2011. That race fell just after his kids were born, and it was the last marathon he ran before his five-year hiatus. People joke with him that they can't imagine what it's like to have triplets, but that's all he and Stephanie have ever known. They also got lucky, he said.
The children spent extra time in the hospital after they were born, which allowed nurses to get them on a solid routine before going home. Once at home, the newborns were sleeping through the night by the third month.
"The Lord was definitely looking out for us," Keith said.
The itch to get back on the marathon course was always there. Pierce competed in shorter races during the first five years of his kids' lives and got training runs in whenever he could squeeze them in without affecting the family.
"He had to train differently," Stephanie Pierce said. "He'd run real late at night or very early in the morning just to get them in. I know he's an elite runner. It's a passion of his. Now that the kids are older, it's fun seeing them get excited, too, and to be a part of it."
Stephanie said she and the kids watched Keith start the Dallas Marathon on television before going to catch the rest of the race in person. They made it just in time to watch him close in on the win, and they were by his side while he was interviewed on television.
"They kept saying his name over the loudspeaker and friends were texting me saying that they were watching," Stephanie said. "As he got closer, I had to pick the kids up because they couldn't see past the railing. They were so excited."
Despite all his success and the adulation from those around him who expect nothing less than another great race Monday, Keith Pierce is as humble as they come. He's confident about his chances, but then again, it is the Boston Marathon.
"Boston is different," Pierce said. "You go into something like Dallas, where I've come close to winning before, and you go to the starting line knowing you have a chance to win. When you go to Boston, you're confident. But it's a different kind of confidence.
"I'm a realistic guy. The goal is to run faster."
STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.
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