Heather Knight Pech averaged a 6:40 per mile pace at the Trials of Miles half marathon. Is a sub-3:00 marathon next?
She sleeps nine hours a night, works with a nutritionist, sees her physical therapist once a week, and is religious about her mobility and strength work. A long car ride? She’ll sit with a lacrosse ball under a hamstring. While waiting for service at the Whole Foods fish counter, she’s stretching her hip flexors.
“People look at me like I’m nuts,” she said.
Of course, those are the little things. The big things are the 80 to 85 miles per week she runs during marathon training, with grueling workouts midweek—for example, 15 x 1K repeats. Weekends are for tough, long efforts. During the peak of marathon training, a long run might be 10–13 miles at a steady pace (she calls it a “warmup”) before finishing the last 6–8 miles at marathon pace, on tired legs.
And it’s working—Knight Pech, 58, won her 55–59 age group at the Boston Marathon three years in a row, in 2017 (3:10:30), 2018 (3:10:15), and 2019 (3:11:31). A year ago, she ran her PR, 3:00:44, at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. The conditions were not ideal, and left her believing that on a better day, she could break the three-hour barrier—not that she was disappointed about her performance.
“I couldn’t be happier to have an over 10-minute PR on a 25-degree day, with 20- to 30-mile-per-hour winds,” she said. “I rode the edge.”
She met her coach, James McKirdy, at the finish line, and jumped into his arms—and then vomited all over him.
A family of athletes
Knight Pech grew up in a family of elite athletes. Her brother, Chip Knight, made three U.S. Olympic teams in downhill skiing, and two others siblings made U.S. national teams in skiing. A first cousin, Hilary Knight, is one of the best women’s ice hockey players in history.
But in her teen years, Knight Pech rebelled against the family devotion to athletics. “I sort of went the other way,” she said, “set myself up to fail, quit, whatever, because I couldn’t see my way to being my brother or sister, who were just larger than life.”
She began running in 2003, after her father died suddenly, while running, of a heart attack at age 60. “I was trying desperately to find him,” she said.
In 2009, at age 47, she ran her first marathon (New York) in 3:58—and she quickly improved from there. In 2011, she ran Boston in 3:26. By 2012, she decided to leave her work in fashion, where she had a 28-year career, and dedicate herself to her family (she has three daughters who are now in their 20s) and see how much she could improve her running.