We asked Deji Ogeyingbo to update his story on Zach Panning, the man who made the Orlando Trials really tough, so you could appreciate jus thow close athletes can come to their goals. We look forward to seeing Zach in his next race. 

For the record, Zach’s original story had over 75,000 reads from February 4-10, 2024.  

Zach Panning: From Fort Wayne to Orlando, the Marathon Journey continues 

In the marathon running, Zach Panning’s journey is an inspiring tale of determination, persistence, and unwavering passion for the sport. Although he predominantly focused more on the middle and long-distance track races in the early days of his career, Panning’s remarkable achievements in the marathon have now earned him the honor of representing the United States at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.

Here, we delve into the transformative path that has led this Fort Wayne marathoner to international recognition and the opportunity to compete against the world’s best in August.

 

 

The Road Less Traveled:

Panning’s foray into distance running began in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Early on, he exhibited raw talent and tenacity that set him apart from his peers. As he honed his craft at Fort Wayne Carroll High School and later at Grand Valley State University (GSVU), Panning’s passion for running became an integral part of his identity. Stepping into the collegiate running scene, he showcased exceptional performances and gradually etched his name into the annals of school and regional records.

Zach Penning, photo courtesy of Brooks communications

Panning’s path to the top has not been without its share of obstacles. Injuries and setbacks punctuated his collegiate career, testing his resilience and determination. However, these challenges only served to fuel his dedication to the sport, motivating him to push through adversity and come out stronger on the other side. His perseverance and unwavering belief in his abilities laid the groundwork for the defining moment that would shape his future in running.

Some of the propelling factors that have helped Panning came when, at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Panning claimed two individual titles in the 5,000m (14:10.58) and 10,000m (30:12.30), becoming the fifth athlete in Division II history to win both events during the same meet. At the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Panning earned his first individual title in the men’s 5,000m at 14:00.69.

Panning’s story so far is best encapsulated by GVSU distance coach Aaron Watson from 2017. “Distance running is something that takes time,”. “It’s not an overnight process, and that’s true across the board. You look at any program, at runners of any level; they’re going to be better, if done correctly, in their third, fourth, or fifth year than in their first couple of years.

“He’s done a good job of sticking to the plan and staying focused. It’s easy to get lost in the forest or not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of our first and second-year kids on the distance side.” But wisdom and skill come with experience and patience. Watson credits Panning’s dedication to the process and to training as a big reason for his steady rise in success.

A Dream Realized: Qualifying for the World Championships

At the Chicago marathon in 2022, Panning ran 2:09.28 to place 11th and thereby hit the qualifying standard for the world championships. The time saw him claim the title of the second-fastest American participant. His blistering time of 2:09.28 also catapulted him to become the 14th fastest American All-Time. What remained was if he was going to be selected for Budapest.

Panning’s sterling performance in Chicago earned him a place in the US contingent, ranking an impressive fourth on the descending order list of marathon performances. In doing so, he achieved an unparalleled milestone as the first-ever Grand Valley State male track and field athlete to grace the global stage representing the United States.

Zack Panning, USATF XC, photo by Brooks Communications

Panning’s qualification highlighted his ability to perform at the highest level when the stakes were at their highest. The opportunity to compete against the world’s elite marathoners from Ethiopia and Kenya and a host of others in Budapest was a realization of a lifelong dream for him, a moment that affirmed his continued perseverance to try new things and to keep pushing.

 

Embracing the Future: Preparing for Budapest

With his ticket booked for Budapest, Panning now stands on the cusp of an extraordinary journey. He will approach the world championships with a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and humility. In May, Panning showcased his versatility and unwavering commitment to excellence, setting a new Personal Best of 27:51.20 in the 10,000m in London.

Kevin and Keith Hanson, co-founders, Hanson Brooks ODP, photo by Brooks Communications

Now part of the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project, Panning is under the guidance of Kevin and Keith, who set up top-class training and Olympic development programs for post-collegiate runners. The likes of Brian Sell and Desiree Linden (who finished 7th at the Rio Olympics) have all excelled under the program. Panning will now join such illustrious names.

Top American marathon finisher at the World Championships

Having qualified for Budapest, Panning ran like a veteran and moved up through the field well. The Indiana native was 49th at 10K, 39th at the half, 25th at 30K, 16th at 40K, and then finished 13th. The weather was pretty humid in Budapest, with the sun out early in the morning, but the decision to run his own race paved the way for him.

Zack Panning, Gate River, photo by Brooks Communications
Zach Panning, Connor Mantz, Clayton Young, photo by Kevin Morris, 2024 US Olympic Trials

It felt a bit strange as if It was a tactic that infused his running style with that of Hanson and gave him a bit of edge, but it worked well for him as he emerged the top-placed American, finishing 12th in 2:11:21.

Heartbreak at the Olympic Marathon Trials in Orlando  

After Budapest, Panning’s goal was to qualify for the Olympics in Paris as one of the three runners representing the US in the summer. He ramped up his preparation in Florida, and the goal was to run 16 miles at a marathon pace and to average 4:47 per mile. There were also some tight turns while he practiced getting bottles down. It was keenly contested, regardless.

On race day, surged to the lead in the middle of the sixth mile, recording a 4:49 mile split.

Zach Panning, U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials, photo by Kevin Morris
Orlando, Florida
February 3, 2024

 

Panning, putting on a bright yellow cap and sunglasses, pushed himself further with each mile, the numbers on his watch ticking away relentlessly. His pace was relentless: 4:49, 4:48, 4:47, 4:51, 4:49, 4:48, and 4:52 at 13 miles. With each passing mile marker, his determination seemed to intensify, driving him toward his goal.

Panning hit the halfway point in 1:04:07, which put the Paris Olympics qualifying standard of 2:08:10 within his grasp. However, it was at the 20th-mile mark in which he ran 1:37:22, that his energy seemed to fade. Also, his missing bottle at 22.5 miles meant Panning went the last eight miles without the Maurten drink mix that he relies on for his fuel. Perhaps that added to the dwindling energy.

He ended up finishing the race in sixth in 2:10:50. Heartbroken, Panning traveled home to Michigan the day after the race and, even 48 hours after the finish, hadn’t had the opportunity to slow down enough to process everything but the outpouring of love and support was felt.

 

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