Believe It Or Not: Ripley does it again, wins third straight men's Bayshore Marathon

May 25—TRAVERSE CITY — Zach Ripley made one rather significant change to his training regimen over the last year as he once again prepared for the Bayshore Marathon.

From the outside looking in, it would seem there shouldn't be much for the 35-year-old from Rockford to tinker with after he won the men's full marathon at the 2022 and 2023 Bayshores.

But this change had less to do with the physical part of distance running and much more to do with the mental aspect of the sport.

"I stopped wearing a watch," Ripley said. "I don't time anything anymore."

As it would turn out, Ripley wouldn't need the watch as he crossed the finish line at Traverse City Central High School in first place to claim his third consecutive Bayshore championship.

Although he wasn't concerned with his time, plenty of others were as Ripley received a wealth of congratulations and $1,000 in prize money after his historic win. Ripley finished the 26.2-mile race up and down Old Mission Peninsula in 2 hours, 19 minutes and 22 seconds.

"I just try to race and see how well I can do," Ripley said. "An event like this is just the right level of competition. You get a group of fast guys who go out together and just see who's got it that day."

For the third year in a row on a Saturday in late May, Ripley proved that he had it. And he didn't need a watch to do it.

"I'm just running," he said. "It's all about the efforts."

The level of those efforts changes day to day, Ripley said.

"Some days, it's super easy, just run as easy as possible. Other days, it's somewhere in the mid-range," Ripley said. "I'll run for what I feel is an hour, and I want it to be a little higher effort. Or I'll run and go fast or slow, back and forth every couple of minutes. How much effort do you need to give to get what you want out of your training?"

Ripley didn't put his watch on until getting back to his team tent on the grounds outside of the Trojans' track and field facility.

"They didn't have clocks on the course this year, so I didn't have a clue," he said. "I was just running."

Ripley said not having the watch helps his mentality when he's running.

"It takes away a distraction and a source of expectations," he said. "Times create expectations; so if you look at a watch, it's either what I want or what I don't want — for better or worse. No matter what, that creates some kind of reaction."

In sports psychology, Ripley said, that is known as "Mismatch Theory."

"When the thing doesn't match what I was hoping, it creates a false expectation. And I don't want that," Ripley said. "I just think to myself, 'How much energy do I have right now? How hard should I try to push it?' I try to gauge that so I know what I have in the later stages to pick it up and power through."

Ripley said several factors contributed to his decision to go watchless, namely being a running coach with his wife, Andi, at AtoZ Running.

"We've always been interested in runner intuition and what it takes to build that intuition so we're not reliant on external, objective factors," he said. "I don't need a watch to tell me my heart rate because I know how I feel. I don't need a watch to tell me my pace because I know I'm running hard enough."

That approach helped create a deeper bond and greater love for running.

"I love running, but I think it's a purer sense of the experience," Ripley said. "I'm not trying to achieve some measured thing. I'm just trying to go out and do it. It's liberating."

Ditching the watch also helped Ripley give himself and others grace on the days when things are just a bit off.

"You might have not gotten enough sleep or eaten something funky. You might be stressed from life or work or family. So if you go out for that run and you look at that watch and you're slower than you want, that's going to create a sense of disappointment," Ripley said. "But why should it? If you can just go run and know you did what you needed to do, I think it's a better experience."

The mindfulness that Ripley practices also helped him take in how special of an accomplishment it was to win three straight Bayshore Marathon titles.

"Every day that I can run and run healthy, that's a gift from God," he said. "I try to enjoy it, take full advantage, and take nothing for granted. It's blessings upon blessings, and to do it three years in a row ... I don't know exactly how to describe it other than it's a gift."

Luke Hickman finished second in 2:23:10 to earn $500. Hickman, the 31-year-old from Mentor, Ohio, had a per-mile pace of 5:28 compared to Ripley's pace of 5:19.

Saturday wasn't the first time that Ripley and Hickman ran side by side along the waters of Grand Traverse Bay. The two stayed pretty close throughout the first half of the 2022 race before Ripley pulled away for the win and Hickman finished in third behind runner-up Will Caldwell.

"We were taking it a bit easier this year," Hickman said of their pace. "I felt a lot stronger this year than I did a couple years ago. I still faded in that last mile, but I was feeling good today. That was a good effort for me and a pretty decent time. It's always fun to be here out on the bay."

Hickman, who has run more than 10 marathons but was running just his second Bayshore, got out to a healthy lead early on in Saturday's race. Ripley said Hickman was "way ahead."

"I remember looking up and thinking, 'He's getting pretty far ahead — maybe a little too far ahead,'" Ripley said. "But in a marathon, you've got to stay patient. You can't try to take too much in the early stages. It was exciting to chase him down."

Ripley said he finally caught Hickman around the 16-mile mark and held the lead from there. Hickman's second-place finish ties his best result in marathon racing. He also took second at the 2019 Indianapolis Marathon.

"He's a talented guy, and it's always fun to see him run well," Hickman said of Ripley. "He's friendly and nice to talk to. And he's a Michigan guy, so it's nice to see a Michigan guy win it."

Hickman isn't sure if he'll be back in 2025 for the Bayshore, but he said he "wouldn't be opposed" to returning for another run.

"I haven't thought that far ahead just yet," he said.

Ripley isn't sure either, but he said his family has already booked a place to stay in Traverse City during Memorial Day Weekend 2025.

"We'll be here," he said. "Probably going to run something. Just not sure what. We'll see."

In the men's half-marathon, Zac Truman took home the title and the first-place prize of $750. The 24-year-old from Birmingham finished the 13.1-mile course in 1:06:23.

Traverse City's own Luke Venhuizen won the men's 10K title, which came with a $500 prize. The 20-year-old and TC Central alum clocked in at 31:10.