During his senior year at St. Andrew’s, Will Rehrig ’11 set a personal best in the cross-country 5k at the Joe O’Neill Invitational, finishing 86th overall. He did not make the school’s varsity team for that year’s county or state meets, and instead ran with the JV team in both races. He did not run competitively as an undergrad in college. During the summer of his junior year, he worked a desk job and felt generally dissatisfied. One day, he went home and channeled that dissatisfaction into a hard workout, biking first, then running, then biking again.
Since that day, the things Mr. Rehrig has accomplished are nothing short of extraordinary. This past Sunday, in the frigid cold with wind gusts up to 30 MPH, he placed 16th in the AARC Philadelphia Marathon with a personal best time of 2:25:33 (5:33/mile).
For context, 10 of the 15 runners that finished ahead of Rehrig are ranked in the World Athletics Marathon rankings. Three others are internationally ranked in other running events. Not a single runner that finished ahead of him in last year’s race beat him this year. The majority of competitors in the field are professionals—meanwhile, Mr. Rehrig is an amateur who spends his days teaching science and overseeing St. Andrew’s residential life program. He returned to work at the school in 2017 after a civilian stint as a nuclear engineer at the Norfolk Naval shipyard in Virginia.
Now, more than a decade after his SAS cross-country career as a student, Mr. Rehrig’s sights are set on qualifying for the 2024 Olympic team trials in the marathon event.
“I never saw this coming,” said Rehrig after completing the marathon. “It’s been a constant evolution of like, wait a second, I did something I thought I could never do. There have been so many peaks where I thought that was the best it could get, and I was really proud of those moments. After I reached each goal it was like, let’s start training a little harder and see what happens.”
The hard training—the really hard training—started last year when Rehrig realized he could seriously compete in marathon races. His second-ever marathon was in Boston in 2019 when he finished with a 2:47:29 time at 6:24 mile pace. In just three years, Mr. Rehrig shaved nearly a minute per mile off his marathon pace.
“It’s been very much about enjoying running and the opportunity to push myself and see what I’m capable of,” he says.
Pushing himself meant two-a-day workouts for months, starting with a 13-17 mile run before breakfast. After a full day of teaching came cross-country practice, where Mr. Rehrig ran with the student-athletes before sneaking in a strength workout in the gym. Finally, he’d close out the day by tearing into a Dining Hall plate towering with healthy greens. That’s what happens when you run over 100 miles a week for eight straight weeks.
Current SAS boys cross-country Head Coach Dan O’Connell coached Rehrig as a student. Today, they are colleagues in the school’s Science Department, and O’Connell has had the pleasure of witnessing the full arc of Rehrig’s running career, from that senior-year Joe O’Neill Invitational race to the Philadelphia Marathon this past Sunday. Rehrig recalls O’Connell asking him, over lunch a few years back, the secret to his sudden drop in race times and where the runner inside Rehrig had been hiding in high school.
“I told him that [when I was a student], I wasn’t ready to do this yet,” said Rehrig. “He’s seen all the stages of my running career and supported me where I was at. He’s been incredible at seeing the potential that I have and convincing me there is something there that maybe I didn’t always see.”
Nowadays, the two coach cross-country together. This past season, Rehrig coached and ran alongside Harry Murphy ’23 and Chris Onsomu ’25, both of whom PR’d in the state championship race at Killens Pond State Park earlier this November. Rehrig was there rallying his runners to second place finish in the state, something the boys side has done three of the five years Rehrig has been on the coaching staff. While he’s helped top runners like Murphy and Onsomu succeed, Rehrig really relates to those still finding their footing.
“That’s why it’s fun to coach now,” said Rehrig. “I was the mid-level guy that was showing up and putting in some work. It wasn’t until I decided I was going to work hard at this, four years later, that it became my thing.”
On Sunday, Murphy and Onsomu returned the favor and supported their coach in his race. They were joined by fellow classmates Lily Murphy ’23, Silas Grasse ’23, and alumnus Ben Butcher ’21. O’Connell was there as well, watching his colleague test his limits in brutal conditions while in awe of the evolution that has occurred over the 15 years the two have known each other.
“In my opinion, this was the most spectacular race Will has ever run,” O’Connell said.
Rehrig is not done running spectacularly. In order to qualify for the Olympic team trials, he must run a sub-2:18:00 marathon before December 2023. It will require intense training this winter—with a particular focus on speed—before finding a marathon with a highly competitive field. The last chance to qualify will be a second marathon in the fall. It’s a very condensed timeline with almost no margin for error.
Rehrig is acutely aware of the audacious goal he’s set for himself, but it’s one he wants to share with others.
“Who knows if that is going to happen or not?” Rehrig says. “I’ve always said, what’s the worst that could happen? Maybe I run a 2:20 or a 2:22—that would be better than I ever thought I was going to do.”
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