Motivation is easy to come by for Justin Gillette, especially during the wintertime.
Rising in the morning to go for a run in Goshen, Ind., where the temperature this time of year traditionally hovers in the mid-20s, Gillette enjoys passing the local bank along his daily route, reading its sign as he whizzes by.
On Wednesday, the digital gauge read 12 degrees.
Justin Gillette competes in June’s Kona Marathon en route to winning the race for a third consecutive year.
DAVID O. BALDWIN / Hawaiiphotoman.com photo
" 'Am I going to run more miles today than what the temperature is?' " he said he asks himself. "You've got to do something to keep yourself motivated. It's cold out."
Not a problem on Maui - though topping the temperature might be.
Gillette, 28, will have the course record of 2 hours, 45 minutes in his sights when he embarks on the 26.2-mile trek from Wailea to Lahaina in the third annual Maui Oceanfront Marathon on Sunday.
Considering this is his 71st marathon since the age of 16 - 56 of them completed in under 2:45, including a personal best of 2:26.05, it shouldn't be much of a problem.
The heat shouldn't hinder Gillette, either, after winning the last three Kona Marathons - although this past June, it was actually cooler on the Big Island than it was in much of the Midwest.
He's not too concerned.
"I want to win and break the course record. That's the goal," said Gillette, winner of 23 marathons. "I think breaking the course record and winning would be attainable goals for me."
Gillette knows a thing or two about setting the bar high.
Not in the best of shape as a youth, Gillette was a 7th-grader when his grandmother died, spurring him to discover a hobby that would develop into a passion.
She would always tell him to find something, do his best and rise to the top.
"It wasn't too long after (she died) that we had to do the mile in PE. I was like, 'I'm going to get in shape and I'm going to be the best one in the class,' and I did," Gillette recalled. "Then I started another goal - I wanted to get under five minutes for the mile and pretty soon you got these big goals you want to achieve and it all started because I just wanted to be the best in the PE class.
"I just started running and I kept getting better and it worked for me."
He ran his first marathon with a friend, the duo secretly driving six hours from Missouri to Arkansas under the guise of just going out of town for the weekend - the story Gillette told his parents.
"Oh yeah, they would have said no," he said, adding that when he called them afterward he got into a bit of trouble. "They yelled at me over the phone and I didn't want to go home after that.
"I probably had to do extra cleaning or something."
It was all worth it.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing I ended up repeating over and again," Gillette said.
After his initial jaunt that lasted 3:19, Gillette saw improvement, as did his parents, who soon jumped on board.
They accompanied him for his first Boston Marathon, at the age of 18. He had qualified a year earlier but couldn't compete due to age restrictions.
"I was pretty dead tired," he said of his then-best 2:56, "that was for sure."
A year later in Boston he dropped another 22 minutes, setting the course for a bright future.
"That race proved to me that I could race marathons and not just run them to finish," he said.
After being named a three-time NAIA All-American in the marathon at Goshen College, finishing three races in under 2:30, Gillette and his wife had a child - aptly named Miles - and ventured back to Indiana, where he is now an assistant track and field and cross country coach at his alma mater.
"It keeps you motivated. Not only that, they're fast, too, so they're good training partners," Gillette said of his team. "They can do some hard workouts and be ready to go pretty hard again pretty quick. That pushes me. It makes a difference.
"I've gotten better since I've been there helping again."
With upward of 20 marathons on his schedule this year after doing 17 in 2010, Gillette still finds himself digging at the root of such desire, wondering why champions and last-place finishers alike push themselves to the limit.
Whatever the driving force, he admires it.
"Each one will have some reason why they started. It's not natural to just go out and run. Who just starts kicking their butt to run?" Gillette said. "What I like about this is the people toward the back, the four-and-a-half, five-hour people, 'What the heck's your motivation?' There's no chance they're going to win. That's impressive to me.
"We pay to go run 26 miles, it's like 80 bucks to go run a marathon. It costs more than it would to have a taxi drive us 26 miles."
* Matthew Carroll is at email@example.com.