Winchenbach's running prowess proof persistence pays offThrough hard work, dedication, MVHS graduate has won 20 career road races
Auburn — In the world of road racing, nothing ever came easy for runner Darren Winchenbach.
A 33-year-old resident of Auburn and a 1999 Medomak Valley High School graduate, Winchenbach has turned into an incredible success story with his running prowess as he has proven time and time again to not only be one of the best and most consistent road runners in the Midcoast, but perhaps the state.
In his 18-year career of running road races, Winchenbach has crossed the finish line first a whopping 20 times.
But it was not always that easy for the Waldoboro native, who participated in cross county, baseball, wrestling and track and field during his time as a Panther.
“I never started winning a lot until 2012,” he said. “Since then I've won 17 races. Before that I'd only won three.”
While he was a member of the cross-county team in high school, he was hardly a factor in the team's successes.
"I was horrible my first year [of high school] as a cross-county runner as I finished last for the team every single meet," he said. "I can even remember getting lapped by some of the girls in track workouts my first year running."
In a nutshell, his hard work and perseverance paid off.
“I feel like I've been rewarded after all these years for just being persistent, showing up and just hanging around as long as I have,” he said. “All the people that used to kick my butt [in races] have either quit, died or moved on.”
Winchenbach's remembers his first road race win fondly — at the Back Cove 5K series — on Aug. 31, 2005.
“After the race the race director told me I didn't need to give my name because he knew exactly who I was,” Winchenbach said. “Well, I guess he must not have known me as good as he thought because he thought my name was Eric. So when the results came out in the paper it said 'Eric Winchenbach won in 20 minutes and 18 seconds.' ”
Needless to say, no one mistakes him for Eric anymore. In fact, on a small scale, he is something of a local celebrity.
Winchenbach is, by all intent and purposes, the face of Midcoast running. That is because, more often than not, if there is a local race, he is one of the participants. He runs about 50 races and hundreds of miles each year.
“When I was a kid, you know 14 or 15 years old, it was fun seeing your name in the paper,” he said. “It was fun for people to say, 'Hey, I saw you for running Waldoboro Days' or 'I saw you for finishing Damariscotta's 10K' or 'Hey I saw your son's picture in the paper' someone will say to my mother. It's things like that that make me chuckle and make me feel good that people are watching or noticing.”
Winchenbach did not envision at a younger age he would become such a prolific road racer, but “it was all a positive thing that just kept going and going and going.”
“I wanted to get better at what I was doing and I like what I was doing,” he said. “And I kept seeing little improvements year after year. I kept losing a little weight, I'd get a little faster, my times were improving [and] I had great people to run with.”
Winchenbach said it is not just the competitiveness that brings him to the many road races, but also the socialization of people coming together that share a common bond and the relationships fostered over the years.
“There's some that have been doing it just as long if not longer than I have,” he said. “People like Ellen Spring and Vern Demmons. It's nice to see the old-timers still there and still kickin' it.”
Winchenbach credits his 5K road race success to a combination of the Vi-Shape nutritional shake mix he has been drinking, a New Year's resolution two years ago of no drinking alcohol, healthier eating habits, more mental toughness and "a little luck at choosing the right races to run."
He was quick to point out that some of his successes can be attributed to the fact that road races are much more prominent than they were years prior. Winchenbach estimated that on any given weekend throughout the state in July, there are likely to be 10 or 12 road races being run all over the state.
“When I first starting running the mid-to-late 90s, the road races were scarce,” he said. “You had to really scrape, search and really look around to find them. Now, today, there's such a variety of races that there's so many runners going to so many other races, that I think it leaves the door open for someone like me who runs in the 19s to win more races or finish closer to the front.”
When one runs as many races as Winchenbach has, one is bound to have a favorite course. In fact, he has a few, the number one being the Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth, which recently celebrated its 17th running Aug. 2.
Winchenbach finished 400th among 6,491 runners with a time of 41 minutes and 59 seconds.
It was a special event for Winchenbach, who is one of 129 runners to have run the race every year since 1997. The race draws more than 6,000 participants each year.
He also loves the Maine Marathon, which he has run either the half-marathon or the complete marathon — either 13.1 or 26.2 miles — each year since 1997.
“You've run 26 miles and all those people are cheering you on after all the work you've done?” he said. “That's one of the best feelings. They're respecting you and your abilities and everything you've done over the last three and a half hours.”
As far as favorite local races, Winchenbach fancies the "Scare Me" 5K, where entrants are encouraged to dress up in a Halloween costume. Winchenbach, an avid professional wrestling fan, often can be seen running as Sting.
Despite has running prowess, Winchenbach has never qualified for the storied Boston Marathon. While he said taking part in the race currently is not on his radar, he did not rule it out.
“Over time, things can change,” he said. “When I was 25 years old I told myself I'd never run a marathon and when I turned 26 I changed my mind.”
Seven years later, Winchenbach shows no signs of slowing down.
“I still see guys in their 50s still winning races, so that gives me hope for the future, that I can still do well with this," he said.