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Intriguing chapters of journey

With life on run, road race standout Drago late bloomer

Librarian ran in high school, but, in adulthood, has taken activity to winning levels
By Zack Miller | May 13, 2020
Courtesy of: Katie Drago Keith Drago.

Rockport — When running a Midcoast road race there are not many in the field who can look behind them and see Keith Drago's face, mainly, because he usually is out in front of the pack.

Most do, in fact, if they are lucky, only see the bottom of his sneakers as he often pulls away.

Drago is, and has been, a staple of highly-successful distance running in the area for years, and when one looks at the results of most local road races, they see his name at the top, or among the top, finishers — no matter the distance of his journey.

"I mostly do local races," Drago said. "I like supporting the local organizations and businesses that the race proceeds go toward."

Drago has won a bundle of area 5-kilometer, or 3.1-mile, races in recent years (somewhere around 35), often finishing well ahead of the field. He also has done well in 10K (6.2-mile) races. He usually finishes 5K in the 17-plus-minute range and his fastest 10K is 37:13.

Mile one: Starting out

Running has been with Drago for the majority of his life, as the 33-year-old started to hit the trails, and track, as a Windjammer at Camden Hills Regional High School of Rockport.

"I was not very good," he said. "I don't remember my times. I was usually pretty far in the back, but I liked running. I liked being outside and I liked seeing myself improve. The constant improvement is one of my favorite parts about running."

While in high school Drago — who grew up in Camden — confesses he was "a pretty small guy," and he "ended up gravitating toward sports [where] size didn't matter so much."

After he received his diploma and headed to the University of New Hampshire in Durham, running fell by the wayside.

"I didn't run at all in college, but a couple years after graduating I realized I was starting to get pretty out of shape," he said. "So, I started running. Just two days a week and only a couple miles each day. I was doing it just to get back into shape. Then as time went on I started adding more and more miles, and eventually I started to get pretty good at running, and I started to really enjoy it."

From that point he was hooked, and decided to give his first marathon a go.

"That seemed like a pretty big deal for me," Drago said. "If I could just finish a marathon that'd be quite the achievement. I trained for a year and ended up completing my first marathon in just under four hours. Right afterward I thought, I can probably do that faster."

Mile two: Accomplishments and training

After Drago received a bachelor's degree in journalism in 2009, he discovered another passion around books, and libraries in general. In 2013, Drago graduated from Simmons College in Boston, Mass. with a masters degree in library science.

"When I was getting my masters degree I was commuting down to Boston from Kennebunk," he said. "I would go down two days a week and cram all my classes into those two days. I was working part time at the Kennebunk Free Library at the time.

"After graduating I spent a couple years working at a library in Texas, but my wife and I both missed Maine, so we decided to move back. I got a job at the Rockland Public Library where I worked for a couple years and then accepted the assistant director position at the Rockport Public Library, where I've been for four years now."

Keith's wife, Katie, also is a librarian at the Rockland Public Library.

"She's been incredibly supportive of all my running and there's no way I could do all the races and training without her support," Keith said.

In the years since the move, Keith has kept the running pace up, and competed in "over 50 races" around the Midcoast, while also competing in larger races around the state and New England.

"I like to run marathons as well, and I will travel for those," he said. "I've run the Maine Coast Marathon in Kennebunk two times, the Bay State Marathon in Lowell, Mass. once, and last September I ran in the Clarence DeMar Marathon in Keene, N.H. I've never won any of those, however, I did place 10th in the Clarence DeMar marathon, which had over 350 runners."

One prestigious race Drago has not competed in yet is the Boston Marathon, but it is on his bucket list.

"I have not run Boston yet, but that is my biggest goal," he said. "I would love to be able to run in such a historic race."

When it comes to the Boston Marathon, one of the most popular, historic and fabled — and among the larger by number of runners — 26.2-mile races around the world, getting the opportunity to participate is no easy feat.

"You have to run a qualifying time to be accepted, and for my age bracket I have to run it in under three hours," Drago said. "I ran the Clarence DeMar Marathon in 2:59:35, and that was my first time breaking three hours. Breaking three hours had been a goal of mine for several years, so to finally do it was incredibly rewarding.

"The year before I set out to run sub-[three hours], I ended up running the Bay State Marathon in 3:00:16. It was honestly pretty devastating, but I knew I ran it as hard as I could, [and] I was completely exhausted by the end. The next summer I trained even harder [and] was running about 70 miles a week, [which] ended up paying off, so I can apply for the 2021 race — they closed the registration for the 2020 race before I ran my qualifying time in September of 2019 — but there is still no guarantee I get in."

Despite the accumulation of races under his belt, Drago hones his craft "six to seven days a week."

"I run four of those days pretty slow [to] make sure it's an aerobic workout," he said. "If I feel like I could have a conversation with someone while running, I'd consider that about the right pace. It's important not to push yourself too hard every day so you can recover from the really hard stuff.

"I do two longer runs each week, usually one 13-miler and one 16-miler. In each of those runs I'll do some speed work as well. I might jog four miles as a warm-up, then run six miles at half-marathon pace, so four miles at about eight minutes a mile, then six at 6:15 a mile, then jog another three miles as a cool down. Another workout I like is to run five kilometers (3.1 miles) at my 5K race pace (5:40 a mile), but jog for a few minutes after each kilometer. It's a good way to practice my 5K pace without beating myself up as much as a race would."

Mile three-point-one: Focus and goals

When one runs for a long period fatigue sets in not just physically, but mentally as well, and to push through such fatigue comes with practice.

"I try to push through the pain by telling myself it's only temporary," Drago said. "If I'm racing a 5K I only have to suffer for, hopefully, 17 or 18 minutes. That's not that long. For a marathon, it's a little harder, but I just try to focus on the now. Is my breathing okay? Is my form okay?

"If I'm running hard I try to focus on my breathing, focus on my cadence and making sure I have good form, I'm not slouching and that I'm not over striding. I try not to focus on how many miles I have left. If I focus too much on how much I have left I end up slowing down, even if I don't mean to slow down. It just happens."

Along with competing in the Boston Marathon some day, Drago also aims higher.

"In the future I'd like to run some ultra-marathons, anything over 26.2 miles," he said. "I love the idea of being able to race for that distance, and to push your body for that long. I'd like to see how I could do in a race like that."

But, for now, it is one mile at a time, until he reaches his destination.

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