Gold Story: 2019 San Francisco Marathon Male Winner Achieved His Childhood Dream Of Competing In The Olympics
“I knew I wanted to be an Olympian when I grew up,” Greg Billington, the 2019 male winner of the San Francisco Marathon said.
In 2000 Greg eagerly watched the Olympic Games as an 11-year-old. He says he remembers watching Lenny Krayzelburg, a swimmer, earn a bunch of gold medals and he wanted to do that too.
Greg started out as a swimmer, even competing at the national level from the ages of 8 to 14. He also earned a black belt in martial arts as a kid, but then in high school, his mom encouraged him to start running on the cross country team.
He continued to run throughout high school and college. His dad taught on military bases in the U.K. when he was in high school, so he competed with other track teams from bases all over Europe while he was in high school, even setting the Department of Defense 3k record.
Later in high school, Greg decided to combine his swimming and running skills together and he started competing in triathlons.
He continued with the triathlons at Wake Forest University, where he became one of the top triathletes in the country. In college, he started competing on the world stage, which ultimately ended up with him fulfilling his childhood dream of competing in the Olympics.
After college, Greg went pro as a triathlete and he competed professionally from 2011 to 2017. He almost qualified for the 2012 Olympics, but then he did qualify for and compete for the United States in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
“The build up to the games was phenomenal,” Greg said. He remembers going to Houston before the Olympics and getting fit for all of his Olympic gear, including the Nike podium outfit and the outfits they would wear for the opening and closing ceremonies.
“It was exciting to be a part of the competition and compete at the level of the Olympic Games,” Greg said. But, unfortunately he had come into the games with a femoral stress fracture, and he wasn’t able to compete at the level he had hoped for.
“I just had a bad race that day,” he said.
Greg remembers the closing ceremonies as the best part of the entire experience, saying, “It was a celebration of everything that Rio had been able to accomplish with the games.”
After the Olympics, Greg decided to retire as a professional athlete and he began working for Visa with a program that is specifically for retiring Olympians. He now lives and works in San Francisco and has been working for Visa for the last two years.
But, he wasn’t able to stay away from athletics for long.
In 2019 Greg was in Dubai for work as part of a six-month rotation program. While he was there, he met up with some friends who were planning to run in the Pyramids Marathon in Egypt, and he decided to join them.
He started training again and scoped out his competition for the race, and then he won the race! It was his first marathon and he ran with a time of 2:32.
“That got me hooked,” Greg said.
So, then he decided to start looking for other marathons he could run, especially once he got back home to San Francisco, and he found the San Francisco Marathon, right in his own hometown.
“I started scoping out my competition and I saw Jorge from the years before and knew that was the guy I had to beat,” Greg remembers.
Jorge Maravilla won the San Francisco Marathon race in 2017 and 2018. Greg saw his times from the previous years and thought he might be able to beat him and he decided to try.
“Running in San Francisco was fantastic,” Greg said. “The course is ridiculously hard, but I think that’s what makes it a special experience. If it’s going to be hard, it better go all the way!”
Greg loved running through the different neighborhoods of San Francisco, in places he’d lived and experienced in the past.
“As I went through each part of the course, it would trigger some memory from something I’d done in San Francisco. And it provides such a fantastic overview of the city. You just get to experience the whole city. It was a good time,” Greg said.
He knew it was going to be a competitive race and his strategy was to just stay with Jorge as long as possible.
“I knew Jorge was going to bring it. He wanted to three-peat. So, I tried to stay with him up through about 20 miles and then surge at the end and that’s how it played out,” he remembers.
“I pulled away from him at a water stop,” Greg said. “I kept the pace going and prayed he didn’t come back and blow past me at the end. It was fun to get up there and race with Jorge for the win.”
Greg won the 2019 San Francisco Marathon with a time of 2:25:25, which was a personal best, as his second marathon he had ever run (and now the second marathon he had won!).
After the race he realized he was only 10 seconds away from beating the San Francisco Marathon course record, which was set by Francois Lhuissier from France in 2013, so now Greg’s planning on coming back and racing San Fransisco again in 2020 to beat that record.
“Heck yeah, I’m running San Francisco again this year,” Greg said. “I didn’t even know about the record last year, but I think with another year of experience I could beat that. It’ll be fun to race again.”
After running in San Francisco last summer, Greg ran in the New York City Marathon in the fall. He bested his time again with a 2:22, finishing 30th in that race.
Then, in December, he ran at CIM, and his goal was to break 2:19 and qualify for the Olympic Trials, which he did. He came in 8th at CIM with a time of 2:16, and now he’ll be running at the Olympic Trials in Atlanta at the end of February.
“I’m just excited to go to the Olympic Trials,” Greg said. “It’s fun to be retired, but still be racing competitive races and still feel that feeling I felt as a triathlete. That’s key for me to feel healthy and it’s fun to be able to do that in a different sport.”
Greg is looking forward to the Olympic Trials again, this time as a marathon runner.
He doesn’t know if the Olympic Games are in his future again, but he’s proud of what he’s accomplished so far and excited to see what’s next.
But, he’s also looking forward to slowing down again.
“I’ve done five marathons in 12 months. It’s been a lot,” Greg said. “It was zero racing and training to five marathons in 12 months that have all been competitive. I’m pleased with how they’ve gone, but I’m going to start doing shorter races and running for fun again too.”
Watch for Greg at the Olympic Trials, but also again this summer in San Francisco, where he said he said he’s coming for that course record!
In honor and celebration of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games that will be happening at the same time as the 2020 San Francisco Marathon, we are telling runners’ Gold Stories.
For many, running in the Olympics may be a far off dream, but we know you have your own goals and achievements that we want to hear about and celebrate, because everyone can have their own version of a Gold Goal!
So, what’s your Gold Story? Share your story with us here and we may feature your story next!