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Running / Budd Bailey: Keenan’s morning runs pay off

The secret to becoming The Buffalo News’ Runner of the Year has been discovered.

However, you’ll have to get up pretty early in the morning to find it.

“I used to do my running in the evening, but I slowly moved it to the morning,” said David Keenan, the men’s champion in 2014. “Now I’m exclusively out there at 5 a.m. It works better. I don’t have to worry during the day about getting it out of the way.”

Care to guess about the identify of one of his training partners?

“I’m extremely fortunate,” Keenan said. “Jenny Koeppel-Acker, we train together almost the entire year. Sometimes we run with Chris Walters and John Beyer. We all meet up.”

Koeppel-Acker is a two-time women’s champion of the series. Keenan won his first title this year, finishing comfortably ahead of Dan Snitzer and Patrick Moran. Now he’s only one title behind Walters, who won the News’ championship in 2012 and 2013.

“Chris and I have been running together for two years. He’s so talented. … We’re all really supportive of each other.”

Beyer was a standout runner during his days at Canisius College.

Keenan started running at a relatively young age, thanks to a role model who lived in the same house.

“My older brother was a runner,” he said. “I was like any younger brother, I tagged along to be with him. I started in middle school, and ran in high school at West Seneca West.”

But David didn’t continue to lace up his sneakers at the University at Buffalo. After a period of time, Keenan started to fall into the habits of many others – such as gaining weight.

“I put on 30 pounds and did some really unhealthy things,” he said. “I started up again with running at the age of 25, and really got back into it.

“It’s been a slow progression since then. In some respects, the layoff could be an advantage. One time I talked to Mike Heitzenrater about it. He had run for 20 straight years, and he was just tired. You don’t have the wear and tear if you take some years off – at least that’s the positive way to look at it. Still, it’s nice to run against the really veteran guys, like Matt Glynn and Jim Park.”

For a while, Keenan focused his training on preparing to run long distances. But at age 34, he opted to relax a little bit.

“I haven’t done a marathon in a few years,” he said. “I tried to focus on the 5Ks this time. I wanted to take this year a little less seriously. I didn’t have a target race. I just tried to enjoy the process. You can get stressed out in that process. This year, I really enjoyed being healthy and running with friends.”

The plan certainly was productive in terms of performance. Keenan won three different series races, was second in three others, and also finished third and fifth in two others. What’s more, he thrived no matter the distance. He won a pair of 5-kilometer races in the series, and finished second in a half-marathon.

“I think I want to go back to the marathon,” Keenan said about his future plans. “I’m not really satisfied. I ran in Chicago in 2011, and I didn’t reach my potential.

“Before I have to devote time to marriage and kids, I’d like to give the marathon a shot. I’d like to break 2:30.”

Keenan works in the internal audit department of M&T Bank. He’ll drop by various areas of the organization, reviewing procedures and checking for compliance. Sometimes that can lead to some late nights at the office. Therefore, those early runs mean he can stay late and finish work when necessary … and it is sometimes necessary.

“It hasn’t been too bad lately,” Keenan said. “Last winter was a rough one.”

And if you are wondering what it’s like to run at 5 a.m., it’s mostly … dark.

“It’s nice to watch the sun rise during a run,” he said. “It’s still dark when we finish now. But seeing the sun come up in the middle of a run is a huge part of the enjoyment I get out of it.”

Those who finished in the top 10 in the overall standings or the top 3 in their age-groups (standings at buffalorunners.com) should send their mailing address to the email address below. Certificates of achievement will be sent out shortly.

Race calendar

• Olean YMCA Polar Bear Series, 5K, Murphy Hall at St. Bonaventure University, 1 p.m. on Jan. 1, 373-2400.

email: bbailey@buffnews.com