Zach Panning is representing the US at Budapest in the longest race on the roads, the marathon, 42.2 kilometers, or 26.2 miles. This will be Zach’s third marathon, and he is focused on doing well on the streets of Budapest, Hungary, on August 27, 2023, at 7 am local time. 

Deji Ogeyingbo put this piece together on Zach, and the Hansons Brooks ODP, as this top American marathon focuses on the World Championships. Watch for an upcoming interview on #SociaingtheDistance with Zach Penning and his coach, Kevin Hanson.  

Zach Panning: From Fort Wayne to Budapest – Representing the US at the World Championships

In the realm of marathon running, Zach Panning’s journey is an inspiring tale of determination, persistence, and unwavering passion for the sport. Although he predominantly focused more on the middle and long-distance track races in the early days of his career, Panning’s remarkable achievements in the marathon have now earned him the honor of representing the United States at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.

Zack Panning, USATF 10,000m, photo courtesy of Brooks Communications

Here, we delve into the transformative path that has led this Fort Wayne marathoner to international recognition and the opportunity to compete against the world’s best in August. 



The Road Less Traveled:

Panning’s foray into distance running began in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Early on, he exhibited raw talent and tenacity that set him apart from his peers. As he honed his craft at Fort Wayne Carroll High School and later at Grand Valley State University (GSVU), Panning’s passion for running became an integral part of his identity. Stepping into the collegiate running scene, he showcased exceptional performances and gradually etched his name into the school and regional record books.

Panning’s path to the top has not been without its share of obstacles. Injuries and setbacks punctuated his collegiate career, testing his resilience and determination. However, these challenges only served to fuel his dedication to the sport, motivating him to push through adversity and come out stronger on the other side. His perseverance and unwavering belief in his abilities laid the groundwork for the defining moment that would shape his future in running.

Zack Panning, The TRACK Meet, photo courtesy of Brooks Communications

Some of the propelling factors that have helped Panning came when at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Panning claimed two individual titles in the 5,000m (14:10.58) and 10,000m (30:12.30), becoming the fifth athlete in Division II history to win both events during the same meet. At the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Panning earned his first individual title in the men’s 5,000m with a time of 14:00.69.

Panning’s story so far is best encapsulated by GVSU distance coach Aaron Watson from 2017. “Distance running is something that takes time.” “It’s not an overnight process, and that’s true across the board. You look at any program, at runners of any level, they’re going to be better, if done correctly, in their third, fourth, or fifth year, than in their first couple years.

“He’s done a good job of sticking to the plan and staying focused. It’s easy to get lost in the forest or not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of our first and second-year kids on the distance side.” But wisdom and skill come with experience and patience. Watson credits Panning’s dedication to the process and to training as a big reason for his steady rise in success.

A Dream Realized: Qualifying for the World Championships

Zach joined the Hanson’s Brooks ODP in 2019. His first race in the Hanson’s kit was the 2019 USATF Outdoor, where he ran a PB in the 10,000m, of 28:23.6. In an interview with a local newspaper, Keith Hanson, Zach’s coach, noted: “We are looking at people all over the country…With his 9th at the 2018 USATF Champs, he’d already proven to be very good at the next level.”

Zach gave Keith Hanson credit for keeping the team in good spirits during the pandemic, keeping workouts fun, and helping them develop. In 2020, Zach brought his 10,000m down to 28:16.95 at the UA Summer series in California. 

Development comes little by little. 

Zach debuted at the marathon in the 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, a race that has been quite a good race for the Hansons Brooks ODP. Zach ran 2:15.04 in his debut in October 2021, taking 11th.

Zack Panning, USATF 10000m, photo by Brooks Communications

At the Chicago marathon in 2022, Panning ran 2:09.28 to place 11th, hitting the qualifying standard for the world championships. The time saw him claim the title of the second-fastest American participant. His blistering time of 2:09.28 also catapulted him to become the 14th fastest American All-Time. What remained was if he was going to the selected for Budapest. 

Panning’s sterling performance in Chicago earned him a place in the US contingent, ranking an impressive fourth on the descending order list of marathon performances. In doing so, he achieved an unparalleled milestone as the first-ever Grand Valley State male track and field athlete to grace the global stage representing the United States.

Kevin and Keith Hanson, co-founders, Hansons Brooks ODP, photo by Brooks Communications

Keith Hanson, the co-founder with his brother, Kevin, of the Hansons Brooks ODP (founder in 1999, Brooks came on as a sponsor in 2003), noted Zach’s appreciation for the Hansons Brooks ODP team orientation. The Hansons Brooks ODP has developed athletes such as Brian Sell and Des Linden over the years, giving them the chance to develop at their own speed. The enthusiasm of the Brothers Hanson in training their athletes is crucial in their development as athletes. The culture, community, and consistency are key if there is a secret sauce to the club. 

Zach Panning, per the brothers Hanson, is tremendously talented. Brooks’ support of the club and Brooks Beasts TC are the two most important ways the brand supports elite running. Zach Panning will represent the US in Budapest in the marathon (Brooks has 2 other athletes on the US team, Nia Atkins and Isaiah Harris, in the 800m, and Josh Kerr, selected at 1,500m on the British team). 

Zack Panning, Gate River, photo by Brooks Communications

Panning’s qualifications highlighted his ability to perform at the highest level when the stakes were at their highest. The opportunity to compete against the world’s elite marathoners from Ethiopia and Kenya and a host of others in Budapest was a realization of a lifelong dream for him, a moment that affirmed his continued perseverance to try new things and to keep pushing. 

Embracing the Future: Preparing for Budapest

With his ticket booked for Budapest, Panning now stands on the cusp of an extraordinary journey. He will approach the world championships with a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and humility. Panning showcased his versatility and unwavering commitment to excellence in May, setting a new Personal Best of 27:51.20 in the 10,000m in London in May.

Zack Panning, USATF XC, photo by Brooks Communications

As part of the Hanson Brooks Distance Project, Panning is under the guidance of  Keith Hanson and his brother, Kevin, who set up top-class training and Olympic development programs for post-collegiate runners. The likes of Brian Sell and Desiree Linden (who finished 7th at the Rio Olympics) have all excelled under the program. Panning will now join such illustrious names.

As Panning embarks on this momentous chapter in his running career, his journey continues to inspire aspiring athletes and running enthusiasts worldwide. From Fort Wayne to Budapest, he has proven that dreams can be achieved through perseverance, grit, and an unyielding passion for one’s craft.