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Going the Extra Mile

Campus | March 25, 2013

Early on a chilly Sunday March morning, while many Tufts students were still recovering from their Saturday nights—including one of the biggest fraternity parties of the year—a dedicated team of runners was traversing a twenty-mile course through Boston . This is the Tufts Marathon Team (TMT), a collection of 100 Tufts undergrads, graduate students, and alumni. For many of the team members, including senior Sarah Halloran, that Sunday—March 10—marked the most miles they’d ever run. “I just followed one girl the entire time, and anytime I thought I was going to pass out or not make it I just stopped thinking about it and focused on the goal,” Halloran said. “It was actually insane. I hit mile nine (the turn around point) and I just thought I wasn’t going to make it back. When I finished, I was so dead, part of me doesn’t think I can do it again.”

With only 34 days left until the Boston Marathon, the team is revving up for the day it has been training for since September. As the largest known collegiate marathon program in the United States, the team has raised over $3 million since it was founded in 2003. Money raised by the team benefits the Trustees of Tufts College, and generally goes towards Tufts research and programs related to nutrition and fitness. Runners do fundraising on their own throughout the course of the training period, asking friends and family to donate to their cause. Senior Caroline Geiger draws motivation from this support. “It is definitely difficult to get up and run when the weather is bad or there is snow on the ground,” she acknowledged. “However, especially now that so many friends and family have shown their support and donated to the cause, it is exciting to get up and run and to know that I have so many people behind me .”

The 100 official members of the team are generally selected based on seniority, though many runners get their start training with the team on and off over the course of their four years. Halloran ran with the team a few times during her sophomore year when a friend asked her to join, but did not become an official team member until this year. For many of the members of the TMT, this April 15th will mark the first marathon they’ve ever run. “I first heard about the team my freshman year, when a Tufts senior who went to my high school and was on the Tufts Marathon Team told me he was running thirteen miles that Sunday,” Geiger explained. “I was shocked and seriously worried for his health, but after he assured me that it was very normal to run that far and that he really enjoyed the experience, I realized it was a challenge I wanted to take on my senior year.”

Though it’s senior Patricia Moncure’s first marathon, she does have some running experience. She said, “The motivation to get up and run is really rooted in my passion for running itself. I can’t say that every day I run it is enjoyable, but some runs are so phenomenal, they provide mental endurance to keep going .”

Leading the team is coach Donald Melegey, known affectionately for his “Melegey magic” and inspirational attitude. Melegey coached the Tufts Varsity Swim Team for 33 years before being asked to coach the TMT in 2004. The seven-timee NESCAC Coach of the Year has also won the Tufts University Distinguished Service Award since taking over the team. . In spite of personally preparing post-run snacks and compiling a thick booklet for his runners called “Running and Training Smarter” that contains sections like, “Mental Warrior,” “Marathon Tips” and “Team Quotes,” Melegey claimed he does not try to motivate his team. Rather, he clarified, “If they want to run the marathon—which they do—I will get them there.” He explained that like many things in life, running marathons can have more to do with mental discipline than pure physical strength. He compared running a marathon to the difference between walking on a plank of wood on the ground and then trying to walk on that same plank of wood—now 50 feet up in the air. “It’s all a mental game,” he concluded.

According to Melegey, though some runners have to stop training due to common running injuries like stress fractures, the team has an overall 99.8% success rate . Despite the difficulties of training, including freezing temperatures, outside distractions, the physical and mental endurance needed and the personal discipline to show up each week, every year a new team of runners continues to make its way across the finish line on Marathon Monday. Melegey said that the Tufts Marathon Team should be a requirement for all Tufts students. “If it’s your first time and you complete the marathon, you feel you can literally do anything else in the world,” he said excitedly.

He suggested that the most obvious challenge of the marathon—its length—is also its greatest reward. “It’s a long time to spend running; people don’t realize when you’re out there by yourself for 4 to 6 hours, a lot of things go through your mind,” he said. The longest run ever completed by one of Melegey’s team members during the marathon was nearly twelve hours long —the Tufts student started her run at 10 in the morning and didn’t finish until 9:45 that night. “I stood at the finish line waiting for her, of course,” Melegey said, and when she finally crossed the line, he was there to celebrate with her. “As far as she was concerned,” he said, “she won the Boston Marathon.”