Sunday, December 30, 2007

"A Marvelous Reason to Run"

Easton runner Don Marvel and his granddaughter Carlie, before Carlie gets into costume for a December 2 production of Brigadoon at Easton High School. Don is running P.F. Chang's Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in Arizona to raise funds as a way to say thank you for Carlie's recovery from leukemia.

Don Marvel is an inspiring individual. His legs and will have done things most humans will never be able to do. But his latest effort is largely a matter of heart. I wrote an article for the Star Democrat, which ran on the front page of today's sports page. I have posted the text of the article below, reprinted with permission. Special thanks to Will Chapman, Assitant Sports Editor there, for pushing to get the article in in a timely manner.

A Marvel-ous Reason to Run
Special to The Sunday Star
December 30, 2007

Few people have run from Easton to Salisbury without stopping. Easton's Don Marvel has made that run a few times.

An ultra-marathon is any race longer than a 26.2-mile marathon. Marvel is an ultra-running legend, winning or finishing in the top two in races of 50 miles, 100 kilometers (62 miles), 100 miles, and 24-hour running events. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Marvel's name sat at or near the top of ultra-marathons across the country.

Most people can't comprehend running 50 or 100 miles. Marvel made headlines by covering them with amazing speed. In 1980, he placed second overall in the New York 100-Miler in a time of 13 hours, 36 minutes, 35 seconds. At the time, it was the fifth fastest time ever run by an American in a 100-mile race.

Marvel won the timed Columbia 24-hour run back-to-back years in 1981-82. The goal is to see how many miles you can run in a 24-hour period. In the 1982 race, he ran 124 miles, coming back to win the race after amassing 100 miles two hours behind the front-runner. In 1981 the race was less contentious, with Marvel running 132 miles for the win in South Carolina.

In 1982, Marvel ran the 60 miles between Philadelphia and Atlantic City faster than anyone else, taking the win and setting the course record in 7:28:09. In 1978, he got lost on the JFK 50-mile course, running an extra mile out of the way, and still placed sixth overall. Marvel's best finish at the JFK the nation's largest and oldest ultra-marathon, held around Hagerstown was third overall in 1981, with a time of 6:22:04.

1981 was a banner year for Marvel. He logged 6,752 miles for the year. If you ran from New York City to Los Angeles, and then back to New York, you would have covered 5,650 miles. Don was ranked sixth in the All-Time U.S. 100-mile rankings that year.

If you ask him what motivated him to run these harrowing distances, Marvel replies that his marathon personal record of 2:39 was too slow to be competitive. Why not just keep running?

These days, Marvel's runs are considerably shorter, competing in races from 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in length to half-marathons of 13.1 miles. But his reason to run is perhaps even more important than the drive that pushed him to run incredible distances.

For Carlie

Don's granddaughter, Carlie Marvel, is an eighth-grade student at Easton Middle School. She is a singer and an actress, most recently playing "The Widow Ainsley Beaton" in the EMS production of Brigadoon. She plays goalie in field hockey and plays softball. She will be attending Easton High in the fall of 2008.

Carlie is the daughter of Chris (Don's son) and Caryn Marvel. She has two older sisters, Courtnie, a senior at Easton High, Caroline, a sophomore, and a younger sister, Cecily.

In the fall of 2005 and winter of 2006, Carlie's softball pitching arm was getting sore in practices. The soreness continued, so she got it checked out. The diagnosis was unthinkable: chronic myelogenous leukemia. Carlie had fractured her arm. As the result of the cancer she was missing about half the bone marrow in her arm, making it susceptible to injury.

Carlie needed a bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, her younger sister, Cecily, was found to be a perfect bone marrow match for her. While she prepared for the surgery, Carlie was put on a drug called Gleevec, which held the cancer in check.

The transplant was done in June 2006. For the next five weeks, Carlie couldn't eat and had trouble keeping food down. But she kept a positive attitude and focused on what was ahead.

"I wanted to get back to school," says Carlie. "I would just sit in the hospital, bored."

Part of school she thought about was the upcoming production of The Wizard of Oz. "I actually started rehearsing before I could return to school," she says.

She was back to school by November and playing an Ozzian in the play. Like the rest of the cast and crew, she was sad to see the show end.

Carlie's leukemia story is a happy one. Her treatment and recovery had some fortunate factors: her sister being a perfect bone marrow match and undergoing a successful transplant, and having Gleevec available to arrest the disease in the meantime. All of her tests since her treatment have shown Carlie to be leukemia free.

Gleevec and Team-in-Training

The drug Gleevec, which was instrumental in Carlie's treatment, almost didn't exist. The researchers who developed the drug ran out of funding. It was a grant they received from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's "Team In Training" (TNT) program, which enabled them to continue their work and bring Gleevec to market.

Team In Training is a national training program that brings aspiring athletes and mentor/coaches together to help them accomplish their endurance sports goals, while also raising money and awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. According to its website, TNT was founded in 1988 when Bruce Cleland from Rye, N.Y., created a team to train and run in the New York City Marathon, raising funds in honor of Cleland's daughter, Georgia, who was a leukemia survivor. Cleland's team of 38 runners raised $322,000.

Twenty years later, more than 30,000 athletes runners, walkers, cyclists and triathletes will compete in events throughout the world to raise funds for the society. For 2008, one of those athletes is Don Marvel.

Don will run P.F. Chang's Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in Phoenix, Ariz., on Jan. 13, 2008. His reason to run, and his connection to TNT, couldn't be more personal.

"Needless to say, our family feels blessed," says Don. "When a family has been given the gift we have, no contribution seems large enough. I want to do this race to show how grateful I am that Carlie's life was saved."

An Atypical Athlete

Don Marvel is not the standard profile for TNT athletes, many of whom are training to finish their first or longest race. Don's running these days, however, is not without its own challenges.

At 65, and since being diagnosed with heart disease, Don's finishing times have "slowed" to a half-marathon time of just under two hours, and a 5K time of 25 minutes. Slow is relative, as Marvel routinely wins his age group at local races by handy margins. His doctor does not support him running beyond the half-marathon distance.

If the effects of heart disease hadn't challenged him enough, a training injury to his ankle has had Marvel logging miles on his bike more than running during the last month. Still, he is unwavering in his goal.

"I will go to Arizona and finish the race," he says. "I won't run it as fast as I would like to, and I might have to walk some, but I will finish."

We would do well to believe him. This from a man who once ran 132 miles in a 24-hour race. He knows how to will himself across a finish line when his body is uncertain.

Don's athletic accomplishments and his will to compete do not completely overshadow his prowess as a fundraiser for TNT. He has an incredible, personal story to tell. And he has the tenacity that has allowed him to run distances unthinkable to most people. His original stated fundraising goal was $5,000. After eclipsing that mark a few months ago, Don has set a new goal of $10,000. To date, he has raised $9,490.

"I never thought I'd focus so much on fundraising," says Marvel. "But it has become a real challenge, and I spend a lot of time working to raise money for the race and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society."

So how's he doing? According to Damian Magarelli, the Campaign Director and Eastern Shore coordinator for TNT, "Don is the top fundraiser for the Maryland chapter TNT program this season."

A (New) Reason To Run

The intensity and singularity of purpose that Don Marvel has brought to both running and now raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society have not wavered through injury or age. Marvel knows his injuries will pass and he still looks forward to runs on Easton's Rails-to-Trails path, which he can pick up from his home.

He also has his new reason to run embodied in his granddaughter, Carlie, and her health, her singing, acting and athletic ability. So what does Carlie think about her grandfather running for her?

"I feel really grateful," says Carlie. "In part because I know first-hand that they really use the money that is donated."

By all counts, a marvelous reason to run.

Getting Involved

On Jan. 13, Don will compete in P.F. Chang's Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Arizona. There are opportunities to get involved with Don's personal journey before then. To make a donation to Don's TNT campaign for Carlie, you can visit his website at Checks made payable to "The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society" can also be sent directly to Marvel at 606 Wayside Avenue, Easton, MD 21601. The deadline for donations is Jan. 3.

If you have ever thought about running or walking a half-marathon or marathon, or competing in an endurance event such as a triathlon or 100-mile century ride, and are interested in training with Team In Training, you can visit their Maryland website at

TNT will be recruiting participants at an information meeting scheduled at the Talbot County Library in Easton on Thursday, Jan. 17, at 6 p.m. and also at the Queen Anne's County Library in Kent Island on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 11 a.m.

And there is information on the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on their website at

Thursday, December 27, 2007

2007 Redux

Mikes Valliant (Tucks) and Keene (Wood Frog) outside Madison Springs Hut, the final morning of the great Whites adventure.

Mike Keene has befriended a sizable buck. He reported his antlered amigo after his last run at Tuckahoe State Park. On December 26, we went for a 10-mile jaunt through Tuckahoe, and came across a good-sized buck at the same section of trail. Whatever Keene is carrying in his Nathan belt, he isn't sharing it with me.

Our run was a great final trail run for 2007. Like an interval run in places, pushing the pace early, and then a final sprint across the bridge (Keene took the sprint, bastard!). I will try to hit the roads a time or two more before the end of the year, but that is likely my last trail run for the year.

And since it is the end of the year, this is that time in the real world, as well as the blogosphere, where folks recap the top moments of the year coming to an end. So why should a discourage such a fine tradition? Here are some of the highlights from the Valliant 2007 running journal:

10-milers - Annapolis, Chestertown, and Cherry Pit. The highlight here is a 10-mile PR for me at the Cherry Pit 10-miler on April 1, a time of 1:20 and change. I held back during the entire race waiting for it to get tough, and wound up almost sprinting the entire last mile. A smarter run would have pushed me into the teens, but there is always 2008!

Bay Hundred to Baltimore - we certainly out-did the marathon in terms of distance this year, and I had already finished the Baltimore Marathon two years ago, BUT... the story here was running with Keene, Pierre Bernasse, and Jim Richardson, and all finishing, with Jim running his first marathon at age 60. This race was also a turning point for me, coming back from being sick, in deciding that I was going to give JFK a shot.

Bridge-to-Bridge - within 6-7 months of Bill Frost and Bradley Hower running the idea by me, we held a race. A half-marathon and 5K, to be exact, with 60 runners in the half and 40 in the 5K, to keep numbers round. It was a blast to help measure and determine the course, to help promote, sign folks in, and congratulate finishers. It was also a blast to set a half-marathon PR of 1:51, on 2 hours of sleep the night before the race! And one of the most memorable aspects of the race, was test-running the measured course with Keene, on April 7, in sideways snow and freezing rain. It was an absolute blast. The experience surrounding the race was exceptional.

Holiday Lake 50K++ - running and finishing our first "ultra." And meeting ultra-legend David Horton in the process. The race started in the dark in 12 degree weather in Appomattox, Virginia. Fantastic scenery, camaraderie, the sound of the ice on the lake melting as the race went on, and the feeling of finishing, despite leg cramps and dark moments on the second/backwards loop of the course. I decided in late 2006 that I wanted to finish an ultra in 2007.

The White Mountains - fastpacking up Tuckerman's Ravine in New Hampshire's White Mountains was a life-changing experience. The Appalachian Mountain Club's huts were as welcoming as any 5-star hotel. Ridge walking, trail running on the AT, meeting a thru-hiker, who turned up again in St. Michaels, rekindling a love for soup, and learning first-hand the difference between miles and mountain miles.

Daughter Anna's first 1-mile race - At 5-years-old, Anna finished her first race, distance: 1 mile. Ava and I accompanied her, riding in and pushing the jogging stroller, and offering coaching and cheering. Anna had a tough time in a couple of places (mostly boredom, I think), but each time Olivia, Eleanora, and Mike Keene would pass by and cheer her on, and she'd pick it back up. I have yet to find a feeling that wells up quite the way hearing our daughter tell our friends and family, "I ran a race today and it was a whole mile!"

JFK 50-miler - the report is still pretty recent on here. After crossing the finish line, before heading into the school to get fed and showered, I almost broke down in tears, for having finished, and for what it all meant to me, after running for more than 11 hours. After a poor fall in terms of running and running health, this was an unparalleled experience and a life accomplishment.

That's my list. This has also been a year of getting to know and know better, running folks. Running with a training partner, the aforementioned Wood Frog, has helped motivate and push me to go for new adventures. Meeting and running with Pierre, Jim, Don Marvel, Stephen Bardsley, David MacKendrick, Nancy Toby, Ron Bowman, Jon Fox, Kevin Baum, to name a very few. Certainly feels like we are creating a running community. And along with personal goals for the year, that would be something to see grow and thrive in 2008!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Not Too Seriously...

A recent strip of "Pearls Before Swine," by Stephen Pastis. As busy as we get, you can't beat getting brought back to humor, by something like this. You can read daily "Pearls" of wisdom online. Reprinted by permission of Stephen Pastis.

I've been writing, interviewing, and looking at ideas and nominations for the 2008 race calendar. My goal for the coming year, is to dial in on the 10-mile and half-marathon distances, looking for as many opportunities as I can find to make said races trail runs. Here are some good ones I've come across:

03/22 Chesapeake Ride & Tie, 10M, 15M, 25M, Fair Hill, MD (trail). Beautiful course! A friend has mountain biked out there. Emailing the race director, this is generally a 2-person team trail run and trail horse ride, intermittently. She was really excited to have a trail runners only division, providing a measured, marked course, race timing, etc. This year's runners would be the FIRST to compete as straight-up runners.

04/12 Adkins Arboretum Arbor Day 10K, Ridgely, MD (trail). Gotta support the local trail race. Ran it two years ago, when it was a 3.5-mile course. Adkins and Tuckahoe trails. Looking to create a Triple Crown of this, Bridge-to-Bridge half, and Oxford Day 10K.

05/04 EX2 Off-Road Marathon and Half-Marathon, Prince William Forest Park, VA (trail). These guys put on great races. Their Vasque Backyard Burn spring and fall series in 07 all sold out. Great trails, well run race.

05/24 Chestertown Tea Party 10-Miler, Chestertown, MD (road). This would be the third consecutive year. The heat always makes this a challenging race. Sweet beer truck waiting right at the finish line.

08/17 Half Wit Trail Run Half Marathon, Reading, PA (trail). This is the race I really want to do this year. I might try to make this the top tier run on the schedule. We'll see how it shakes out. Sounds like a challenging run and a great group of folks.

09/19 Chesapeake Ride & Tie 3-Day Festival, 10M, 15M, 20M, 30M, 40M, Fair Hill, MD (trail). Fall series, just like spring, but with more options. We'll see how spring goes. I might even stretch this one out to 20 miles.

10/11 Baltimore Half-Marathon, Baltimore, MD (road). Over the last 3 years, I have rotated between full, half, and full marathons. 2007 was a full year, 2008 makes a half. Such a great race, great course, running through the heart of the city, finishing between Camden Yards and Ravens Stadium. Hilly course, as far as Maryland goes.

11/09 Outer Banks Half-Marathon, Outer Banks, NC (road). This is going to have to be an either-or with Baltimore. Since they started this race two years ago, I have thought how cool it would be to get a group together, take a weekend road trip, rent a house, and throw a half-marathon in as the excuse/centerpiece of the trip.

So that's eight that I've come across, many in Trail Runner magazine's 2008 race calendar. Love to hear what other races folks are considering. In all likelihood, I will narrow this list to six. And I am going to continue to look for a good Pittsburgh race--either something like the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon or a sweet trail run up there, since we have family and friends that could represent places to crash.

When I have more time and focus, I would like to return to a 50K and a 50-mile race. I have recently heard that David Horton's Promise Land 50K is his most beautiful course, and much hillier than the Holiday Lake we did in February. The HAT Run 50K in MD sounds great. And either a return to JFK, or to the Mountain Masochist 50-miler isn't out of the question. But we are talking in a couple years. The 2008 mantra is to run fast, run free, run wild, run fun.