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Summer 2005

Photo by Melody Ko

A Day at the Races

In the dog days of summer, it’s difficult to remember the deep freeze that locked up Boston just four months ago. In March, the Boston Globe used a graphic that showed the winter snowfall to date— 78.1 inches—stacking up taller than Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.

Through it all, the Tufts Marathon Team trained, outdoors, for the Boston Marathon. “When it was twelve degrees in January, we were out there running together,” says President Lawrence S. Bacow, the team’s leader. The training was a special opportunity to turn an individual sport into a group activity. “We did our 20-mile-long runs together,” says Bacow. “There’s a lot of camaraderie—it’s so easy, especially in the dead of winter, when you need to get your mileage in, to roll over and go back to sleep. But when you know that the team is meeting at 6:15 in the morning, you don’t want to let people down, so you’re there.”

Don Megerle, a longtime swimming coach at Tufts, coordinated the team’s efforts this year. “I’d be out there with bagels and Gatorade on Sunday mornings,” he says. “Even when it was two degrees in February, we had 30 people training.”

All that work paid off on April 18, when a record 189 members of the Tufts family—students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends—took to the 26.2-mile course in matching electric yellow T-shirts. All but two team members finished, a remarkable feat for a group made up of marathon novices as well as longtime runners. It was a glorious day, says Megerle: “I give them high marks all around.”

Angie Lee, now a junior at Tufts, was one of the most visible of this year’s runners. Featured on the cover of Boston Runner magazine in April, she documented her training and the big day on her own website, angierunningboston.blogspot.com. “Probably the best part of the day was running parts of the Marathon with four of my best friends,” she says. “My roommates split up the course into sections and met up at different mile markers,” giving her running company from mile eight until the end of the race. “Sharing this experience with them was awesome,” she says.

More than 330 Tufts volunteers helped at the Marathon as well, working at water stations and other points along the 26.2-mile course. “This has become a huge community-building activity,” says Bacow.

This year’s Marathon was a comeback for Bacow, 53. He led the charge for the first “President’s Marathon Challenge” in 2003, but in 2004 was unable to compete after coming down with pericarditis, an infection in the lining of his heart, about five weeks before the race. The illness put him in the hospital briefly and he had to take close to a month off work. He began running again last November with his doctor’s permission. “I couldn’t make it one mile,” he says, but five months later he was ready for Boston. “I am a runner, and you do come back. I worked at it. I think the marathon training has been a really important part of my recovery.”

Bacow’s 23-year-old son, Ken, ran alongside him every step, both with their names written in pen along their arms so the crowds could cheer them on by name. Bacow’s 25-year-old son, Jay, also participated.

The whole idea of putting together a fundraising program to get Tufts people involved in the Marathon began with a casual conversation in 2001, says Bacow. He was talking with David D’Alessandro, then the CEO of John Hancock Financial Services, the life insurance company that is the principal sponsor of the Boston Marathon.

“I was describing to him a program we have at Tufts called the ‘Personalized Performance Program,’” he says. Targeted primarily at students, the program provides entering undergrads with a complete diet and fitness evaluation, a personalized diet and training regimen, and follow-up over the course of a year. “I told him how the program had been successful, and how we were interested in expanding it, and that we needed to raise some money. And we were sitting there and I said, ‘You know, it would be great if we could get some numbers from the Marathon to use for fundraising.’ And that’s how it started.”

To obtain an official entry into the Boston Marathon, a runner has to either have a qualifying time from another certified marathon or be a member of one of the charities that partners with the Marathon. Tufts secured 25 official charity numbers in the first year and was able to offer first-time marathon experience to students. This year Tufts got 200 numbers. Tufts and John Hancock have continued to develop a strong partnership: the company made a major investment in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, resulting in the naming of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition.

Students who wanted an official Tufts race number committed last fall to raising a minimum of $1,000. Alumni, faculty, staff, parents, and friends were asked to commit $2,500. Even with those amounts, there were still more people who wanted to participate than numbers to go around. So a lottery was held last November, after a 10-mile training run that ended at the President’s House. Everyone was then invited to train with the group over the next five months, through the darkness of winter and the opening weeks of spring.

Collectively, the group will raise nearly $350,000 in 2005 for Tufts’ research on nutrition, obesity, famine, hunger, and the diseases related to nutrition and aging.

Planning has already begun for next April’s event. To get involved in the 2006 Boston Marathon as a runner, volunteer, or sponsor of the Tufts team, go to marathon.president@tufts.edu. Group training will begin in September and a lottery for numbers is likely to be held in November. Also see the “Info for Runners” page at the website for Coach Megerle’s collection of training schedules, tips on how to prevent injuries, and inspirational guidance.