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Interview: Don Megerle | Megerle talks to the Daily about PMC

Published: Friday, April 17, 2009

Updated: Friday, April 17, 2009 04:04

    Yesterday, Don Megerle, the director of the President's Marathon Challenge, sat down with Jeremy Greenhouse of the Daily's sports department to discuss the annual event, which will take place this Monday, April 20. Megerle is in his fifth year heading up the program.

Jeremy Greenhouse: Give us an overview of this program.

Don Megerle: I used to be the swimming coach here, and then I almost left Tufts, but [University President] Larry Bacow got me involved in this marathon challenge. I took this fledgling group of ragtag runners, and it blossomed into this huge program. This year we started with 200 and are now down to 196 ... We have training sessions on Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Sundays at 8 a.m., with intervals outside of Gantcher. We get 40 to 70 people per session. We've competed in a couple of road races, with the longest being 20 miles so far … Right now, [the runners have] been tapering down and cutting down considerably. Some are doing nothing from now until the marathon.

JG: Why run the Marathon?

DM: President Bacow will be first to tell you, of all the things he's accomplished in his life, aside from being president of Tufts, his first marathon completion was the most significant thing he's done. And for a guy of his stature to say that, that's pretty cool. And when you train for it and you run it and you see the people at the finish line — the sense of accomplishment — you become a select number of the "one percenters." Less than one percent of [the] world has completed a marathon. It's a real select group. There's a lot of emotion, a lot of feeling, a lot of history. And to be there and see it with my own eyes … it's indescribable.

JG: Is President Bacow running it this year?

DM: He didn't last year or this year because of his schedule. But he might next year. My first experience five years ago greeting the runners at the finish line, I didn't know what to expect. I've had national champion swimmers and 90 All-Americans, so I know what that's like. But I didn't know what meeting a couple hundred runners at a finish line would be like. And it's indescribable.

    The president asked me a couple years ago what's it like at the finish line, and I said I can't describe it. You gotta be there yourself. So last year, he was there. He had a ball. He went absolutely to another place. He's running along the road with them at mile 9, he was going nuts. Some of the runners commented about meeting myself and Larry at the end and said it was a life-changing experience for them.

    There [are] feelings of joy, there [are] feelings of defeat, extreme emotion. It's not as painful as people think. They transcend all that stuff. Thousands of people are lined along the course, and being with other runners going through the same thing, they transcend the difficulty. Nobody thinks about the pain, the hardship, the agony, the cold weather. No one talks about it. All they talk about is what they just accomplished. It's extraordinary.

JG: Take us through the race itself.

DM: It's an interesting course. It starts at Hopkinton. There are bumps and hills going along, but the course itself is downhill. You're way above sea level and running downhill, so we caution the runners to begin running easy and comfortable. The best advice is to go easy and try not to run ahead of others at the beginning. Begin the pacing right when the run starts. If they run too fast too soon, they'll pay for it. You may feel good for 10 miles, but if you run too fast, it catches you around mile 18, 19, 20.

    Or if they don't drink enough or eat properly, it affects them tremendously. The best research available about how to carbo load found that it doesn't have to be done until the last three days, but those three days can be crucial. If you do it right, you can avoid hitting this wall. The worst thing is you overeat the night before since you have to get up in the morning and have your digestion take care of itself. Mild eating, but eating carbos is important. One of the best things to eat, believe it or not, is a peanut butter jelly sandwich.

    If you deplete all your energy and don't replenish yourself with water or sugar or Gatorade, you're going to suffer. They have water stands that start around mile three and alternate sides of [the] road. At mile 16 and 17, Gatorade stations are set up. We tell our runners to take a little bit at each stop. … We tell runners to drink before they think they need it. If you drink too late, people get in trouble. The mantra we have with our runners is never do anything on race day you haven't already done. Nothing is new. From the clothing you're wearing to your thoughts about pacing to your eating to your drinking, nothing is new. You've trained for it. You expect it. You know what you're going to encounter.

JG: What's your style?

DM: I'm a nurturer. I like to comfort them. The last couple of days have such excitement, but what I like to say is do the best you can but don't think about it. If you're talking about it, you're going to get a little nervous. So what I say is stick your fingers in your ears. You're prepared, you're ready, you're all going to be fine. And they're fine.

    I sort of live by a certain code: "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." What amazes some of the runners is how I extend myself. I do things for them that they're unfamiliar with because they've never been part of a team before. I call it the handshake. When you shake someone's hand, there's a commitment on both ends. And that's how it works. It's an unconditional support from my end.

JG: Is there ever any competition between runners?

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