Running with a Reason

Tufts Marathon Team raises money to support nutrition, medical and fitness programs at Tufts
Tufts Marathon Team on a practice run in the fall
The Tufts Marathon Team on a training run in November 2016. “When these kids finish the marathon, you can see it in their eyes,” said coach Don Megerle. “It’s altering. They go to another place.” Photo: Matthew Healey
April 11, 2017

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When a stress fracture sidelined Hannah Polshuk, G17, last summer, her dream of running the Boston Marathon was dashed.

“It was a classic case of doing too much, too soon,” said Polshuk, a graduate student in occupational therapy, who started going on morning runs with the Tufts Marathon Team in fall 2015.

But Polshuk bounced back, going through physical therapy and working with marathon team coach Don Megerle to stick to a training plan that gave her plenty of rest days. “There’s this perception that the more you do, the better you’ll be when race day comes,” Polshuk said. “But [he] makes sure to remind me that for some runners, that’s not necessarily the case.”

The training paid off. This year, Polshuk is one of 34 Tufts students, alumni, staff and friends who will don one of the Tufts Marathon Team’s yellow singlets on April 17 and run 26.2 miles to raise money to support nutrition programs at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, including research on childhood obesity, through the school’s partnership with health insurer John Hancock. The team’s goal this year is to raise $350,000. There’s still plenty of time to support the Jumbo marathoners.

“It’s a dream come true. It’s the most unbelievably symbolic way for me to wrap up my time at Tufts,” said Polshuk, who has achieved her $1,500 fundraising goal. “I’m extremely excited to be representing Tufts and Don [Megerle] and all the work he puts into making the team what it is.”

Megerle has coached the team since it was started in 2003. Fouteen years later, he remains just as devoted to his runners, who call him Coach. He leads group runs Wednesday and Sunday mornings from July through April, regardless of weather, and indoor interval training on Tuesdays. He meets one-on-one with runners in his office at 80 George St., where the walls are covered with photos of past team members.

“I tell them when you put on this singlet, you’re Superman or Superwoman,” Megerle said. “You can do anything you want to do.”

At the same time, Coach stresses the importance of pacing yourself, drinking enough water, getting enough nutrition and always running with a partner. The regimen has led almost all 2,200 runners in the team’s history to successfully compete the marathon, he said.

Qais Iqbal, A17, a physics major and pre-med student, said running lets him push his boundaries. “There’s a sense of satisfaction in being able to do something you may not think you can do,” he said. “It’s like winning an internal struggle.”

When Iqbal started coming to the team’s group runs in summer 2015, he also enjoyed slowing down enough to talk with fellow runners. After returning home for holiday breaks to Karachi, Pakistan, where few people run and he trained alone on the beach, Iqbal came to appreciate the social aspect of running even more. “It’s cool to be able to get to know people from such different walks of life who all have this common thing between them,” he said.

Representing Tufts’ diverse community of runners at other races is thrilling, said Iqbal, who was energized by cries of “Tufts!” as he ran in his yellow singlet during the Providence Marathon in May 2016. “It’s such a popular, famous running club, and it feels good to represent it,” he said. “There’s a feeling of something bigger than yourself.”

Between the fundraising and the sense of personal accomplishment, running with the Tufts Marathon Team is a life-changing experience, said Megerle, who plans to spend race day the same way he has for more than a decade: handing out homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and embracing his runners—they call them “Don hugs”—as they cross the finish line.

“When these kids finish the marathon, you can see it in their eyes. It’s altering,” Megerle said. “They go to another place. It stays with you the rest of your life.”

Monica Jimenez can be reached at monica.jimenez@tufts.edu.