Boston Marathon runner celebrates 20 years with LES class

Lisa Marks and her fourth grade class wearing Dana-Farber Marathon jerseys. Photo by Amanda Wedegis

LUDLOW, Vt. – In April, Lisa Marks will be stepping up to the starting line of her 20th Boston Marathon. To honor year 20 on the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team, Marks has brought her running experience to her fourth grade classroom at Ludlow Elementary School where she’s teaching a new generation of potential marathon runners.

In the classroom, Marks teaches her students about the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team and their goal to “help reach the ultimate finish line – a world without cancer.” When Marks first started running for cancer research, it was in honor of her college friend who had been diagnosed with leukemia and had passed away. She’s shared her marathon jerseys with her students, noting that as each year passes, the list of names gets longer – over 500 names today.

This year, she’s running especially in memory of Caitlin Mattes who was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma and died at age 13, and Matty Dubac who was diagnosed with heptoblastoma and died at age 7. She’s also running for her patient partner Nolan Alberty of Proctorsville who is a five-year survivor following a bone marrow transplant. Nolan, who turned 8 in March, comes to the marathon each year to celebrate and be honored. “He is a big reason why I keep running,” Marks says.

Marks has shared her experience with the Boston Marathon, from her list of names and her patient partner Nolan, to her DFMC coach Jack Fultz who was the 1976 Boston Marathon winner.

To give her students some first-hand experience with marathon running, Marks has designated 15 minutes each morning to run 20 laps – or one mile – around the Presidents’ gymnasium. As a reminder of the significance of the DFMC, each student wears a jersey from Marks’ previous marathons while they run their laps. After 26 days, they will have completed a full marathon and will each receive a medal to celebrate their accomplishment.

“They have to do all 26 miles to get a medal,” Marks explained. If students are absent, they can work with Marks to make up their missed miles.

Running a mile a day has been a comprehensive learning experience for the fourth graders. On the first day, according to Marks, they all started sprinting right away, losing their energy reserves not long after. After several days of the activity, they’re learning more about pacing themselves and breathing properly throughout all 20 laps. A few students elect to run the whole mile, while others alternate running a lap with walking in between. Other students pair off or run in small groups to motivate each other to keep going.

The students also voluntarily reflect on their own progress. “If you keep trying and practicing, it will get easier,” Laney observes. “It grows on you. It just gets easier, but it can sometimes be hard.”

Marks hopes that as the weather gets warmer and the mud dries up that she’ll be able to take her class outside to run their laps so that they can get fresh air as well.

The exercise has had numerous other benefits, Marks explains. Her students return to the classroom calmer and ready to work. A few students mention that they now incorporate more running and walking after school and also say that they would want to run a marathon when they’re older.

“I’ve told them if they ever run a marathon, I’ll be there supporting them,” Marks says.

“If I have to run for a charity, I want to run for all of them,” Daniel says. “I want people to notice the people who survive cancer. I want them to know they’re not alone.”

Marks’ goal is to have the class complete their marathon the week before the Boston Marathon. Marks will compete her 20th Boston Marathon Monday, April 15. In her letter she writes, “What I have learned as a runner for the DFMC over the past 20 years is this world is full of incredibly kind and generous people. People I know and people I don’t know have helped me raise close to $200,000 for cancer research. I will be forever grateful for this.”

To learn more about Lisa Marks’s story or to donate, go to www.danafarber.jimmyfund.org/goto/Lisa_Marks.

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