Almost a decade later, Dave Marks doesn’t know what possessed him to say it. His former coach isn’t sure either, but he didn’t disapprove.
Competing for Lewis-Clark State in the NAIA national track meet in Indiana in 2010, Marks perhaps was 10 laps into the men’s 5,000-meter final when he decided to shake things up. A few runners had separated from the rest of the pack, and Marks led the second tier.
He turned around and cried, “Who wants to be an All-American?” Then he cranked up his pace for the final two-plus laps as he pursued the leaders.
He didn’t catch them all. But he placed fourth, and the top six were considered NAIA All-Americans. At least one of the runners behind him was inspired to follow him in the chase.
Mike Collins, the L-C track and cross country coach, told that story recently to illustrate the uniqueness of Marks’ approach to distance running. His former pupil stepped away from competitive racing for a few years but recently has launched a comeback, running longer races and showing a perhaps quieter form of the same tenacity he showed in that 5K as a second-year freshman.
“My personality doesn’t work that way, and I haven’t seen a whole lot that do,” Collins said. “But that’s just him, and how his brain works. It’s pretty inspiring at times.”
Now 29 and living in Denver, Marks is aiming for the biggest accomplishment of his career. On Sunday in the California International Marathon in Sacramento, he will try to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials at Eugene, Ore., in June.
He’s never attempted a 26.2-mile race. But in October he posted a swift time in a Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon at San Jose, Calif., and Collins said he’ll be “a little surprised” if he doesn’t meet the Trials’ qualifying standard of 2 hours, 19 minutes.
In football and other sports, of course, it’s not unusual for athletes to issue impromptu verbal challenges in the middle of a competition. It doesn’t happen often in track and field, especially in the genteel world of distance running.
But something bothered Marks about that 5K at Nationals.
“I don’t know why I said it, looking back,” Marks said by phone recently. “But I think there was a pack of runners that were maybe getting complacent.”
That’s something he tries to avoid.
Marks stills owns the L-C freshman and sophomore records in cross country, but injuries kept him from realizing his potential. One of them clearly was self-inflicted. After a night of partying with friends who had just graduated, he leapt from the top of an RV and fractured a heel — two weeks before the national meet.
“I thought he was the best 5K runner in the country and he lost his chance to prove that,” Collins said. “It was just one of those goofy Dave decisions that came back to haunt him.”
After graduating in sports management in 2013, Marks spent a few few years trying fruitlessly to gain traction as a post-collegiate runner, mostly in his home state of Oregon. Injuries and job responsibilities worked against him.
But a couple of years ago, in Denver, he landed a job that allows him to work from home. That made training a lot easier. He got on top of his physical issues and began lengthening his workouts and races. Lately, he’s been logging up to 100 miles per week.
In several ways, Marks defies the stereotype of the ascetic distance runner. Even his way of describing the discipline required in his endeavor can make a listener hungry.
“I think of running as a giant pie or a cake,” he said. “You’ve got to slice a small slice and focus on that one. If that slice is NAIA, I’m going to focus on that slice. If I do great in NAIA, maybe I’ll cut off a bigger slice next time. So marathon training kind of makes me a bigger slice. It takes a lot of training to eat that slice of pie, but hopefully I’ll enjoy that slice come (Sunday).”
For all that, Marks has improved his diet in recent years. His wife of 19 months, Victoria, isn’t a runner but she’s a vegetarian and evidently a good influence. Marks has experimented with veganism and, in any case, mostly avoids red meat.
All of this is interesting to Collins, who remembers Marks at post-track meet dinners handily downing multiple hamburgers.
Marks doesn’t deny it. His record at the time, he said, was 14 Big Macs in a week. “After this marathon,” he said, “maybe I’ll try to break that record.”
Grummert may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2290.