Friday, December 18, 2020

Meters add up to marathon for Windham runner

Mike Parker, a 78-year-old South
Windham runner and a former 
president of the Presumpscot 
Regional Land Trust, completed
a marathon run on Dec. 4 at 
Windham High School that he 
began in September and
accomplished by running 
100-meter segments at a time.
By Ed Pierce

Persistence has paid off for a 78-year-old South Windham runner who completed a marathon run 100 meters at a time at Windham High School earlier this month.

Mike Parker, a devoted runner and former president of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, had been walking on Portland Water District trails to escape cabin fever heading into the fall, but with hunting season in full swing, he says he came up with an activity a little safer and perhaps a bit more challenging. 

“Like most 78-year-olds, I can barely recall the glory days when I was running four or five marathons a year,” Parker said. “But like any aging runner, I measure my well-being by how well my legs are functioning. One quiet afternoon, I calculated from my best marathon speed that it would take 23 seconds to run 100 meters.”

He said that Windham High Coach Jeff Riddle showed him where he could find start and finish lines on both straightaways of the track and wished him well.

“For three months I have become something of a fixture on the oval,” he said.

Parker decided to try and run a marathon, completing 100 meters each time on the track, doing 10 segments at a time. 

“He figured out from his past personal record marathon time what time he would need to run many 100-meter dashes in, repeatedly over time, and then use many months and days heading to the track and run 10 one-hundred meter dashes on that day, and matching it in that time, as eventually it will add up and he will have run a full marathon, and his time will match his past best time ever,” Riddle said. 

In early September, Parker had his first timed trial run.

“I finished within the requisite time, but only by going all-out, which is scary business at my brittle age,” Parker said. “My stride was short because my hamstrings had so little stretch, and I had very little time per stride because most of my muscle mass has taken leave. But I had discovered a distance, however short, in which I could equal my marathon pace.”

Running has always come easy for Parker, who graduated from Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield and attended Dartmouth on an NROTC scholarship. He served 30 years in the Navy, first as a line officer, then as a Navy dentist.

In the year before he entered Tufts University Dental School, Parker worked in Saigon on the staff of Vice Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, who went on to become Chief of Naval Operations. After retiring from Navy dentistry, he practiced with Dr. Dan Armstrong in South Portland for a dozen years.

He said that a marathon distance is 26.2 miles, but in metric terms, it is 42.2 kilometers, or 422 dashes of 100 meters.

“There was a way I might be able to run a marathon in my best-ever pace, 23 seconds at a time,” Parker said.

He only ran two dashes in the first session in September.

“I noted a delicate balance between what was fast enough and what my hamstrings would tolerate. Ten
dashes per session seemed tolerable, but I made the mistake of experimenting higher,” Parker said. “After two consecutive sessions of 20 dashes in late September, I had to spend a couple weeks recovering.”

He continued the effort through October and in November, he was able to settle into a pattern of completing fairly comfortable 10 dashes, or one kilometer per session, icing his hamstrings after most of them.

One day while walking from the finish line back to the start along the home stadium, Parker said that he noticed another man about his age apparently also running dashes on a grass playing field closer to the high school.

“I intercepted him as he was leaving and learned that he was keeping himself in condition for the USTFA Masters competition, which had been canceled this year by the pandemic,” Parker said. “He said he had done well in past years and wanted to stay competitive with his contemporaries. He declined to join me on the track, saying he needed the grass to cushion his sore knees. We all have our weaknesses.”

During November. Parker completed one kilometer per session and then dodging rainy days, he was able to schedule his final kilometer of the marathon on Dec. 4.

“I dedicated this challenge to the memory of my college ski coach, Al Merrill, an Andover, Maine, native,” he said. “In his memory, I wore a 56-year-old letter sweater for the final dash, thinking that I would be back on Nordic skis with substantial snow in the next couple days.” 

He and his wife, Carolyn, have raised three children in 56 years of marriage and Parker has plenty of time to run and stay active, having retired in 2007. <

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