Nov. 20 was a particularly gloomy day: 45 degrees, clouds overhead and windy. While most people slept in or got a head start on Thanksgiving plans, former East student Allie Marquis rushes toward a line of 20 red port a-potties lined up in front of the Double Tree Hotel in Corporate Woods, where a congregation of runners has accumulated. Marquis is late. The 26.2 miles she signed up to run on a whim a month ago is starting in 5 minutes and she hasn’t stretched or done her normal warm up jog. Technically, she hasn’t formally trained for the marathon either – most marathoner runners train six months out before the race, clocking in 20 miles in one day at times. Her lack of preparation is in the back of Marquis’ mind, though. The 21-year-old thinks to herself, “If I can’t finish the race, I’ll drop out. I’ll just take it easy.”
The most difficult aspect of running for Marquis isn’t the pain. It’s not the multiple injuries she has suffered over the past three years, not the up-hill climbs during a 12 mile run or the blackish-purple blisters of blood that form underneath her toe nails from running seven days a week. The hardest part for Marquis is taking a day off.
Marquis’ ambition for running goes back to her freshman year at East in 2006, when she first discovered cross country and track.
“It was simpler then,” Marquis said. “I liked it because it was something I was really good at and felt motivated to work at even more because of that.”
Her training in high school earned Marquis a scholarship to run to run cross country and track at KU. The offer had been something Marquis had yearned for ever since she realized her talent for the sport freshman year. Marquis’ best friend and former coach, Tricia Beaham, has watched Marquis grow from the moment she joined the cross country team. After high-school, Beaham and Marquis frequently kept in touch, and now call each other as often as once a week to catch up.
“She has this diligence about running that is remarkable,” Beaham said. “She puts in so much time and effort, but it was something that made her happy too.”
Even with her drive, the glitz of collegiate running began to wear off when Marquis entered her freshman year at KU. Instead of the 35 – 40 mile a week runs Marquis was used to in high-school, she and other teammates were now clocking in at 90 miles a week. Marquis would see a nutritionist every day, advising her with a regimented diet to make sure her caloric intake was sustaining her.
Marquis had to make sure she could balance out the 1,000 calories she was burning some days. The change was like a freight train to her body.
“I think a lot of people believe that once you compete in college, you’re just in love with it,” Marquis said. “You have days though, where you’re just exhausted and my body definitely went through shock.”
Marquis eventually found herself having frequent hip problems, an injury she noticed that was gradually becoming more painful which affected her stride because they were out of alignment. Marquis had to take daily trips to the trainer for her hips to be pulled in and out of their sockets to get them normally aligned again. Later in her sophomore year, Marquis was hit with a stress fracture in the bone of her foot, a common, yet serious injury for many track athletes where the weight-bearing bone in the foot is cracked because of overworking the muscles from the impact of her feet constantly hitting the ground.
“It’s frustrating because it’s not muscle so you can’t massage it out, you can’t heat it,” Marquis said. “You have to take a lengthy break because that’s your bone healing.”
By the spring season of her sophomore year, Marquis healed enough to hop back on the track with her teammates. During an intense practice one day, Marquis began to feel the same pain she had felt in her foot just months before. It was unbearable and sudden. Just days before she was feeling the healthiest she had felt in weeks. The bone in her foot had fractured again. Marquis had to stop her training, and decided to quit for a few months.
“It literally happened like one day I was on the roads fine and then the next day it was like I couldn’t take a step,” Marquis said. “The sudden injuries are the hardest because a couple days earlier you were having a great run and feeling it.”
Even with a successful fall season her junior year, Marquis felt like she had hit a brick wall, not enjoying the short distances as much as she once did. She was in a funk. She had lost the desire she had felt in high-school to run every day – she was no longer running because she loved it; she was running because she felt she had to.
“My heart and mind always go back to the longer distances,” Marquis said. “I love just pushing the body just to see how far you can go before it breaks down.”
Thousands of people pile behind the blue starting pads – 5k runners, half marathon runners and the marathon runners – the air still crisp so the fog from their breath creates a collective cloud of exhaling.
“Five minutes runners! Five minutes!” The starter announces over a megaphone. Marquis thinks back to what Beaham told her the night before.
“She’s one of those people who will go out and say ‘Wow, I feel good let’s keep going this pace’,” Beaham said. “With a marathon though, you can’t do that so I told her to ease into her pace, and gradually up her speed with each mile.”
“One minute racers! One minute!” The starter yells again. Marquis’ heart-rate elevates – not because she is nervous and not because she is afraid. Despite losing valuable warm-up time beforehand, Marquis remains calm. She knows this feeling.
“10, nine, eight, seven, six, five…” The crowd joins in as the starter counts down until the long “beeeep,” sounds the start. Like a school of fish, the runners cross the starting pads in clumps of 40.
Marquis treats her first four miles like a warm-up, just as Beaham told her, running steadily to the rhythm of the up-beat rap playing from the iPod strapped around her arm.
By her fourth mile into the race, Marquis feels her hips and calves tightening up. She tries to shake out the strain in her muscles, but the cold air prevents any relief.
“Run through it,” Marquis thinks to herself. “Just go another hour and see how you feel.”
By mile nine, Marquis has loosened up. Two more miles pass, then three, then five. At the half, Marquis remembers why she started running in the first place. She picks her feet up quickening into a seven minute pace.
“Keep it rolling,” Marquis repeats the phrase in her mind. “Keep it rolling.”
At 15, Marquis realizes she is first in the women’s race. As she passes more mile signs, Marquis feels her hips locking again. The next four miles are hell. She lifts her head up and sees a girl in front of her.
“Catch up to her,” Marquis tells herself. “Pass her.”
Marquis pushes herself past the other runner, only to realize she wasn’t in the race, but she doesn’t look back. She goes through a highway underpass and up a small, gradual hill leading to the finish. There are no other female marathon runners in front of her, only the tunnel of onlookers bundled in blankets and coats and the giant clock above the blue finish mats. Marquis takes a deep breath and takes her final steps of her first marathon. She looks at the clock as she crosses: “3:10.”
“The second you cross the finish line you’re exhausted,” Marquis said. “But, it’s such a good feeling.”
A black Jeep Liberty rests outside of a house on W. 20th Street in Lawrence, KS. The back windshield of the liberty displays a red and blue bumper sticker that reads in bold letters “KU TRACK.” A petite, blue-eyed blonde dressed in a baby-blue, dry-fitted zip up and Adidas running leggings opens the screen door to the house, as a little, brown fur ball sprints past her, into the front yard. “Trixie! Trixie, come back inside,” the blonde yells in a bubbly tone to a small Yorkie.
Inside the house, the chatter of three other girls is heard from the kitchen; laughing and joking, food sizzles on the stove. Framed photographs of KU track runners hang on the walls and sit on tables.
The photos of the track runners show a chapter in her life that Marquis is gradually closing. Just three weekends ago, Marquis ran her first marathon, the annual Thanksgiving Gobbler Grind, finishing first in the entire women’s race with a time of 3:10 – a time that qualified her for the Boston Marathon. Just a year ago, she was battling two stress fractures and a lack of passion she once had for the sport.
“(Running) is an every day thing,” Marquis said. “Some days you’ll really feel it and other days, you’ll just want to take a break, but once you just get out there, you feel better.”
Even after her successful finish in the marathon, Marquis continues to train. She is still unsure of whether she will run next fall, her senior year, but knows her track days are over. Marquis plans to run Beaham’s last marathon with her, supporting the coach who grew to be the person she calls once a week. She also plans to properly train for marathons in the future, including Boston, which she will run in two years.
Beaham sees something in Marquis that parallels with her own running career in high-school and college. She knows Allie will always continue to run, and is hopeful to see where it takes her.
“There’s this new frontier in running she’s willing to work hard to discover and go after,” Beaham said. “She’s got so much passion for the sport, but she’s excited about it too.”
Marquis continues to set new goals for herself, especially now that her spark for the sport has returned. She has been looking through Olympic time trial times on the internet and feels as though that could become a reality for her eventually.
“I want to run Chicago and New York too, and the Olympic trials are something I’ve been looking at lately” Marquis said. “There’s always something more to go after.”