Greg Mariano slowed down to speed up

Greg Mariano nearing the second mile mark during the 2017 Army Ten-Miler. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/DWhit Photography

In 2007, Greg Mariano ran the worst race of his life when he attempted, and did not finish, the New York City Marathon. He considered giving up running for good after that. But less than 11 years later, Mariano is turning heads as one of DC’s fastest improving sub-elite runners.

Originally from Colonie, N.Y., Mariano can still remember the first time he discovered his knack for running. During his high school freshman gym class, he was asked to run as far as he could for 12 minutes. Mariano ended up running 8.5 laps. “I don’t know what possessed me to try so hard,” he jokes.

Mariano’s 8.5 laps caught the attention of the cross country coach, who came into his class and pressured him to join the team mid-way through the 1999 season. “I didn’t even know who he was,” recalls Mariano. He was initially reluctant to join, knowing that it would mean less free time after school, but after a bit of coaxing, Mariano accepted the coach’s offer.

After high school, Mariano ran two seasons of Division III cross-country and four seasons of track at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

Following his undergraduate career, Mariano made his first post-collegiate race attempt at the New York City Marathon, but DNF’ed at mile 20. It was the worst race he ever ran. It was so demoralizing that Mariano did not want to compete anymore after that.

In 2009, Mariano took a job that brought him to Arlington. Though no longer competing, Mariano started running again, using running as a way of commuting to and from work. But the sub-3-mile commute from Shirlington to Ballston didn’t provide him with significant amount of mileage each day.

A few years later, Mariano moved to a new home in Lincolnia, now six miles away from his work in Ballston. That was when things started to change. Now running significant mileage each day, Mariano decided to try his hand at racing again.

Mariano trained on his own and ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011, his first big race after New York in 2007. In his debut race back, he ran 2:52:08.

But despite his success in the Marine Corps Marathon, Mariano said the real surprise came after his success in the Army Ten-Miler in 2012, when he finished 53:30.

“That was my wakeup call that I had potential,” he said.

An epidemiologist by day, Mariano had to get creative to fit running into his schedule. Run commuting to and from work provided most of his weekday mileage and he ran long runs during the weekend. Most of his runs, regardless of length, were at fast paces.

Things were looking up for Mariano. He ran 2:34:57 in the 2013 Boston Marathon, then 2:29:26 in Richmond the same year. His times were getting faster. But in the 2014 Boston Marathon, he finished 2:38:59, putting an end to his streak of improvement.

“I burned out during training,” he said. After his 2014 Boston Marathon, Mariano knew he needed a different strategy. So instead of training on his own, he decided to enlist the help of Capital Area Runners (CAR) Coach George Buckheit.

“[Buckheit] seemed to do a good job training marathon guys,” he said.

The first thing Mariano learned from his new coach was to slow down.

“Coach made sure I wasn’t overtraining.” And to his surprise, the slower pace paid off. “I joined [CAR] in May 2014. Just within a few months of light training, I PR’ed in the 10K [at the Lawyers Have Heart 10K].”

“I would push a little too hard when I trained on my own,” Mariano now realized. Though his mileage was similar to what he had been doing before, just by dropping the pace, that much made all the difference.

“I felt confident about dropping the pace because that’s what George was recommending,” he said. “Workouts aren’t terribly long and I’m not straining during the workouts. [I’m] not killing myself like I used to.”

Mariano also learned how better to build up to faster paces. Instead of running a constant speed throughout the run, Mariano now starts slow and gradually increases pace. He even notices a similar trend in his races. Since joining CAR, the vast majority of his races have had negative splits.

His biggest breakthrough came in the 2014 Navy/Air-Force Half Marathon, where he beat his half-marathon PR by three minutes, only four months after joining CAR.

Though his overall mileage dropped after the birth of his daughter in 2017, that has not stopped Mariano’s incredible success. Recently, he even won the 2018 Shamrock Half-Marathon with a time of 1:08:56.

Mariano’s favorite workout is an easy Saturday run with his teammates. He likes to be social, but doesn’t enjoy training for the sake of training. Instead, Mariano says he enjoys running when it provides a purpose like racing, socializing, or commuting.

“I don’t enjoy leaving the door and running [just to run],” he said. “It’s not necessarily a passion that drives me. [Running] fulfills my social needs and transportation needs.”

And when it comes to running, he has nothing to hide. “All of my runs are public access,” he said. “It’s all on Strava.”

When asked what advice he has for runners, Mariano said, “I recommend to anyone if they can that they should run commute.”

And when asked if he has any tips for runners hoping to improve, Mariano said, “I always recommend slowing down. I like to save [energy] for the race.”

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