By CHRIS CHRISTOPHER
With an emotional lift from Bruce Springsteen, Amanda Marino put her fastest feet forward.
The Asbury Park resident sped to a personal-best 2:35:04 in the 44th annual Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN. She was fifth among 2,961 women’s finishers and 124th overall among men and women who completed the 26.2.19-mile course.
The top New Jersey finisher among men’s and women’s athletes, Marino, 29, was fourth in her age group among 1,424 women’s athletes. A total of 6,367 men’s and women’s finishers enjoyed a scenic route along the North Shore of Minnesota.
It was late in the race. Needing a boost, Marino heard one of Springsteen’s hits played aloud. How fitting that The Boss, an avid fitness practitioner, supplied Marino with energy.
“I had an emotional moment near mile 20,” Marino said. “The spectators were playing ‘Born to Run “ over a big set of speakers. The most satisfying part of the race was around mile 24 when I entered the part of Duluth with the most spectators. I was running fast so it seemed like I was putting on a great show and giving them what they came to see!”
Marino has completed eight marathons in eight attempts.
“Mentally,” she said, “I felt the best I have yet while running in a marathon. I was more excited than nervous and in the days leading up to the race I couldn’t wait to get out there and unleash all of my energy.”
Marino, a former Jackson Memorial High School and Villanova University distance standout, said she felt physically strong during the race.
“Aerobically,” she said, “I felt great. My breathing was relaxed and steady. My body also felt great other than a tightness in my right calf that came at about mile 10 and lingered until the finish.”
Marino had a personal best in her consciousness prior to the race.
“Yes,” she said, “I was confident that if everything went as planned I would run a personal best. My goal was to run under 2:37:00. I trained with a laser focus on setting a personal best. My coach, Hector Matos, has helped me improve gradually since 2017. I am incredibly grateful for coach Matos. He continues to help me fulfill my potential in running.”
Marathon runners often fall short of establishing personal bests.
“Running a personal best is difficult to achieve because at the elite level we typically only run in two per year,” Marino said. “Although you hope everything falls into place on race day, that can be hard given the many obstacles that get thrown at you in the days leading up to the race and during the whole 26.219 miles. Thus, running a personal best in the marathon brings a feeling of intense joy and a sense of relief.”
Marino raced through the first half of the event in 1:18:28. She blazed through the second half in 1:16:36, accomplishing a negative split.
“It’s the ideal way to run in a marathon,” she said. “I never hit the wall (where athletes begin to lose speed and strength). I felt great during the entire time because I started fueling with sports gels and sports drink early on in the race.”
Marino passed four women in the final five miles. And, she was never passed by a woman in the entire race.
Despite the size of the field and her small stature at 5-foot-3 and 108 pounds,, Marino avoided being boxed in by the other athletes.
“The course was very wide,” she said, “so there were never any issues where there were too many people trying to squeeze through tight spaces.”
Marino enjoyed the course, which began in the north and headed south to Duluth.
“The first 23 miles were on a quiet, tree-line road parallel to Lake Superior,” she said. “The last few miles were through downtown Duluth, which is beautiful in its own right. I truly enjoyed everything about this race, especially because we were lucky enough to have ideal running weather. Lake Superior was beautiful. Duluth was beautiful. The spectators were enthusiastic. The race organizers and the volunteers did an amazing job of planning and executing race day.”
The race’s reputation caught Marino’s eyes.
“It is a race I have always heard great things about,” the first-time entrant said. “On top of that, it fell almost perfectly between the Chicago Marathon 2018 and the United States Olympic Trials (in which Marino has qualified). The Trials are scheduled for next February. Also, the weather in northern Minnesota tends to be cooler and drier than other United States cities where there are June marathons.”
Team Marino consisted of her boyfriend, Jarett Huneke, an Asbury Park resident.
“He was my number one supporter and the loudest spectator on the course,” she said. “He went above and beyond to make things easy for me before and after. Afterward, we had a wonderful time exploring Minneapolis for a few days.”
She trained hard, running 80-95 miles per week.
“Every week,” she said, “the quality miles were made up of one long run of 20-23 miles with segments at marathon pace–5:55 per mile–and one speed oriented workout consisting of shorter, faster intervals. The remainder of my mileage was easy running usually twice per day.”
Marino can be seen running a nearly eight-mile training route that takes her through Asbury Park, the Ocean Grove section of Neptune, Avon and Belmar.
“Once I get to 10th Avenue in Belmar,” the former Bradley Beach resident said, “I head east and take the boardwalk back home.”
There’s also time building all-around strength.
“I complete a routine of body-weight exercises each day,” Marino said. “My primary exercises are push ups, squats, planks, glute bridges and hip raises.”
Despite the intense training and racing, Marino thoroughly enjoys the sport.
“I’m successful because I have a passion for the sport and genuinely enjoy the training,” she said. “Although success in the marathon takes natural talent, you still have to put in an immense amount of hard work.”
Marino achieved the A-standard for the Trials by breaking the 2:37:00 barrier. She competed in the 2012 and 2016 Trials. It’s the first time she qualified by achieving the A-standard. In 2012 and 2016, she qualified by running the B-standard.
“This is exciting for me because my trip to the Trials (in Atlanta) will be sponsored by USA Track and Field,” she said.
There’s more to Marino than marathons. She works in educational publishing, consulting Humanities and Social Science professors to help the choose appropriate course materials.
There’s also time spent on the vibrant Asbury Park music scene.
“Jarett and I love the House of Independents, especially when either Brian Fallon or I Am the Avalanche come,” she said. “We had the chance to see Springsteen play in the new Asbury Lanes. We also love the summer scene at the Stone Pony. I love the energy of Asbury Park. There are so many opportunities in this town to help expand your worldview. Most residents and visitors are open-minded and have unique, eclectic interests.”