The InCommon Profile
On His Own Two Feet

Mark Will-Weber, Moravian’s head cross-country coach and assistant track coach, has learned that when the coach doesn’t run alongside the team, the runners have a little less regard for him.
This is not the reason he’s stayed lean and sinewy even as he closes in on 48, but it’s a nice side benefit.

A couple of years ago, after an injury, he couldn’t run up and down the steep course on the Lehigh University campus where the Moravian cross-country team challenges its stamina. “You know, they really didn’t appreciate it when I was ‘running’ beside them in my little sports car,” he grins.

The days when he ran 105 miles a week—10 every morning (including Saturdays), five in the afternoon (five days a week) and 20 on Sunday—are behind him. He now runs “only” 40 miles a week. “I’m so much lower-key now,” he says. When he competes, he classes himself in the older age brackets. Even so, he gives the other older-agers a run for their money.

“I certainly wouldn’t qualify as a fanatic anymore,” he says. “And I don’t expect to run the times I did in 1980.”

Mark has been running since he was 14 years old. He is a middle-distance runner, at home on courses ranging from the half-mile to the marathon. He was a competitive runner in his years at East Stroudsburg State College, then continued to run, as a hobby and to keep in shape, when he was a police reporter and sportswriter for the Morning Call (1976-87).

In 1987, just at the time he began to coach cross-country at Moravian, he joined the staff of Runner’s World, where he stayed until 2000. He added a personal slant to his stories by running the original marathon (the 26.2 miles from the Greek city of that name to Athens) and the Boston Marathon as a prelude to writing about them.

Between college and the big 5-0 looming on the horizon, Mark has run some 30 marathons, including races in Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Charlotte, N.C., as well as the more famous events in Boston (seven or eight times—he’s lost count) and New York. In the big events, he’s almost always seeded in the first few hundred runners, and he’s had a couple of top-20 finishes. He’s also competed in England, Finland, Greece, Norway, and Ireland.

Not that this turned him into a celebrity. “I had a small shoe contract once,” he says cheerfully. “I got free shoes and maybe a little travel money.”

In the mid-’80s, he finished within two minutes of the time needed to qualify for the Olympic trials. That was as close as he came to the world’s premier competition. “I always wished I had gotten there,” he says of the Olympics, “but I gave it a good try.”

Mark came to Moravian after successful coaching experiences at the high school level and at Lehigh University. But none of this foretold what would happen at little Moravian, where the women’s cross-country team has been Middle Atlantic Conference champions for the last nine seasons and the men’s team for six of the last eight seasons.

In addition, the women have scored top-10 finishes at the NCAA championships in 1993-95, 1997, and 2000-01. Under his leadership, the men’s overall record is 50-15-1, and the indoor track and field team has been MAC champions for five seasons. Mark’s Moravian teams have produced more than a dozen all-Americans, including three national champions and two runners-up.

The coach neither hogs the credit nor disclaims it. “A lot of the young women on that team are just exceptional,” he says of Moravian’s championship 2001-02 team. Most of his job, he says, was refining the raw talent that came in the door: helping Heidi Wolfsberger ’02 understand that she needn’t give 150 percent every time she ran, which had resulted in a disheartening string of injuries in high school; building the skills and attitudes of Emily Shertzer ’02and Kim Jaick ’02 as they converted boundless energy into marshaled strength.

“Most of them were champions in high school,” he said. “But there’s the occasional big surprise like Erin Boyle [’02], who was a mediocre runner in high school.”

Other than running and watching other people run, his life is quiet. He lives directly across Elizabeth Street from the College with his wife, Sally, and 10-year-old daughter, Jordan, who goes to Moravian Academy, and two West Highland terriers, Oona and Scamp, who patrol the yard and protect the house with fierce yips.

Every runner knows every other runner, and Mark is no exception. Running is non-partisan: He knows that former President Clinton and President Bush are equally committed runners.

His book, The Quotable Runner (1995), which brings together essays and anecdotes about the greats of the track, just came out in paperback. His favorite, he says, is the Czech runner Emil Zátopek, who won three gold medals at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and became a champion of free speech during the 1968 Prague Spring. It was said of him: “All he needed was to drink Moravian wine and sing a Moravian song, and he was happy in this country.” You might say that about Mark Will-Weber, too.

October 1, 2002

A Beautiful Mind
Janine Jagger '72, an epidemiologist at the University of Virginia, is named a MacArthur Fellow for 2002.
On His Own Two Feet
The InCommon profile is of cross-country coach Mark Will-Weber, a competitive runner who fields winning teams.
The Sound of a Different Drum
Ananse Dance and Drum from Ghana performs at Moravian.
Campus events.
Faculty, staff and student achievements.