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