A interview I wrote for a local running group of a local ultra runner.
“Greatness is achieved the moment you decide you cannot do anything else, other than that one thing” Marco Tona – 12.22.19
With his halo of wild curls, enthusiasm for life and relaxed demeanor, on initial inspection Marco Tona comes across like any other regular 22-year-old. Hailing from Destin FL, a student of Exercise Physiology and the third youngest of eight children, he grew up surrounded by family and well loved.
However, not every 22-year-old that you meet has just completed a 24hr. running race and run 100 miles. WHAT you say!?! A 100 miles! Now let us relook at Marco Tona, underneath his big smile and gentle personality there lies an old soul, the heart of a lion and a steely grit that is seldom found in the youth.
Okay, so who is Marco? I sat down and chatted with Marco on a wet, storm riddled Florida winters day to discuss his journey into ultra-running, what drives him and his aspirations for the future. Because at age 22, this is merely the beginning of his great journey.
Let me start from the “Big One” and take you back to his beginning. “Icarus Florida Ultra Fest”2019, a looped road race, where a runner will run as far as they can in an allotted time. Your choices being….
12hr / 24Hr / 48Hr / 72Hr / 144Hr
What they say about the race “What this means for seasoned ultra-runners and new runners alike is that the Icarus Florida UltraFest is not just a place to test your limits, but to abandon them” taken from website.
So, what is it about this race, after running only three 50K (Calootsahatchee, Croom Fools, Washington Red Devils) races previously that made Marco dive off at the deep end and jump straight in to 100 miles? Well, as with all great beginnings and heroes, it started in a bar. Marco goes on to explain that one evening before a long run, he was designated driver, as all dedicated runners are on a Friday night. His epiphany hit! He was finished with the nights out and wanted to push his limits. It was about, in his own words “shattering his ceiling” and really seeing what he could achieve. So in that bar he signed up on impulse for Icarus. Because in the realm of the unknown a person’s boundaries can be found, accepted, crushed, then rebuilt once the core is exposed and they know who they are. It was from that point, in that dingy bar that the training begun. As 100 miles is literally the only step one can take, to really find out what they can do.
In his youth Marco was a swimmer and as he moved into high school he began to run. He joined the cross country and track team as they did not have a competitive swim team. Blazing a trail through 600/800 m distances and the 5K, Marco carried through his running to college. Moving to Florida and continuing his studies, Marco met Aubrey Aldy, (his now trainer) in their local pool and another piece of the puzzle clicked in place. Marco kept running, he dabbled in triathlon and at 21 years old he signed up for his first 50K. Why? To see if running was “great”? So minimally trained and with the zeal that only a 21 year can bring, he completed his first 50K in 6hrs 40mins. The bug had bitten and in his 2nd 50K with some training he took 2 hrs off this time. From here his ascent had commenced. One more technical run, the Red Devil 50K in Washington and his love of endurance running was secured and the next big challenge set.
We went on to discuss Icarus and what it meant to Marco, how the race broke down and what he discovered about himself, as each layer peeled off with every 1.0408 Km paved loop completed. The key was to take heed of Icarus’s story. To listen to and respect your body, to push boundaries but not destroy your limits, to hit the edge but not melt and fall. Fly close to the sun but not too close, because like Icarus you could be doomed and not rise again to complete another loop. Running 100 miles is a fine balance, of training, respect for your body, nutrition, honoring the distance and to push the edge, while holding back. It takes grit and mental toughness, and this is what Marco had to discover and layer it thick upon his enthusiasm base.
After four months of long slow runs, he was hitting he said 50-60 miles a week. Pretty moderate for ultra-training, with most of his mileage scheduled at the weekends and with some double day running, he was ready. Nutrition was dialed in; he likes to use Electrolyte Fuel System (EFS) drink brand and not eat too many of his calories. This helps his stomach and reduces the usage of the dreaded port a potty, that my friend is a whole separate mental game in itself. The long runs revealed his weaknesses, he hit mental barriers and drove past them to more manageable mental ground. Marco said he loved figuring out “where his walls were” and obliterating them.
The Start Line: –
Saturday November 23rd, 2019, 9am, seasoned ultra-dogs and young puppies alike, wait at the start line. Marco is there, mentally steeled, pacers in place, nutrition lined up and they are off, “let the games begin”. Because if you have ever run an ultra, you know that nothing invariably goes to plan. It’s about managing the situation, driving away the demons, embracing the crazy and the crazies around them. Because, to be a person who can step up to this line and cross it and manage the next 24 hrs, that element of crazy must lie deep within you too. As, it is that insanity which will ultimately carry you up to your goal and past it, then vomit what is left of you at the finish line. Kind of like the Exorcist, running 100 miles is like an exorcism, exposing all your demons and making you face them, because that is all you can do when you are exhausted.
Marco’s personal race to victory: –
We discussed in depth his race, how it panned out and what it threw at him. Marco revealed that no matter how tough it got he “never wanted to quit” that was not an option. It was never in his dialogue and he was convinced he would hit his 100-mile goal in 24HRs. Now my friends that is a very good foundation to any personal win. He found a steady pace and stuck to it, now remember this is not easy and he hit two huge low points. He told me that between mile 42-48 he felt terrible, yet he pushed through and only thought of the race loop to loop, his next drink or next piece of food. He was lacking a little in the nutrition and was given Ensure by his pacer and trainer and Marco said that totally put the wheels back on and he felt fabulous, with 15-20g of protein a bottle it was definitely the way to go. Miles 50-70 he felt awesome as the distance and hours ticked by. Through into the night he kept running, lulled by the solitude and hypnotic darkness, relaxing into his stride and putting his mind at rest; the ultimate meditation. Day breaks, mile 80 hits and he tumbles down a crevice of “low”, muscles are locking up, as the lactate acid builds, feet are numb, stinging from over use and at 20 miles to go, his cousin jumps in for 5 miles to eek him through the discomfort. Then his brother steps into pace Marco, who had come all the way from Oahu, Hawaii, to be with him for the race. He ran the final 10 miles with his brother, striding towards his goal. The pain is excruciating, every mile an eternity, but he remains steady, his dream taunting him and waiting for him to grab it with two hands and with a mere twenty minutes to go to the 24HR cut off Marco hits his 100 miles. YES! He hits 100 miles, can you even imagine what that feels like, the pain, the elation, the relief, the tiredness sweeping over, the excitement. AMAZING! His total mileage was 100.29 miles. He crushed it, ringing in at second place.
The Future: –
We go on to discuss his plans for the future, what inspires him, what he learnt from the race and areas he wants to work on. When working on his running Marco takes inspiration from the strengths of the people around him, his trainer, friends, running partners and creates a person of pure inspiration and looks at what he can draw from that. We talk about what he needed to work on, and he said “consistency” in his training, to get out there and run the miles and not be lazy – his own words.
His love of the outdoors drives him and when we talk about his 5 year plan in life and running, he reveals that he is striving to do some faster 50K races and 50 milers, begin to work on doing some long trans through hikes (think PCT – Pacific crest trail and AT – Appalachian trail) and a maybe a 200 mile race. In life he aspires to move to the beautiful, Rocky Mountains of Colorado, indulge his love of technical trails and being at one with nature. While there he aims to utilize his Exercise Physiology major and build up his own endurance coaching business, partnering with shoe companies and work on training and nutrition of athletes. I mean the world literally is his oyster, with his determination, lust for life, intelligence and cool confidence, I feel we will see and hear a lot more of Marco Tona in the years to follow. He truly was a joy to talk to and a person already in tune with themselves, which can take most people a lifetime to discover. I am excited to follow Marco’s journey and to see where he goes from here as he continues to shatter his ceiling and lift higher.
Marco Tona stats
-Favorite sneakers – Altra Torin
-Trademark look – Wild curls
-Thing most people do not know about him – He was a book worm and home schooled.
-Special power – Enthusiasm and excitement to run.
-Furthest run – 100.29 miles.