By David Schriemer, MD
Mark Beams is a 2010 Vicksburg High School graduate and a captain of the University of Michigan cross country and track teams. If there ever was an example of perseverance, determination and hard work, Mark is it.
Mark didn’t start out as a runner. He was a wrestler. He started wrestling in third grade and continued to wrestle in high school, lettering all four years. Running was something to do to stay in shape for wrestling.
Mark didn’t run on the seventh grade cross country team. His father, Brad, was a very good high school runner and his stories of ten mile runs intimidated Mark. He didn’t think he could do that. He did go out for track in seventh grade as a miler and shot putter. His goal for running the mile was “not to get lapped” by teammate and eighth grader Chris Ryan. Mark didn’t get lapped but he never won an event either.
Mark first realized he enjoyed running when he joined Mr. Goerge’s middle school running club. They would go on 2-4 mile runs for fun. Dave Smith, middle school teacher and VHS cross country and track coach, noted that spark for running as well. Mark ran his first 5K , the Vicksburg Hearty Hustle, in seventh grade. He ran in a green soccer uniform and finished in about 21.5 minutes.
In eighth grade he did run cross country and was, at best, middle of the pack. In track that same year, he did win some distance events.
Before the high school cross country season started, the team had a camp where they trained together. Mark went as a freshman, hoping to make the varsity team. He was shocked when before the first intra-squad time trial, assistant coach Tom Cousins predicted Mark would finish third. Mark just wanted to be in the top seven. Mark did finish third behind older runners Chris Ryan and Ross Cousins.
Mark improved each year. His focus slowly shifted from running to stay in shape for wrestling to running as his primary passion. He knew he could be a better runner than wrestler. By his junior year Mark was a leader. He and seniors Chris and John Ryan set the work ethic for the team. The team developed a camaraderie which made the team and each individual better. They trained hard and ran for each other. Chris and Mark pushed each other to be better. The team was rewarded with a second place finish at the Class B state meet. Mark finished eighteenth, 0.6 seconds behind teammate, rival and friend Chris Ryan.
This team chemistry carried over to track season. The track team not only won the conference championship, but won the Michigan Track Coaches Association (MITCA) Class B team state Championship. Mark won the 3200 meter race at the team state championship for his first win. This was only the beginning for Mark.
Mark’s next goal was to win the state cross country championship his senior year. He and Coach Smith knew he would have to outwork the other runners in the state to achieve that goal. He ran 70 miles a week all summer long. The team also set their sights on the team state championship. Before official practices began, team members would get together on their own for runs over the summer. Although Mark usually ran further and faster than the rest, teammate Dan Schriemer says “he always touched base with us and encouraged us.” Coach Smith says, “Mark set the work ethic for the team. He was a team player.” Adds Coach Cousins, “Mark is a great runner, but he’s not just that. He’s a great person.”
The team, devastated by illness, finished a disappointing fifth at the state meet. Mark took third place, falling just short of his goal.
Senior track season, 2010, built on the hard work of cross country. Mark continued to run while wrestling. He finished fifth in the 1600 meter race at the Class B State meet. In the 3200 meter race, he and St. John’s runner Morsi Rayyan separated themselves from the pack. In the final lap, Morsi passed Mark entering the final turn. Reaching deep, Mark sprinted past Morsi on the home stretch, winning the class B state 3200 meter championship! His teammates were as excited for Mark as he was.
Mark and Morsi are now teammates and fellow captains of the University of Michigan cross country team. Both walk-ons and former rivals have become friends, teammates and leaders.
Most college recruiting is done during a runner’s junior year in high school. Mark was not on the radar for Division I programs. Elite runners participate in regional and national showcase races sponsored by Foot Locker, Nike, and Adidas. Mark only ran in one regional showcase event. But Mark had improved significantly from his junior to senior year. He received several recruiting letters from division I colleges but the only personal contact a coach made was from division III Hope College.
Mark chose to go to the University of Michigan to pursue a career in science. Michigan was without a cross country coach at the time. During orientation, on his own initiative, Mark met with the track coach, Fred LaPlante who encouraged Mark to try out for the cross country and track teams as a preferred walk-on.
Mark reports that his freshman year in college was very hard. The expectations and demands on runners were much greater. Instead of 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) races are 8K (5 miles) and 10K (6.2 miles). Training was much more rigorous.
He did earn his varsity letter his freshman year. The team finished eighth in the Big Ten. He was red shirted in track his freshmen year, but ran individually at meets. His run in the 10K at Hillsdale College convinced him he could run at the Division I level. He ran at a faster pace in the 10 kilometers, (6.2 miles) than he ran the 5K (3.1 miles) at the state high school cross country finals.
Mark (never shy of a challenge) then spent his summer biking across the United States from the Pacific to the Atlantic, 3,043 miles in 36 days, with his sister and two friends to raise money for Mott’s Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. Mark and his new distance coach, Alex Gibby, both think the rigor of that ride and reduced time running held Mark back a bit his sophomore year.
Under the guidance of Coach Gibby, the team, which had little depth and was at the bottom of the Big Ten, got better and better. Coach Gibby reports Mark blossomed his junior year as both a runner and a leader. He made Mark a captain his junior year. “I look for patterns, hard work and discipline consistently. Mark has done that.” The demands of running at the Division I collegiate level are great. Diet, sleep, weight control, hydration as well as miles run are critical for elite athletes. Mark is now 15-18 pounds lighter then when he ran in high school. He regularly runs 120-130 miles a week. His best time in the 5K in high school was 15:53.1. His best in college is an incredible 14:06.78. His decrease in time of 1:46.32 or about 34.3 seconds per mile is truly remarkable.
Coach Gibby states, “He leads the team by example and in the locker room, communicating what it takes to succeed.” Mark is very proud that the team went from the bottom of the Big Ten his freshman year to finish second at the Big Ten meet and first at the regional meet this fall. Mark finished fifteenth at the Big Ten meet and eighth at the regional meet.
Mark completed four years of cross country but still has two seasons of track left. His next goal is to improve on his eighth place finish in the 10K at last year’s Big Ten track meet. Mark was just named one of 3 captains on the track team chosen by teammates and coaches.
Mark is on schedule to graduate in five years. His major in biochemistry and minor in German studies and the demands of running require an additional year. Mark is not sure what career path he will choose after graduation. It is certain that whatever he chooses to do, he will do well. As Coach Smith says, “I’m not surprised by his success. Once he sets his mind to something, he’s going to do it.”
For more information on Mark Beams and The University of Michigan track and cross country teams go to MGOBLUE.com