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No Mountain High Enough

In their quest for ever-greater heights of physical challenge and psychic bliss, Miriam Diaz-Gilbert and Chris Marino put their bodies, and minds, to the test.

Chris Marino and Miriam Diaz-Gilbert
Having survived a host of injuries that could fill an abridged edition of Gray’s Anatomy, alumni Chris Marino and Miriam Diaz-Gilbert know no limits to what they can do. Marino is preparing for his first Ironman competition in 2014. Diaz-Gilbert is getting ready for a 160-mile run in the White Desert in Egypt. Photography by Benoit Cortet

After successfully running nine marathons, Miriam Diaz-Gilbert found that she wasn’t tired and, frankly, had been a little bored. She turned to running ultramarathons, which doubled the distance to 50 miles. After competing in five of them, Diaz-Gilbert RC’81, GSE’84 experienced the same thing: like Forrest Gump, she still felt like running and running and running. So, she doubled down, again. Now, Diaz-Gilbert runs 100-mile ultramarathons, the most natural of things for her.

“Running ultras is very liberating,” she says. “I am outdoors, running trails in the mountains, scaling boulders, running through creeks, navigating switchbacks, crawling my way up or tip-toeing my way down rocky terrain, or running on a flat course, in the dark, in heat and hum­idity, and in torrential rain, thunder, and lightning.” What’s not to love?

When Chris Marino was cut from the high school baseball team, he vowed to himself that he would never lose out because he wasn’t strong enough, commencing, at age 15, a lifetime of arduous training. It began with weight training and, 15 years later, morphed into running and biking. Marino CCAS’96 started thinking about competing in an Olympic-distance triathlon. First, he had to teach himself how to swim, and he did, competing in his first triathlon in 2009. “The challenge,” he says, “has been seeing how much I can pull out of my semiathletic body through serious training.”

Marino—the proprietor of Marino’s Body Shop, a personal training and exercise studio, and also a semifinalist in Philadelphia magazine’s 2012 Health Hero Challenge—cross-trains between 12 and 15 hours a week. For her part, Diaz-Gilbert abides by a rigorous schedule of running, logging her miles and times before and after work and reserving the weekends for the “long runs.” Their constant companions are unimaginable pain—and negotiating with it—and an inner voice, always beckoning them to ascend to another plateau of physical achievement. But the big payoff is an otherworldly sense of accomplishment and resolve. And they know these dreams would never have come true without patient, supportive spouses and children.

Marino and Diaz-Gilbert are far from done. He plans on competing in his first Ironman in 2014, a race requiring 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running. Diaz-Gilbert intends to run in the Pennsylvania 100 in the fall, a mere tune-up for the real deals: a 135-mile endurance run in Death Valley, California, and a 160-mile race in the White Desert in Egypt.

As they would tell you, there is nothing to it but to do it.

                                                                                                   David W. Major