Please welcome the fourteenth American Trail Running Association (ATRA) Trail Ambassador presented by CamelBak, and the second in 2018. Meet cancer survivor Victor Mariano, a trail race committee member, trail builder, and tireless volunteer.
In his nomination, Aaron Saft wrote, “Victor Mariano embodies the human being we all should strive to be. He is selfless, hard-working, and humble. He not only creates trail maintenance workdays for our community, but goes out at least once a week to do trail work on his own, or with others, hanging trail blazes, doing tread work, trimming encroaching foliage, bucking downed trees.
“His belief in our trail community extends way beyond his trail work,” continued Saft. “Victor is a volunteer extraordinaire at local races, from taking pictures and video, to helping race directors with organization and logistics. He is a wiz with computers and spreadsheets. He’ll captain an aid station, or help time a race. It seems he’s a utility man in whatever he does. Victor is a role model, one I can only hope to emulate. He creates opportunities for our community and makes each person feel valued for their contribution.”
Retired from a 36-year career with UPS, Mariano, 59, father of three grown children, has lived in North Carolina for the past three years having relocated from Atlanta (and prior to that, Sacramento, Milwaukee, and Trinidad, Colorado). He began “running” in 2007 to get healthy and stay in shape after surviving kidney cancer. “Cancer was my ‘wake up’ call,” said Mariano. “Running provided me the alone time to reflect and think…to realign my life and life goals.”
Mariano’s first foray into running was on the roads. “I decided to run a half marathon,” he said. “It went so well, I was hooked. I joined some running clubs, and proceeded to train, run and race over 100 events in 10 years.”
He dabbled on the trails now and again, but his serious trail running began in 2014 when someone said to him, “You can’t run trails!” Taking this as a challenge, he joined a local trail running group hosted by an Atlanta running store. “I joined that group and learned how to run on the trails,” said Mariano. “I found more enjoyment being on the dirt, and getting closer to nature. And it was much safer that running on the road. The trails were where I wanted to be.”
Mariano has been volunteering at trail races for the past four years. “My idea was to volunteer at an ultra-trail race before I ran my first (and only) 50K,” he said. “I wanted to see what people were experiencing at mile 28 of a 68-mile race. As it turned out, I learned a ton about ultra trail running that day, but I had so much fun volunteering, that I now enjoy it as much as participating as a runner.”
He has been a member of North Carolina Mountain Trail Runners (NCMTR), since its inception in 2015, and over the past year, has become more involved as a volunteer with NCMTR as well as the associated non-profit Run828Foundation. He was instrumental in building the website, Run828Foundation.org, and creating the membership forms and donation collections.
Last year, Mariano helped create the master operating plan for the Hellbender 100, the first 100 mile race in Western North Carolina. “I felt it was fitting for me to coordinate ‘trail readiness’ for the event, since I was already doing the NCMTR trail maintenance volunteer activities,” said Mariano. “My first task on the committee was to drive, walk, hike, or run nearly all 100 miles of the course. The goal was to validate the distances and evaluate the condition of the trails to determine what was going be needed to get them ready for race day. Early on we found out from the Forest Service, one of the trails was going to be decommissioned. So, we stepped up and signed a volunteer agreement to get that trail back in shape and to adopt it and one other trail permanently for NCMTR. Since last summer we have put in over 150 hours on the Hellbender 100 trails, and there is still another 100-plus to go. Hellbender is going to be an awesome showcase of the highest mountain range on the east coast.”
In his volunteer roles, Mariano enjoys being an aid station captain, as well as doing other ‘behind the scenes’ work. “I check the trails, help aid station set up, turn by turn directions and sometimes even help with marking the courses,” said Mariano. “I want to make sure the runners have a positive experience and a successful race. I enjoy the trail running community camaraderie and how we all support and encourage everyone, of all levels and abilities.
Mariano works closely with a few race directors to assist with course mapping, website development, and has even helped deploy two different race-timing systems. This summer he will assist with the inaugural Ute 100 Mile Trail Race in Moab, Utah, an event in which he has been involved from its inception two years ago.
With a growing knowledge of trail maintenance, Mariano has connected to, and works with a number of trail crews that have recurring work days each day of the week. He recently attended the US Forest Service two-day chainsaw certification class so the NCMTR can have a certified sawyer and he has applied for a four-day trail maintenance workshop conducted by the Pisgah National Forest this May. He has also adopted two sections – about 3 miles – of the 1150-mile Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) becoming a section maintainer.
Mariano said, “Trail running has taught me that trails are not self-maintaining. Mother Nature will gladly consume them back into the forest or landscape. Wind, water, and plant-life will re-route, wash out, and retake the tread, to a point where it’s scarcely reminiscent of a walking path. If you are going to run them, you have to maintain them!”
To that end, Mariano suggests doing some research to find out if there are any trail maintenance crews in your area. “If so, ask to join one for a day and give back to help keep the trails open,” offered Mariano. “Trade one of your endurance runs for a working day on the trail.”
Mariano’s advice for those considering trail running is this, “No matter if you are starting out from scratch or coming from other sports, have an open mind, and leave any preconceived notions behind. Visit your local running store, get the proper equipment, and join a trail running group that caters to runners from beginners to experienced. Then go learn and have fun.”
Mariano’s lessons to share:
- Trail running is not so much about minutes per mile.
- Preventing injury should come first.
- If you do get an injury, get proper treatment and seek help from a doctor if needed.
- Avoid overtraining, allow your body to recover with rest days,
- Remember to cross-train! It will help with all around body fitness.