Community Sports

Burke ready to go the distance in Bellingham Bay Marathon

After conquering the 5k field the past two years, Mark Burke is ready for a new challenge in 2014 — running the full 26.2-mile distance in the Bellingham Bay Marathon.

Burke won the 5k in 2012 with a blistering time of 16 minutes, 14 seconds, setting the course record. He also won the race last year in 17:52, still 25 seconds faster than the second place finisher.

On Sunday, Sept. 28, he’s ready to rid himself of a sort of personal demon by taking on the marathon. Burke previously ran the marathon in 2011, but wasn’t fit enough to perform up to his expectations, he said.

“The first time I ran the marathon I was running a lot, but not any specific type of workout,” Burke said in a phone interview. “That was my weakness because after 20 miles I just hit a wall and was basically walking. It was a horrible experience.”

Burke, a Bellingham native who attended Meridian High School, has essentially been successful since he started running competitively. After turning out for cross country his freshman year, Burke qualified for the Class 2A State Championships his sophomore, junior and senior years, according to

“My high school coach, Mike Holz, kept bugging me and asking me to turn out for cross country freshman year, and I gave it a shot,” Burke said. “I’m glad I did, because it changed my life for the better. Running has given me a lot of opportunities, and (Holz) is the guy that started it all.”

After high school, Burke kept running off and on, he said.

He had been running a lot before trying the marathon in 2011, but looking back he doesn’t feel like he was fit enough. He’s looking to replace that memory with a better one on Sunday.

“I go through the motions where sometimes I’m really into running, and last year (for the 5k) I was not,” he said. “After the 5k, I started running more, and maybe a month later I started thinking about running the marathon, but I didn’t get serious until June.

“I wanted to shoot for a fall marathon, and what better place to do it than your hometown? This whole summer I’ve been thinking about how I can’t wait to do it.”

Burke has been following a training regimen he developed after researching marathon training online and reading a couple of training books. The toughest transition was increasing the mileage he runs each week, he said.

“(Early on) most days I would wake up sore and go to bed sore just from running so many miles,” Burke said.

Burke estimates that his previous time for the marathon was about 3 hours, 10 minutes. His goal for this year, 2:35:00, would be a big personal record. A race slightly faster than that pace could put him in contention for the Bellingham Bay Marathon record of 2:29:24.

“When I started training last fall, I thought I’d go for about 2:40:00, but as time went on, I got fitter than I anticipated, so I adjusted my goals to motivate myself,” he said. “I got down to thinking, ‘Why not 2:35:00 or better?’ I mainly just want to have fun, but the goal is to do Boston, New York or Chicago — one of the big ones.”

He already has some familiarity with parts of the course, as the marathon overlaps parts of the 5k course, and he has the added benefit of living close to the finish line.

“I always run the last 10 miles since I live nearby, so I know about the big hill after 21 miles,” Burke said. “ After that it’s a gradual downhill, but I have to save some energy for that hill.”

Burke contends that he doesn’t want to be drawn out too fast at the start by runners going for the record, but after winning a half marathon earlier this month, he might go for it.

“I know the leaders last year went out in 1:12:00 and 1:14:00,” Burke said. “I ran the Skagit Flats and did a 1:13:00, and that wasn’t going all out. I guess I’ll see how I feel that day. As much as I want to stay at 2:35, I don’t mind moving up either.”

The Bellingham Bay Marathon begins at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 28, at Gooseberry Point in Lummi. The 5k and half marathon start at Depot Market Square, with the 5k beginning at 7:30 a.m. and the half marathon kicking off at 9:30 a.m. All three races finish at Depot Market Square.