Mercer University alumna Marina Van Sickle checked the Boston Marathon off her bucket list this April, placing in the top 10% of all female competitors. Now, she’s set her sights on another lofty goal: completing the other five major world marathons.
Van Sickle graduated with a degree in industrial engineering in 2021 and is a staff industrial engineer for the fixed wing product area of the Mercer Engineering Research Center. Her job focuses on applied research into U.S. Air Force reliability and logistics, including through systems modeling language work that measures the performance of aircraft bomb racks. She’s also currently working on her master’s degree in industrial engineering online at Georgia Tech.
When she’s not at MERC, she’s often pounding the pavement in preparation for her next big race. Van Sickle started running in third grade and joined the track team in middle school. She ran both track and cross country in high school and continued at Mercer, where she specialized in distance running. While she primarily ran 5K races as a student-athlete, she discovered during training for 10K (6.2 miles) events her senior year that she was better at longer distances.
Van Sickle won her first race out of college, the Macon Labor Day 10K, and started working toward marathon distance, which is 26.2 miles. Since then, she has regularly competed in 5K, 10K and half-marathon races as part of her training regimen.
“You don’t keep doing something for this long if you don’t find some value of enjoyment in it,” she said. “I suppose part of it is I am a competitive person, so I keep competing in running. I have a great community that I keep connected with through running. That’s what really makes it fun.”
Van Sickle’s first marathon was the Run for Aviation Marathon in Warner Robins in January 2022, and her time of 3 hours, 15 minutes, and 37 seconds qualified her for the Boston Marathon. In February 2023, she achieved a personal best when she ran the Swamp Rabbit Half Marathon in Greenville, South Carolina, in 1 hour, 19 minutes, and 55 seconds.
“Breaking 80 minutes was a really big deal for me,” she said. “Comparatively, that is my best race that I’ve run.”
On April 17, the Boston Marathon became Van Sickle’s second marathon, and her time was 3 hours, 13 minutes, and 10 seconds. She had to walk a little after mile 22 during both the Boston and Warner Robins marathons because of quadricep cramps, keeping her from her goal time.
“It was disappointing to have to slow down but still worth it. It was still an improvement to be on track to break three hours,” Van Sickle said. “Just the marathon itself is a challenging distance. Boston was so different from any other race I’ve ever run. There were 30,000 runners, and I’ve never run in a race that big. The whole energy of the city, you could pretty much feel it.”
When she competes in the upcoming Chicago Marathon on Oct. 8, she hopes to run the entire race without stopping and finish in less than three hours. Then, Van Sickle will look toward the marathons in New York, Berlin, London and Tokyo, with the goal of doing one race each year and completing them all by age 30. Each race has its own qualifying standards that she will have to meet, and Boston is considered one of the hardest, she said.
For her race training, Van Sickle runs six days a week and rests on Mondays. Generally, her schedule is a track workout on Tuesday, recovery run on Wednesday, normal run on Thursday, tempo run on Friday, normal run on Saturday and long run on Sunday. Her distances vary, depending on what distance she is working toward. During her peak weeks of training for a marathon, she runs about 60 miles a week.
She has found camaraderie and accountability through local running groups, which she runs with three times a week.
“It’s not easy getting up unless you know there are people waiting on you for a run. That is the biggest help, having that support structure,” Van Sickle said. “I also like to have a race schedule to keep myself going. I use races to set goals, and I build my training around it.”