Frederick Runner of the Month: Mark Lawrence (October 2015)

This month we showcase a staple to the Frederick running community. We almost guarantee he has either directed you to make a turn on any local race or was cheering you on as you run through the finish line. Our October ROTM, radiates with his love for running and has found several unique ways to share his passion and knowledge with the community. He is humble, genuine and truly cares to help everyone be the best they can been in the healthiest way possible. To calculate the hours he spends volunteering at races and teaching workshops, we would imagine would be close to a full time job. In addition to his impact on the community he is a loving father, husband, friend and mentor to many. If you don’t already know who we talking about, we present to you Mark Lawrence as our October Runner of the Month.

Well we have to ask the simplest but most important question, how did you first get into running?

It was the Army that got me running.  I enjoyed team sports when I was young, but the thought of running even a mile didn’t appeal to me.  Then I joined the Army and began to take pride in doing well on my physical fitness tests.  To get the maximum score when I was in my 20’s we had to be able to do about 70 push-ups and 70 sit-ups then go out and run two miles in about 13 minutes.  I conditioned myself to do that and found that I was one of a pretty small percentage that could.  Later in my career, while stationed in Colorado, I started entering races to further test my endurance.  I ran some great events like Garden of the Gods and the Pikes Peak Ascent that got me further interested. 

I left the military in 1993, but kept running working my way up to my first marathon when I turned 40 (Richmond) in 1998.  When I moved back to Maryland in 2000, I had my mind on the JFK 50 which I had been hearing about since I was a kid.  To start learning how to train from people who knew, I joined the Frederick Steeplechasers in 2000.  My sons were then high school age.  Marshal already showed ability as a runner in middle school competitions and immediately signed up for cross country at TJ High.  I got my older son Adam to start training with me for the JFK, and in 2001 we did it together.  Marshal wanted to do it the following year.  I was hooked from that point forward.

Your motto is “Learn to love running for a lifetime!” How have you been able to do this through your running career?

I fell in love with running as I progressed in my ability, and it was trail ultra-marathons that really hooked me.  First, the JFK, then I started learning the trails in the Frederick

Watershed from guys like Bob Imming and Mike Holland.  These guys had already been doing the ultramarathon circuit before I even knew it existed.  That led to the Catoctin 50K, the HAT Run, Capon Valley, Highland Sky, Holiday Lake, Mountain Masochist, etc.  To me, these weren’t just races . . . they were adventures! 

When I got into it, it was with a reckless passion.  I became the Steep’ s Master’s Runner of the Year in 2004 when I ran the best of my 10 consecutive Catoctin 50K’s finishing 15th overall.  In 2005 my son Marshal was the only guy in the local area to outrun me in the JFK.  In 2006 I ran my two fastest marathons finishing in the 3:20’s at both Boston and Steamtown Marathons.  I was 48 years old and in the best shape of my life!  I thought I was invincible! 

But in 2007 the predictable thing happened. I wore out one of my knees.   I was running the Steep’s Run for the Pie 10K when my normally achy knees took a turn for the worse.  I felt something pop in my right knee that hobbled me.  I didn’t have health insurance, so I couldn’t have surgery.  The best I could do was some rehab from a PT who told me my bow legs just weren’t made for running the distances I was doing.  He said that it was obvious from my limited range of motion (could not fully flex either knee) that I had advanced arthritis and it appeared my medial meniscus had likely collapsed (because the right leg was more bowed than the left). He said that these conditions normally meant knee replacement.   That’s when I started worrying about being able to run for a lifetime, and that’s when I first read Chi Running and started to become conscious of form and technique. I realized I had to do this in order to preserve my ability to run at all. 

What I came to realize is that if I paid attention to my running form and technique, I could continue to run. With just some PT rehab and Chi Running technique, I continued to run marathons and ultramarathons without surgery for 4 more years.  Once I became a certified instructor in 2011, I began to focus more on teaching rather than my own achievements.  Right now, I’m coaching my Self-Propel kid’s cross country program 3 days a week, and am coaching adults once a week in addition to my monthly workshops at the Talley Rec. Center.

As a Chi Running instructor, what is your mission?

 I feel my mission is to help others find the joy in running that I’ve found and to prevent them from making similar mistakes to mine. Chi Running applies principles of Tai Chi to running which results in a technique that reduces resistance and minimizes impact resulting improved efficiency and ease of motion.  It also turns running into a mindful process that makes it as much of a cerebral experience as physical.  In addition to improving performance and comfort, learning Chi Running provides a basis for determining the cause and effect relationship between the aches and pains we get that come as a result of the way we move. 

In a way, it helps us become our own doctor, except our doctors aren’t very good at telling us how to prevent injury.  If we run and we say our knees hurt, they tell us to stop running.  They have no ability to coach us on what flaws in our technique are causing the injury.  Chi Running teaches you how to do this.  Once people know how to do it, the big question is, “Why isn’t this being taught in school?”  Knowing how to walk and run properly is very fundamental to our ability to function as human beings.  We’re talking about improving how we move forward!  Can’t get more fundamental than that!

My primary vehicle for teaching this is an afternoon long workshop I offer normally on the 2nd Saturday of every month at the Talley Rec. Center in Frederick.  In one afternoon, you can get a crash course on how to run properly along with tips on the particulars of what you as an individual need to focus on to improve your form.  After taking the class, if you have any questions or problems, you can contact me for further consultation at no charge.  I also make a deal with my students that they can come back and take the class again (which I highly recommend because everything doesn’t sink-in the first time), and all you have to do in exchange for that is to refer one new person. I’m not trying to be a personal trainer that gets you to pay for repeat sessions over and over again.  I just want to be an evangelist for the joy of running!  To learn more about me as a Chi Running instructor, people can look for my instructor page through and clicking on the “Learn It” tab.

What is the best advice you would give to someone who is just starting out in running or trying to decide on running further distances?

I encourage people to spend time learning how to run with good technique at a slow pace.  If not properly trained, most people either go too fast or they “jog”.  Jogging entails moving in a heavy up and down motion at a slower than normal running cadence.  Many even sway side to side while doing it. This is a very inefficient movement pattern that is actually harder to do and creates more impact than running properly.  Learn how to move smoothly with minimal impact before you start to condition yourself to go farther or faster. If you learn that and practice daily, you will get comfortable automatically with gradually going farther.  If you keep doing it, you will also gradually start to go faster.  The hierarchy of training is: 1st concentrate on form and technique, 2nd develop endurance base, and 3rd (one you have the first two down) you can start working specifically on speed.  The mistakes people make are all related to getting these out of order. To sign-up for one of my monthly workshops people should go to the Talley Rec. Center registration site:  and look up Chi Running listed alphabetically in the programs/activities menu.

What has been your most gratifying moment in your running career?

That’s tough.  The first JFK with my son Adam.  My best JFK with my son Marshal. 

Out-running about 4,000 runners seeded ahead of me at the 2006 Boston Marathon. Finishing 15th at Catoctin in 2004.  Running sub-5 hours at the 2005 HAT Run 50K. These were all great (and memorable) race experiences, but my most gratifying single accomplishment in running was helping the Steeplechasers Running Club quadruple in membership during my 5 year tenure as President.  That was the sign to me that I was effective at sharing the joy of running with others.

That led me to trading the gratification I once got from individual achievement for an even greater gratification of teaching and sharing this passion with others.  My wife Alice convinced me to become a certified Chi Running Instructor back in 2011 because she knew I was passionate about it and she thought I was a natural teacher.  It’s been great!  You can probably imagine how it makes me feel to have people come to me and tell me how my teaching has changed their life for the better.  That’s very gratifying as well!

What is your favorite distance to run?

50K to 50 miles because you don’t need to push the pace and you can condition yourself to get it done before the sun goes down.  But I really don’t do that much anymore. Now, my long runs are typically in the 5-10 mile range, but I run them at the pace I did the 50K to 50 mile races previously because I now use running for relaxation and introspection as well as my overall health.  It takes at least 40 minutes of focused effort to reach “the runner’s high”  I like getting there whenever I can!

What is your favorite local race and Why?

It became the Catoctin 50K because I found a great group to train with for it every year (Mike O’Grady, Larry Key, and Steve Dobson to name the central characters), and because I like the hard-core/no-frills character of the race that Kevin Sayers crafted.  My favorite local race that is achievable for the general population is the Thorpewood 5K/10K.  Beautiful course and a great introduction to technical trail running. 

Now I’m the race director for the Way Station Turkey Trot.  I’ve helped with that event for years and have always loved it because it really brings the whole community together and has become such a great Thanksgiving tradition in Frederick. 

What’s your favorite post race fuel?

That’s an easy one:  Beer!

What do you have going on these days?

In addition to teaching Chi Running through Self-Propel LLC and being in charge of the Finish Line Timing for the Steeplechasers, and serving on the Parks & Recreation Commission for the City of Frederick, I have now been appointed the new Race Director of the Way Station (Frederick) Turkey Trot!  It’s already Frederick’s largest 5K.  I want to make it a celebration where we all are thankful for our ability to move forward together!  I hope everyone signs up!

I’m also offering training programs specifically for the Turkey Trot.  Anyone that wants can come to the Talley Rec. Center on Wednesdays at 6:00pm and receive coaching on Chi Running as well as a conditioning program designed to get them ready to comfortably participate in the Frederick Turkey Trot (“like” Self-Propel on Facebook)!

Other than that, I continue to get interest in Chi Running from a multitude of sources.  I’ve done private training for corporations such as Bechtel and the Hughes Corporation.  The medical community has taken an interest as I’ve done trainings for the staff of Frederick Foot and Ankle, the Physical Therapy department at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, and Sheppard-Pratt in Towson.  Just this past week, I was on Ft. Detrick teaching soldiers of the 53rd Signal Battalion.    Interest comes from all over.  I don’t run nearly the mileage I once did, but I think you can tell that I still spend lots of my time on running!