Road warriors

From sedentary to swift, PBS program shows how to make a marathoner

Can 13 couch potatoes transform themselves over nine months and complete all 26.2 miles of the 2007 Boston Marathon? That often-grueling journey is explored in the NOVA special “Marathon Challenge,” which airs October 30 at 8 p.m. on PBS stations nationwide.

Members of Team NOVA met for the first time on the Tufts track on July 9, 2006. © NOVA PHOTO

Helping the admittedly out-of-shape members of Team NOVA go from flabby to fit was their coach, Don Megerle, who is director of the annual Tufts President’s Marathon Challenge, and exercise and nutrition scientist Miriam Nelson, associate professor at the Friedman School and director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts. Uta Pippig, the former Olympian and three-time Boston Marathon winner, also helped coach the team during its 40-week training regimen.

As Tufts’ former head coach for men’s swimming for more than 30 years, Megerle knows a thing or two about inspiring athletes of all abilities: “They don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care,” he said. “You need to care how they’re doing outside of running.”

Megerle’s task was daunting, to say the least. His prospective marathoners, who range in age from 22 to 60, included a severely overweight hospital administrator (she ultimately lost 50 pounds during the training), a reformed smoker, a heart attack survivor, a self-described “aging sedentary physician” who wanted to be a role model for her patients and a former NFL linebacker.

In addition to the physical training regimen, Megerle also nurtured his runners’ psyches. “It’s absolutely breathtaking what you’re going to experience,” he told them, “especially when you cross that finish line; it gives you feelings that send you to another place.”

And when they crossed the finish line in Copley Square in downtown Boston last April, they joined an elite club: Less than 1 percent of people in the world have completed a marathon.

For more about “Marathon Challenge,” go to To see a three-minute YouTube trailer of the film, go to

This story appeared in the October 2007 issue of the Tufts Journal.