Runner takes off a few pounds, puts on a lot of miles

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 1, 2002

Mac Ferris runs into the setting sun at Vicksburg National Military Park Thursday, practicing for Saturday’s 23rd Run Thru History competition. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[03/01/02]Early last year, Mac Ferris, a 48-year-old Vicksburg landscaper who will compete in Saturday’s Run Thru History, headed to the gym to work off a few pounds.

Today, he has a few marathons under his belt.

“He’s just a wild man. He’s very, very driven. He’s done more in a year than some of us have done in four years,” said Francine Johnson, one of his running partners.

Ferris is a lifelong resident of Vicksburg. While his work often has him outdoors and in good physical condition, it wasn’t the same as being a competitive athlete. He’d been working out at a gym about a month when his interest in running began on a whim.

“I couldn’t get the treadmill I wanted, so I headed to the South Loop,” Ferris said, referring to the portion of the Vicksburg National Military Park where many locals exercise year-round.

The one-day event quickly turned into a daily ritual. Ferris had “caught the bug” and the pounds began to fly off Ferris said he’s lost 30 in the past year. The work in the gym had helped, too. A month of leg exercises before he started running strengthened Ferris’ legs and kept him from feeling the pain that had led to him giving up on running several times in the past.

“I’d only run out of duress. Once my weight would get to a certain point, I’d say enough,'” Ferris said. “I used to hate running with a passion. Now all of a sudden I love it. Now it’s a lifelong commitment.”

After a few months of running in the park, Ferris fell in with a regular group that includes Johnson, Mack Varner and Terry Waller.

Within the space of a few more months, Ferris would go places and distances he’d never dreamed of.

“My three running buddies took me from being a casual runner to being a competitive runner,” Ferris said. “I owe it all to those three. They’re my teachers and I’m their pupil.”

The group transformed Ferris into a runner capable of marathons 26.2 miles in what seemed like less time than it takes to run one. By the fall, he was averaging 30 miles a week, had completed a 16-mile training run and was ready to tackle a course that intimidates 18-year-olds.

The whole way, he never complained about extra distance or wondered what course the group would take through the park. He just followed the group and the course, going wherever it took him.

“He never asks what we’re going to do, he just does it,” said Varner, the race chairman for the Run Thru History.

Ferris placed in his age group in several shorter runs last year, and in December he headed to Dallas for his first marathon. He didn’t set any records or win any awards there, but he did finish with a respectable time of 4 hours, 5 minutes.

He followed it up by completing the Mississippi Marathon in Clinton in January, and ran an “ultramarathon” 50 kilometers, or about 31 miles in Tyler, Texas, in early February. He completed the race, which is across trails instead of roads, in just under 6 1/2 hours.

“He has advanced farther and faster than anybody I have ever been associated with. He ran that ultra with us, and that was my first ultra,” said Varner, who has run 52 marathons.

Ferris’ path hasn’t been easy, however. Along the way he had to deal with personal losses, but he said running has helped him get through it.

“It’s so pleasurable, you don’t spoil it with heavy … thoughts,” Ferris said. “It’s been a real outlet for my frustrations.”

Ferris has plans for several more marathons this year, in addition to some shorter runs like the Run Thru History, and doesn’t intend to slack off anytime soon. His next marathon is scheduled for early April, and his goal is to break the 4-hour mark.

“That’ll cut me out of some local races, but that’s all right,” Ferris said of his marathon-heavy schedule. “If my group continues to run marathons, I’m going to be right there with them.”