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Boston Marathon veteran also trains young runners for Beechwood teams that have won state titles

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

One of the 25,000-plus finishers in last week’s 127th Boston Marathon was a 51-year-old Fort Mitchell woman who finds the time to train middle school students in cross country and track at Beechwood Independent Schools.  

Marsha Parke is a working mother who begins most of her own weekday training runs with friends well before dawn when her two children, Lily, 16, and Gannon, 14, are still in bed.

Marsha Parke finished her eighth Boston Marathon last week in 3 hours, 45 minutes, a time than ranked 256th among 1,185 women in the 50-54 age group. (Photo provided)

While her children are in school, Parke works as a sales representative for Merck, a pharmaceutical company she’s been with for 25 years. At the end of most school days, you’ll find her conducting Beechwood’s middle school track or cross country programs that she helped start more than five years ago.

“It is a full day, but I enjoy it,” Parke said. “I feel like it’s one way for me to give back and help give kids an outlet. There’s a lot of things about running and training that I think you can take with you as you get older.”

The middle school program has provided an ideal feeder system for Beechwood high school teams. The Tigers won Class 1A state championships in both girls cross country and track during the 2022-23 school year and repeated as state champion in girls cross country last October.

Parke’s daughter, Lily, was the cross country team’s top finisher in the last two state meets and a distance runner on the track team. Like most of her teammates, she came up through the middle school program run by her mom.

“I think she taught everybody on our team what we needed to know about running and really helped everyone love the sport,” Lily said of her mom. “I think if we didn’t have her as our coach when we were younger, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”           

Marsha Parke’s daughter, Lily, was the lead runner on Beechwood state champion cross country teams. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

Marsha grew up in Portsmouth, Ohio. She was a sprinter on her high school track team and said she didn’t really like the one season she spent as a cross country runner. She did some road running on her own while she attended college, but she didn’t do any serious training until after she graduated.

“After college, I moved to Georgia and met some local running people through the YMCA and started running with them,” she said. “And then I signed up for my first marathon, like a dummy.”

Marsha said she has run more than 30 marathons since then, including eight trips to the Boston Marathon that’s held in April. Last week, she completed the 26.2-mile course in 3 hours, 45 minutes, a time that placed 256th among 1,185 women in the 50-54 age group that included runners from around the world.

“I’ve just always loved Boston,” she said. “I think it’s just the history and the experience of being there. Whether you’re a runner or not, you’ve heard of the Boston Marathon. And the day you go out and do it, everything is just crazy.”

Marsha said her husband, Kevin, has also run the Boston Marathon, but they’ve never done the historic race together. Whenever they’ve taken their children to the race, one stays with them while the other one runs.

Marsha Parke, left, poses with her bib number at last year’s Boston Marathon with her daughter, Lily, son, Gannon, and husband, Kevin. (Photo provided)

Their son, Gannon, is now an eighth-grader. He’s one of more than 50 students who are currently taking part in Beechwood’s middle school track program that’s conducted by his mom and another parent.

“I push them, but I also allow them to have fun,” Marsha said of her training sessions.

“If you do it the right way and coach kids in a way that’s empowering, give them goals and guidelines, they’ll do what you ask if you believe in them.”

Marsha has run the upcoming Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon before, but this year she and three of her running buddies plan to cover the course as a relay team. The next full marathon on her schedule will be the one in Chicago in October.

A few weeks after the Flying Pig Marathon, Marsha will be keeping tabs on her daughter and the Beechwood girls track team as they compete for another Class 1A state title at the end of May.

“She’s a pretty determined kid, so it’s really been fun to watch her,” Marsha said. “It’s really kind of cool that both of my kids love this sport because I said to them many times, ‘You don’t have to love it because mom and dad love it.’”



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