Teamwork Makes The Dream Work For Marcus Reilly And Co.

By Logan Stanley - MileSplit Correspondent

WHITINSVILLE, MASSACHUSETTS -- Every Sunday evening at around eight o'clock, after Paul Reilly puts his three-year-old son Luke to bed, he heads over to the kitchen countertop and finds a mug of handcrafted hot chocolate waiting for him.

It will be courtesy of his oldest son, Marcus.

"Of course we got a sweet tooth," Paul said. "We love doing something that is pleasurable and also gets us in a good frame of mind for the week."

The father-son pair begin these meetings often by discussing something topical, such as their newfound obsession of Formula One racing, which was inspired by a recent binge watch of the Netflix sports documentary series "Drive To Survive."

Ultimately, though, the conversation will shift to a different kind of racing, substituting humans in place of high-end race cars. 

And it's because Marcus Reilly, a freshman at Northbridge High School in Massachusetts, is currently one of the fastest 15-year-olds in the United States ... actually, you could argue he's one of the fastest 15-year-olds in the world. 

In November of last year, Reilly set an age-group world record in the mile at 14 years old when he ran 4:12.77 at the Redtrack.Run Trials in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.

A few months later, he set a national freshman class indoor record in the 1,500m, hitting 4:00.05 en route toward a mile time of 4:15.51 at The VA Showcase. In January, he became one of three freshman athletes all-time to ever break 2:30 in the 1K. 

* Reilly in the mile at The VA Showcase in January

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Most recently, he posted a time of 1:52.64 in the 800m at the Ocean State Running Spring Track & Field Series on May 1. That came after his opener roughly two weeks prior in 1:53.35.

For the past two months, Marcus and Paul have gathered for a weekly brainstorming session. It has become a staple of their routine, and it has played a pivotal role in the development of the high school freshman. 

It was Stephanie, Paul's wife, who suggested it. 

"We like to keep it flexible and adjust," Paul said. "There's always the mindset of what you would roughly be doing in the fall versus indoors versus outdoors. So that's kind of in the back of our mind. But it's not hard and fast."

Paul, who doubles as Marcus' coach alongside Stephanie, keeps it loose though. He and his wife don't want to be too rigid, as they both understand the perils of an overbearing coach. 

Paul and Stephanie know a thing or two, after all, about running. 

Both of them enjoyed successful running careers at Providence College before going on to represent Ireland in international competition. Paul competed at the 2002 World Cross Country Championships. A decade later, and after two kids, Stephanie competed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2012 London Olympics. 

The couple have been involved in coaching at various points in their lives.

Paul coached at Bryant University for a number of years before moving on to an administrative role at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Stephanie was coaching at Providence College up until two months ago when she decided to resign. 

"We like to keep it flexible and adjust," Paul said. "There's always the mindset of what you would roughly be doing in the fall versus indoors versus outdoors. So that's kind of in the back of our mind. But it's not hard and fast."

Now the two are channeling their focus and using their expertise to help guide their son, who is already following in their footsteps.

But despite their great success with the sport, they didn't steer Marcus toward running.

Marcus grew up playing soccer and basketball. It was in the seventh-grade when he switched over to cross country. Paul even wanted Marcus to play team sports for a few more years before getting into running. But the talent was evident early on.

After placing well in a regional meet that year, Marcus saw it for himself: And so he decided to dedicate his time fully to running. The impressive results started to come pretty soon after that.

Three years later, Marcus has molded himself into one of the top freshmen distance runners in the nation under the guidance of his parents. 

But instead of dictating what workouts he thinks are best for Marcus, Paul instead asks his son for input and suggestions. 

"It's a full collaboration between me and Marcus," Paul said. 

Stephanie, meanwhile, is in charge of the technical aspect of training -- which involves core work and, more recently, hurdle drills to improve hip mobility. 

At the moment, Marcus is averaging about 42 to 44 miles on a weekly basis.

He trains by himself. Racing opportunities have obviously been limited the past year, but that looks likely to change in the spring as more venues open up and COVID-19 restrictions loosen in the Northeast.

Still, that presents a challenge for Paul and Stephanie. Marcus is supremely talented, and most athletes strive to run at the biggest race possible every week.

But while that is certainly nice, the result of too much racing and training can be devastating on an athlete. Burnout is real.

Stephanie and Paul are both aware that injuries are more likely to occur if training-loads grow or an athlete over races. 

"With Marcus -- and with a lot of other athletes -- they're so driven to be successful that most of the time, it's saying, 'Maybe you should take a step back. You don't need to do that extra mile or extra rep,'" Paul said. "It's not necessary to push him, it's almost like bringing him down a level."

Those fears aside, Paul and Stephanie and Marcus have so far found a pretty healthy balance. 

The records are a good indication of that. 

And while Paul claims there isn't any 'secret sauce' when it comes to training Marcus, he also must admit, too: Clearly something special is brewing in central Massachusetts. 

Maybe it has something to do with that hot chocolate.


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Logan Stanley is a graduate of Eastern Washington University and a contributor for California MileSplit and The Press Democrat. He's been writing for MileSplit since 2019. You can reach him on Twitter @LSScribe