Running to the Top One Percent
By Lisa C. Belcastro
Out of the billions of people on our planet, few will experience the thrill of finishing in the top five in their division in the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in Washington, DC. Fewer still will cross the finish line in the top one percent. 19 year old, Islander Sam Fetters is one of the elite few.
On October 29th on a beautiful fall Sunday, Sam approached the start line to the MCM with one goal: to complete one of our country’s most prestigious marathons, and do it in under two hours and forty-five minutes. If you’re a runner, you know how incredibly hard that goal is. Only the best of the best can achieve that goal. Sam did better. He finished in 2:43:50, averaging 6:17 minutes per mile.
If you’re not a runner, but would like some perspective, head over to the MVRHS track. Try to run four loops of the quarter mile track in under six minutes and twenty seconds. Then, if you’re still breathing, imagine repeating those four laps at pace twenty-six times in a row.
“I was proud of myself,” said Sam. “I’ve fallen in love with running in ways I hadn’t done before. Now that I’m running on ‘my’ terms, my love for it has only deepened.”
Nearly 14,000 runners completed the Marine Corp Marathon. Sam finished fourth in his division and 31st overall, putting him in the top one percent. Technically, the top .025 percent, which is actually better than the top one percent.
Sam’s time in the MV Marathon, on-Island this past May, qualified him for Boston in April 2024. MCM was icing on the cake, where he improved his Marathon time by a little less than five minutes.
Sam grew up on Island. He started running in elementary school. In ninth grade at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School he tried out for the track team and made it, track coach Joe Schroeder encouraged Sam to try running distance. In high school, Sam ran on the Cross Country (Fall), indoor (Winter), and outdoor (Spring) track teams.
“The more I fell in love with running, the more my times dropped,” said Sam. “I went from being dead last to being the alternate, (fifth man), for the High School’s 4x 800m relay team that went to Nationals in 2022 and won.”
Sam graduated from MVRHS in June 2022. He enrolled as a double major in computer science and history at Amherst College. Sam, now a sophomore, tried out for the Amherst cross country team but was cut from the team before the race season started. Can we as an Island community say loudly, “Their loss!”
“After I was cut, I knew I had to try to find what running meant to me,” said Sam. He joined the casual but serious Amherst College Running Club and set a new goal: to run the Martha’s Vineyard 20-Miler in February 2023.
He finished his first 20-miler in 2:21:30 and won his age group. Inspired, Sam entered his first 26-mile marathon, the Martha’s Vineyard Marathon on May 20, 2023. He crossed the finish line in a blazing 2:49:28, earning first place for his age group and fourth overall, averaging 6:28 minutes per mile.
Sam credits part of his running success to the members of the Amherst College Running Club. “It’s an amazing community. They meet three days a week. I usually run two of those days. I couldn’t have done the MCM without them.”
The new year will bring new goals and new challenges for Sam. “Running makes me feel good. I want more of what makes me feel good,” said Sam.
Sam has set some pretty amazing goals for 2024. He is training for the 128th Boston Marathon on April 15th, 2024 with a goal of a sub 2:40:00 finish time. After Boston, Sam will continue to train hard with his goals set on a trip to Germany in October of next year to run the Berlin Marathon.
“The reason I’m pushing myself is not about the time on a clock,” said Sam. “I’m using this as an avenue to work on myself – my mental health, my self-confidence, and also the socializing. I’ve met so many great people.”
Running is Sam’s passion, but he has his eyes on the prize. “I care a lot about my classes too. I’m at college to learn first,” said Sam. “I want to do something with my life after college, that will help people.”