Todd Silva: Ultra marathon-man

The 1990 MVRHS graduate began running seriously in 2007, working up from half-marathons to marathons, ironman competitions, 50-milers, and ultimately, a 100-mile run this March.


On March 28, Todd Silva ran for 24 hours.

Here’s some perspective: The 1990 Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School grad was running when we went to bed, still running when we got up, worked and came home, and he was still running while we watched Desperate Housewives.

When Mr. Silva finished running, he’d completed his first 100-mile ultra-marathon, in 23 hours, and 53 minutes,  in Richland, Washington. Only 41 of the original 76 starters finished the mountainous course. Mr. Silva lives with his wife, Shelby, and daughters Makena (9) and Shay (7) on Orcas Island, off the Washington coast, which he describes as Martha’s Vineyard on the Left Coast. His third daughter, Lauren, 24, lives on Martha’s Vineyard.

His feat might be difficult for us mortals to get our minds around, but the thoughtful 42-year old father of three, a construction industry consultant, sees it as another example of his core belief that anything is possible if we commit to it.

“I choose to run, but whatever you choose to do from running or painting, whatever — you can do it despite the obstacles,” he said. “I hear people say they couldn’t run three miles. Then don’t. Run a quarter-mile. An accomplishment is an accomplishment. Just do things over and over. It’s the same process, no matter what you do. I’m slower than just about everybody. A 59-year old lady passed me during the ultra-marathon, and she finished about an hour and a half in front of me. There is always someone better and faster. I’m not competing against others.”

The University of Vermont grad uses his career skills — designing and planning the construction flow of huge building projects — to plan long-distance runs. “There may be as many as 10,000 processes involved in building a $400 million hospital and it’s important to know their inter-relationships and dependencies so the construction goals are accomplished,” he said in a phone conversation last week.

Mr. Silva began running seriously in 2007, working up from half-marathons to marathons and ironman competitions to 50-milers, and ultimately to the 100-mile run last month. Mr. Silva time-qualified for the sold-out 2014 Boston Marathon. “It would have been great to run it the year after the tragedy, but I’ll run it next year,” he said.

Mr. Silva relies on a coach and has learned through painful experience to train his body to use its fuel efficiently over a long period of time. “I felt good in a Boston Marathon qualifier a couple years ago, so I increased speed and ultimately ran out of gas,” he said.

Runners talk about “hitting the wall” — when body, mind and spirit combine to say “no mas.” Mr. Silva’s dark night of the soul actually occurred at night during the ultramarathon last month, on a mountain road in a fog so thick he used a GPS device to stay on course.

“I thought, ‘How can I do this? I’m not even close to halfway. I still have 65 miles to go,’” Mr. Silva recalled. He has spent some time thinking about that night and the circumstances that saved his dream. First, he relied on commitment and the discipline of doing the same training process over and over, even when he didn’t want to.

The second circumstance was human interaction. “I called Shelby, and we talked for a few minutes,” he said. “I didn’t tell her how bad I felt, but she knew. She knows me. That helped. A few miles further on, walking at this point, I met an older guy, 65 or so. I asked him if it was normal to feel this way. He said it was, and he was still running so I started running. I met another guy and just asked if I could run with him. Now that I think about it, people showed up when I needed help the most. The running community is wonderful that way.

“Then, at some point past the halfway mark, I began to feel good. My legs were loose and I could run more easily. I couldn’t believe it. The only conclusion I’ve come to is that when I started the second half, I was committed — though it felt like that invading force burning its ships after it landed. You are all in, and a part of your mind turns itself to ways to succeed rather than looking for a reason not to continue.

“Really, the same questions get asked so many times during a lifetime. Do I quit? Or do I push on? I’m just getting practice at pushing on.”

Back home in Chilmark, mom Lynne Silva brims with pride. She’s happy that he achieved his goal and happier still with the way he achieves. “Todd’s been able to create a balance in his life between family, work, and his passion for running,” she said.