Q: You recently ran a 4:57 mile at 50 years old! How did you accomplish such an incredible run!?
A: I ran track and cross country in college but post-college mostly focused on bike racing, so I hadn’t run a timed mile or anything on the track in about 28 years. A few years ago I read about (Olympic marathoner) Steve Spence’s insane streak of 40+ consecutive years of running a sub-5:00 mile (which finally ended in 2019 at age 57), and that got me wondering if I could still crank out a sub-5:00. For the last couple years my training has been for ultra trail runs, but I kept the idea of the sub-5 in the back of my head, and then this year things just lined up–in mid-June I learned that the 50K trail race I was training for had been cancelled, and I knew I had my milestone 50th birthday coming up in August, so I decided to give it a try. Running a fast mile is at the opposite end of the distance running spectrum from a 50K trail run, so I rejiggered my training plan from long, slow distance runs to shorter runs and focusing on speed by incorporating a couple track/interval sessions each week. It included a mix of 200m, 400m, and 800m intervals on the track for leg speed and pacing, longer timed intervals on the road for endurance, and lots of one minute intervals on Snow King for strength work. It took a couple weeks to re-discover any hint of speed, and it was somewhat discouraging how slow I was compared to college, but I was at least in the ballpark and felt like I just needed a solid 8-10 week training block and the right conditions, and I could probably just sneak in under 5 minutes. The high school cross country team was very nice and let me jump in on a couple track sessions with them. They also volunteered a few pacesetters for the actual attempt, which was a huge help since I needed to be super careful about not going too fast in the first 800 and completely blowing up. I had done a couple time trials in the weeks leading up to the attempt and knew that I was going to need some additional motivation to keep it together mentally on laps 3 and 4, so I had my family and a few former runners from my coaching days at the high school to provide some spectator pressure. We finally got the right combo of fitness, pacesetter availability, and no wildfire smoke in late September. The kids set a perfect pace and I felt really solid through the first 800, holding just under 5:00 pace. I knew the 3rd lap was the make-or-break lap so I upped the effort a little to be in a good position for the final lap. When I came through 1200 still on pace I felt confident I had enough in the tank to make it. Now, I’m not saying the last lap looked pretty or that it was anything like my closing speed in college, but it got the job done. Phew! I really did not want to have to make another attempt at that, and I was so psyched to have done it. The team was great and so supportive, as was my family, and it was a lot of fun to have some old coaching colleagues and former runners cheering me on. That made the whole thing pretty special.
Q: Do you have any other major physical goals you hope or are training to achieve?
A: Having a specific, measurable goal like that was a great motivator and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to set goals for training and competition. There’s no way I would have been able to maintain the focus and motivation necessary to train consistently, especially the hard days of intervals and uphill repeats, if I hadn’t set that specific goal. And then being able to hit my goal was so satisfying and really helped to validate all the work I put into it. Right now I don’t have any sort of specific training or competition goal, at least not any that I’m ready to say out loud quite yet…but my general goals are #1 staying injury free, and #2 maintaining overall fitness for skiing, cycling, running, climbing, etc. Actually, my long term goal is to try to stay faster than my kids for as long as possible. They’re only 11 and 8, so i still have a little time, but I know it’s coming.
Q: Like many Jacksonites, you’ve suffered your fair share of injuries throughout your life. How has working out at Wright Training helped improve your injuries and mechanics?
A: I’ve been fairly lucky for most of my life that I really didn’t struggle with injuries. That’s not to say my mechanics were 100%, but during my racing years I was never compromised by injuries other than minor aches and pains. However, as you get older, fighting off injury definitely gets a lot harder and it seems like any biomechanical deficencies that you were able to ignore just by being young and fit start to take their toll. In my late 30’s, right around the time I stopped racing and training a lot, I developed a herniated disc in my L5/S1. I chased the pain around my body for several years before finally having surgery to resolve the chronic pain issues. But one of the things that experience revealed was that a lot of my mechanics were fundamentally flawed–they still are, but at least I’m more aware of them now. Working with Crystal and the other trainers at the gym has been hugely helpful in indentifying those mechanical issues and working to improving my technique–I’m not fumbling around in the dark without any clue what I’m doing wrong (although Crystal still has to remind me constantly–“Knees out! Use your glutes!”)
Q: You’ve been consistently coming to the gym for years now. How important do you think it is to be consistent for strength, injury prevention, and rehab?
A: With my running background I’ve known from a young age that you have to be consistent in order to see improvement and maximize the benefit from your training. The same applies to strength training–it doesn’t work to start and stop, you have to be consistent over time and ideally you have to keep pushing your training otherwise you’ll plateau. All the research shows that as we age, it becomes even more important to incorporate regular strength work in order to prevent injury and for things like maintaining bone mass. I think this is especially important in a place like Jackson where there are a lot of aging athletes who have lost some of the natural strength they had when they were younger, but are still going out on the weekends and pushing their bodies as hard as they used to–probably harder than they may be capable of–and it catches up.
Q: Any secrets or advice to share with your fellow gymgoers?
A: I think it’s good to set a couple goals–one that’s realistic, a baseline goal that you are confident you can hit; one that’s maybe a little harder, but still feasible; and one that is a reach and will take a significant amount of work and maybe a little luck, but that you’ll be really psyched about if you can achieve it.