|Start of Flying Monkey Marathon (Photo by Jobie Williams)|
Tell us a little about yourself not necessarily related to running: age, where born, education, area you live in, etc…..
I’m 78 years old. I was born and raised in the hard-scrabble, hillside country of Jackson County, Tennessee. Subsistence farming mostly. We grew about everything we ate: milk, eggs chickens, pork, vegetables. Some wild game and fish from the river. My mother canned beans, made hominy, made jelly and jam from wild blackberries we picked. We picked up hickory nuts and black walnuts in the fall. She dried apples. We lived in a different world then.
Went to a one-room school house that had eight grades and on a good day maybe twice that many students, taught by the same lady that had taught my daddy and mother.
Got a BS and an MS in engineering at Tennessee Tech University. PhD at Virginia Tech in 1969.
I worked as a bridge design engineer for State of Tennessee in Nashville. Professor at Virginia Tech one year and then moved to Tennessee Tech University, my alma mater, and stayed there for 29 years before leaving. Consulted in aerospace industry on aero-structural matters for US Army Missile Command, NASA, etc. Made some money. Spent it on motorcycles and airplanes.
I have three grown kids, a daughter and two sons. Four grandsons. One great grandson and one great granddaughter.
I live in Cookeville Tennessee with my wife Jo Ann.
|Run 4 Don 15k, a race he finished in 1:13:14|
What is your profession?
Well, I run and write now. That doesn’t make me much money – it doesn’t need to - but it does make me a living of sorts. I guess you could call it retirement. But that word totally fails to describe my life. I don’t like to use it.
How did you start running and what prompted you to do so?
I was a jogger for 17 years before I became a runner. Runners know that the difference in a jogger and a runner is an entry form – runners enter races. I didn’t do that, I didn’t associate with runners, I didn’t know there was a publication called Runner’s World. I was just a fitness jogger. I’d go out on my lunch hour and run six miles. It was a stress reliever. I had the idea it was good for me somehow.
But, I had the sneaky notion that I might be a decent runner if I ever tried. I used to work at manual labor in the field all day, day after day; that’s a kind of endurance. Finally, I don’t know, the curiosity to find out got to me. I signed up for a local 10k secretly – secretly in case I made a fool of myself. The race was produced by the ROTC Department of Tennessee Tech.
Well, I won my age group and I also won best master (which was over 50 there) and they allowed double-dipping, so I got both trophies, tall glass beer mugs.
But here’s the most incredible thing: I was a professor of engineering then. My favorite student and advisee turned out to be the Race Director! (His name is Phillip Messer. He’s probably a general now.) He was the student commander of the ROTC Battalion. As such, he was the RD. So it was Phillip who shook my hand and presented me my trophies.
The university photographer snapped a picture of that presentation and the picture went into his files without my seeing it. My wife worked at the university then and knew her way around it pretty good. She secretly found the photo, had an enlargement made, matted and framed it and gave it to me as a gift. A big surprise! It hangs on the wall yet. Here it is: the engineering student shaking hands with his old professor.
That was an amazing outcome.
How long have you been running?
|Kim Boremam-Montgomery & Angie James W/ Dallas During 2017 Vol State|
That first race was in 1998. I was 57. That was about 20 years ago. But as I said before, I’d been what you’d call a jogger for 17 years before that. Don’t know if you’d want to add those two numbers, but if you do, that would amount to 37 years.
So that might be a measure of the wear and tear on my knees, etc. Truth is: I don’t think it’s wear and tear at all. My knees and other joints still work fine. I suspect running helps build strong joints, instead of destroying them. That ain’t likely a popular opinion.
Did you participate in any other sports over the years?
Fringe sports, individual sports mostly. I was good at archery and won local contests.
Motorcycle trials – I was terrible at that, but it was fun, and a friend and I traveled around local states in a pickup going to meets.
In college I lettered four years on the rifle team at Tennessee Tech, which was a varsity sport. My second year, I was the team MVP. I eventually rose to 2nd best collegiate shooter in the southeast, 16th in the nation. (After me, my old team won the NCAA National Championship three consecutive times, a remarkable feat).
Did you run in grade school, High School or College?
Running wasn’t really a thing when I was in high school. I might’ve played basketball – the coach asked me to play. But the team practiced after school, so I would’ve had to stay after school. I had to catch the school bus. It was an hour and a half ride home, and I had to milk the cows and feed the livestock when I got there. So it was impractical for me to play. We’ll never know what kind of basketball player I might’ve been.
But we can gain some idea of the kind of runner I might’ve been by the magic of age-grading. And my age-graded times place me among the best runners in the state. That’s an opportunity I missed – due to the time and place I was born. But that’s ok.
So we get an idea of where you have been with running can you share your PR’s for: 5K, 10K marathon and any other distance you may have run.
|At "The Rock" at end of 2017 Vol State|
I was maybe running my best in my mid-sixties. That may be surprising. Since I started in my late fifties, I suppose a training effect explains that. After my mid-sixties, my times took a set-back while I did Ironman races. The biking and swimming hurt my running.
But I’ll give you three times that come to mind, all at age 64:
- Certified 5k (in July heat) of 19:06
- Certified 15k in 1:00:41
- Certified marathon (a hilly one in Nashville) of 3:12:42
I’ve run 100 marathons (or longer). Probably won my age group in the majority of those. (Some didn’t have age groups, some were casual training runs, some were social runs, etc.
Have you run any races lately and do you have any races planned?
Most recent race was the RC Cola – Moon Pie 10-miler, (June 16, 2018) a hot and very hilly race. ( keep saying “hilly,” but I live in Tennessee where that is nearly always true.)
Anyway, my time for the 10 miles was 1:24:52. That’s been certified as a state record for a 77-year-old man. (I had a birthday just nine days later). That age grades to around 54:54, if you want to see that.
What is your most memorable race or races and share a little about at least one of them?
Gosh, I’ve run some 285 races. Each one was special in some way. It’s hard to pick, isn’t it?
When I first qualified for Boston was special. It was a marathon on a paved park trail in Anchorage, AK. I had just started running marathons and figured I’d qualify someday but didn’t really expect to there. And the trip was special. I usually travel alone. That fact alone heightens adventure. But, this time my oldest son traveled with me and he even got himself into shape to run the associated 5k, the only race he’s ever run to this day.
A few miles from the finish line I realized I had a shot if I could only maintain a pace I thought I could do, eight-minute-miles, if I recall. I made the BQ by 45 seconds. Afterwards I went staggering drunkenly across the park grass and goose droppings saying over and over, “I made it. I made it. I made it.” It’s a moment I’ll always remember.
Ever since then, 19 years ago, I’ve been perpetually Boston-qualified because I run several marathons each year, most at a BQ pace.
I’ve actually run Boston nine times. In three consecutive runs, I finished second, second and third in my age group, that last one on the day of the bombing. I’ve been unable to break thru to first. That has been a big disappointment.
I won my age group in the New York City Marathon, despite taking a bloody fall in Brooklyn.
I won my age group in the Chicago Marathon, on a hot day when leg cramps nearly shut me down on Michigan Ave. I had just enough slack left to finish it.
Won my age group in the Barcelona Marathon, which was special because of that city’s extraordinary architecture, character and so on. I was staying in Spain with a Spanish friend 40 years younger than me, and we drove from his house. The trip itself, his Madrid friends, the entire episode, was memorable.
What sort of training do you do?
|2016 Flying Monkey Marathon|
I do a lot of running, over 2,000 miles per year. Last year I ran 2,407 miles. I try – I emphasis “try” – to either run a race or do a track workout each week. 4 x 800m is my favorite, or 3 miles at threshold pace.
As a masters runner what changes have you made in your training as you have gotten older?
I was old when I started. I’m still doing the same stuff, just doing it slower.
What is your favorite distance to run and race?
I like that question.
Marathon is the distance I love. It’s the longest distance you can run fast. It’s not my best distance. Far from it. I always fail to run it as well as my training and other races tell me I should. It’s maddening. It’s like a goal I can never reach. So it has special intrigue and mystery about it. I never know what will happen.
My best distance is around 15k.
Do you have any long-range plans?
Hahaha! When you are 78, long-range may not be very long. But, anyway, I don’t give a hoot. I make plans anyway. They may not work out. I’m realistic about that.
I plan to keep going. I expect next year I’ll take a shot at the Vol State 500k again. I’ve finished it three times unaided. Last two times I became the oldest unaided runner to ever finish.
Ha! I guess that’s a world record of some kind.
Another goal: Boston hasn’t seen the last of me. In the upper age groups, you have the best chance of winning if you are the youngest in the age group, speed is so age-dependent. So if I have to, I’ll still be running it at 80.
What do you struggle with most with regards to running?
During all of 2014 and part of 2015 had had a bout with an auto-immune disease called Graves Disease. It ruined my running speed, but I did keep running, just at a trudging pace.
Recently, I had a problem with eye drops intended for glaucoma. They were beta-blockers – which slow pulse and respiration rate, and so, also impede speed. After a few trials, I’ve finally found an alternative that does not hurt my running.
So, I guess the answer to your question is: I have to deal with ailments common to old age – either work thru them or work around them. But I’ve kept running.
I just read your book called Bench of Despair – can you share something about it and why you wrote it.?
I didn’t want to write it. It describes my experiences in the Vol State 500k the second time I ran it. My run collapsed and I had such a desperate struggle. It took a long time to recover, five weeks just to grow new soles on my feet. I wanted to forget. But it wouldn’t let me. Five months went by and it still gnawed. Then an editor asked me to write a story for a literary magazine. I thought maybe I can cut out a poignant part of that adventure – crossing the Cumberland Plateau – and write a short story. That didn’t work. I kept needing to explain something that had gone before. Everything was connected to something else. Finally, I gave up and just decided to begin at the start, the water’s edge, and write the whole thing. Once I rendered that decision, it went quickly and I finished the first draft in just over a month. You meet a lot of characters in reading it. Although, the book is nonfiction, it’s novelistic in style, using the techniques of fiction writers.
I also saw you had two other books “Going Down Slow” and “Falling Forward” – can you share something about these and where you can purchase them?
They are adventure memoirs much like Bench Of Despair, only twice as long. Although each is based on my experiences in traveling to and running races, I try to focus on the adventure and not on the author.
Each is available on Amazon.com (see links above) in either print or electronic form. Additionally, Falling Forward is available in paperback.
I think Going Down Slow is my favorite because of its wide variety of content and its literary tone. It’s more artful.
What do you see as a trend in running?
|Photo by Leanne Goodwin|
You don’t have to go to Broadway to see an absurdist play. These races are absurdist events. How long before someone has a race around the world? A marathon on Mars? But people take the challenge. That even includes me. At my age, doing crazy stuff.
If you had one, well maybe two or three, things to say those that are running to encourage them what would it be?
Running is not for everyone. But it will help anyone who takes it up.
Don’t over- think it, don’t obsess over shoes. Buy whatever fits. Then wear it out.
Assume every approaching car is aiming to kill you. If it fails, you win.
Cross the street in the middle of the block – an intersection is the worse place to cross.
Do you have a website or other social media site you would like to share?
You can find me on Facebook and on Twitter
My main blog is called Turnaround and a second one is Smithbend
Each blog is a depository of stories on a topic that interested me enough to write it and post it at the time. You could spend a lot of time exploring either, I reckon. What you’d call a race reports is scarce on both.
Any closing comments?
Failure. Failure is more interesting than succeeding. That’s where you find drama, heroic struggle and poignancy. I’ve never failed to finish a marathon, but I’ve failed on other projects. If you ain’t failing, you ain’t trying.
My young Spanish friend and I tried to run across Spain on the historic trail called el Camino de Santiago, which runs from France to Santiago on Spain’s western shore, once the end of the world. We crossed the Pyrenees from St Jean, France to Pamplona, Spain in one day, the best single day of running I’ve ever done. Then a heat wave of historic proportions hit northern Spain, where we were. After a few days we failed on that great adventure – but not before we both nearly ended up in the hospital. How all that happened is a whole long story. The failure was abject. We aimed high. It remains the failure I’m most proud of.