Dan Johnson is a runner from Minnesota who attended Luther College, in Decorah, Iowa, where he ran cross country and track. As with many former teammates, I’ve kept up with Dan in a variety of ways, and became aware of how well he’s been running all the way through his late 50s. This past week, he messaged me through Facebook to follow up on a series of questions I’d sent him to publish a profile of his running. His running journey is an inspiration to runners of all ages. And most recently, this is what he accomplished:
“Hey there Chris, FYI, just ran a half marathon yesterday.My official time was 1:24:01, a pace of 6:24 per mile. I finished 63rd out of 1012 overall and 1st out of the 44 Men 55 – 59. My net time was 1:23:58, my 10 mile time was 1:03:47, and my age grade was 83.33%.”
Before his recent half marathon, I’d sent him a set of questions and was going to publish this story in advance of his race. But he had an old email address on record for me and that’s part of the problem with long-time associations. Yet in many ways, the answers he provided now have even more value with the real results of his training and racing well-proven.
What are your current races plans? Upcoming races?
I’m currently training for the Twin Cities Half Marathon on September 11th. This race is part of Minnesota’s US Track and Field (USTF) team circuit.
What training have you been doing this summer?
I have been running between 30-45 miles a week. Every other week or so put in a longer run of 13 miles. This summer’s long run is currently at 16 miles.
I live in an area with a lot of hills, so almost every workout includes a few hills. Occasionally I do some speed work, with series of 8-10 intervals of approximately 100 meters. Sometimes I also incorporate fartlek into my runs.
In addition to running I usually go for a morning walk of a mile or two with a friend and then bike 5 miles each way, to and from work.
Who do you train with?
I run almost entirely on my own, with the exception of Monday nights, when I run with a dozen or so other guys who are team mates with me on the Road Warriors. Guys have their choice of running around one, two or three of Minneapolis’ chain of lakes. I typically run three lakes, which equates to 9 ½ miles.
After our Monday runs we gather for beer and then go out for pizza or hamburgers, and occasionally tell a tall tale or two about past running exploits.
What are your objectives typically in most races (age group, overall?)
I used to have a goal of finishing in the top 1% of a race, now that has changed to the top 10%. With age graded results I usually hope to run between 82-85% in my age grouping; 55-59.
How has your running changed over the years?
I eased off considerably after a pulled hamstring during Grandma’s Marathon back in the 80s, when I was hoping to qualify for the Olympic trials. I was on pace through the half, at 1:10, but then could sense my hamstring beginning to fail. I pretty much quit racing after that for the next twenty years or so. I still ran on and off, but usually shorter distances of between 3-5 miles.
I quit wearing a chronograph watch many years ago. I like to simply run according to how I’m feeling. I also don’t track my distances. Part of the rationale is that I don’t want running to run my life, rather I want it as a complementary fitness component that won’t overtake focus on family and community involvement.
I got back into racing on a more regular basis when in during the fall of 2014, when I reconnected with some of the guys I used to train and race with in the 1980s. We ran around the city lakes every Wednesday evening. One of the guys, Perry Bach, later opened a series of running stores “Run n Fun”. In visiting with Perry a couple of years back at his recently opened Minneapolis store he let me know about a reconvening of the Road Warriors racing team, now also known as the Old Road Warriors, since most of us are in our 50’s and 60’s. I joined up with the guys and have slowly been regaining a touch of my speed and stamina. We commit to running a minimum of four races in the Minnesota USTF summer road racing circuit.
What types of injuries have you experienced?
In addition to my hamstring injury in the 80’s I’ve experienced a lower back injury, totally unrelated to running back about 12 years ago. I was improperly lifting a bag of mortar. Not too long after that I picked up a book with stretches for the lower back. I’ve since been doing a series of 8 different core strengthening and stretching exercises. Though I never really enjoy doing these exercises, I do them pretty religiously, usually about three times a week. Since I’ve been doing them I credit them with keeping me injury free.
What events did you do in college? Times?
I ran cross country, and mostly the 5K in track at Luther College in Decorah, IA. My best mile time, 4:18, came during a four-mile relay at Drake Relays. My best four-mile cross-country time was 20:08, and a 25:28 five-mile time. I was second in the IIAC (Iowa Small College Conference) 5K in 1980, but unfortunately, don’t have a record of the time.
Favorite races you’ve run over the years?
Probably my all time favorite race was in 1979, running a leg of a relay at Louvain-la-Neuve, in Belgium. I ran with a fun and fast group of guys on the cross-country club while I was a student at the University of Nottingham. We placed second overall, with dozens of university teams competing from all around Europe.
I thought it was interesting to be a part of a running relay with legs of varying lengths. Our top runner, Graeme Fell, ran the longest length. Graeme later went on to become a world-class steeplechaser.
Another favorite race was the 1983 Twin Cities marathon. I ran the entire 26 miles behind Barney Klecker, world record holder at 50-mile ultra marathon. All throughout the race, I heard people cheering “Barney, Barney, Barney”. I tried to imagine that was my name to. I nipped Barney at the finish for a time of 2:24:36.
Another highlight was the Boston Marathon in 1985. With a fast qualifying time, I was able to join the top echelon of runners at the starting line. Looking around me I saw runners from all around the world. I ended up finishing as the top Minnesota runner, 166th overall, with a time of 2:29.
Ever have a time or race that really surprised you? breakthroughs?
I don’t think that I’ve had any really great surprises. I’ve come to appreciate that without putting in the work over time, I’m not going to reap the rewards of a fast time. That said, I was surprised a couple of years ago, when at age 56 I was able to place ahead of a bronze medalist from the 2015 World Cup Nordic Skiing championship, Caitlin Gregg. We ran an extremely hilly 5K Trail Loppet, one of my current favorite races, held at Minneapolis’ Theodore Wirth Park.
What have you learned most from your training partners?
I’m learning to run slower. In college. almost every workout was a full out race, so I got in the habit of running hard. One of the Masters runners I train with, who is setting state records for his age group, has a habit of running very slowly much of the time. I’m a big believer that sometimes one of the best things a person can do for their conditioning is to take a day off.
Are you coached or self-coached?
I am self-coached, but enjoy the fellowship and wisdom of a group of seasoned runners… the Old Road Warriors.
Race Times from this current year (2016)
1 mile: 5:26
½ marathon: 1:24:00
Those stats tell a great story on their own, don’t they? Dan is still competing in the Top 10% overall in most races. He recognizes that age does have its affects, but that intelligent training can keep a runner in contention for whatever goals they set out to achieve.
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