Just like my first two interviewees (Don and Jim), Norm Purrington, 63, is also from Lake Elmo. I had the pleasure of sitting down with all three men recently. I can honestly say that I could have sat there all night. They all epitomize the term “Old School”. To hear Norm say things like; “my competitive instincts told me…”, “I think I can still run sub-3 in my 60s…” and “you really need to push yourself beyond your normal comfort zone…” is really refreshing. At the Twin Cities Marathon in October, Norm went after that sub-3 hour marathon as he went through the half in 1:30:10. He faded during the second half, but still hung on to win the 60-64 age group in 3:13:34. After interviewing him, I won’t bet against him on going sub-3.
When did you start running? How'd you get involved?
During my senior year of high school our school started a cross-country program and we went to state as a team. My 3 brothers all ran in college, but not me. I started my adult running when I was 39 and started getting serious with racing when I turned 40.
I had a business partner who challenged me one day to run a mile race against him. I was totally out of shape but my competitive instincts told me that I could beat him so I just about ran my nose into the ground to do it. Soon after that there was a mile race near my hometown of Windom. That became my first official race since high school. I ran about 6-flat and then after training for a year I ran like 5:05.
What are your PRs and when did you set them?
I set most of my PRs when I was 44 or 45 years old.
What other sports were you involved in?
Growing up on a farm with 3 brothers, competitive activities seemed a natural. I played football, wrestled and ran track in high school with no impressive results.
What do you do for a living?
I graduated from college with a degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Minnesota. I established a small animal and equine practice in North St. Paul.
Describe your family.
My wife Joni and I have 3 kids, ages 43, 39 and 36. All 3 kids ran in high school. My oldest son Scott continues to run and race.
What are your interests outside of running?
I enjoy work, landscaping and gardening, skiing, softball, church and Rotary activities.
Are there certain plans (Pfitz, Daniels, Lydiard, etc.) that you tend to follow?
Until this spring I have never followed a written training plan. Generally, I run during my noon break at work and vary the mileage by how much time I have. I usually run 4-8 miles per day with a longer run on the weekend. I will make sure I gear up and get my three 20-mile runs in before each marathon. I don’t get anal if I’m shooting for 50 miles and I only get 35 or if things are running well and I get in more than I need.
What changed this spring?
This spring I decided to do the FIRST program where you only run 3 days a week, but with intensity. I completed a 14-week prep for Grandma’s Marathon, but it didn’t work well for me. (Note: Norm ran 3:23 at Grandma’s this spring after running 3:12 in 2005).
Do you run everyday?
Almost. From middle of December till TCM for the last 10 years I’ve probably run 25-30 times a month.
What do you do for speed work?
My races are my speed work. For a number of years, between Grandma’s Marathon and the start of school, I’d go over to the track and do speed workouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I did that for 4-5 years and found out every single time that something would get sore or strained. So I just let my races be by speed work.
Can you describe your racing?
I generally run 20-30 races a year from 1 mile to marathon. Almost all my racing is in Minnesota. I don’t have a favorite race.
20-30 races seem like a lot. Why do you race so much?
I enjoy it. If I couldn’t race, I probably wouldn’t run. I really enjoy both the competition and the camaraderie. You see the same people at races and you get to know them. It’s a lot more fun if you do it most weekends as opposed to keying on 2 or 3 races.
What would you consider your favorite distances?
I don’t run real well in 5-10K races and I run out of gas in the marathon. I seem to do best in the middle distances like, 15-25K. The thing I like the most about these distances is that you aren’t so darn uncomfortable for the entire race. You can think about other things and talk to people, you don’t have to be so focused.
How has your training and racing gone this year?
I have struggled during the past couple of years with osteoarthritis and my racing is variable. I did have a good TCM (Note: Norm ran 3:13 and won his age-group at TCM).
Can you tell us a little about the oesteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage of the joints. My mom had it and my younger brother does as well. It’s basically lumpy joints that ache and cause problems. With my little bit of medical knowledge, just enough to be scary, I don’t want to take medicine. What I end up doing is not medicating during the week at all. I just run stiff and sore during the week. If I’m racing on Saturday I’ll take an ibuprofen Friday night and Saturday morning and I’ll feel pretty darn good for the race.
It’s kind of interesting because it’s seldom the same joint. It could be an ankle or a shoulder or a few fingers. I’ve had surgery on both my knees for torn meniscus but those seem to be my most stable joints. I just hardly have any kind of knee pain.
When did this start bothering you?
It’s been about 3 years now. I had a really good year in 2004, running 3:03 and 3:04 marathons and it was just kind of starting. I was taking ibuprofen regularly. I kept thinking I could do better than that. And then it really got worse last year. This year I kind of learned to work around it and my running came on strong the second half of the season. I just try to ignore it.
Do you have any other history with injuries?
I have had too many injuries to list, but they have been generally mild. I know how to heal from injuries but do not know how to follow my own advice.
What are your racing goals for the future?
I hope to continue running and racing for many years. My major goals are to do well in the MDRA Grand Prix and the Minnesota Runner of the Year. I also like to look at the state age records and try to pick up one of those per year. I’ve had my best luck with those at distances like 30K and 20 miles.
Long-term, I have completed 42 marathons. I want to complete 50 marathons and then quit running them. I wanted to run a sub-3 hour marathon in my 60’s but have not reached that goal.
I have a grandson who’s 12 that I’d like to run a marathon with, but he’d better start training pretty soon.
Do you prefer running alone or with friends?
Almost all of my training is done alone, with occasional runs with my son, Scott and my neighbor, Tom Prentice.
Where’s your favorite place to run locally?
The Gateway Trail around the Tri-lakes area of Lake Elmo.
Who’s been your toughest competitor over the years?
Over the years, memorable competitors have included Larry Oechendorf, Bob Behrens, Rick Kleyman, Tom Weddle and many others. My current competition with Jim Graupner and Jared Mondry is as good as it gets.
What are a couple of your fondest running memories?
2 years ago I went to Boston and ran with my son Scott. Even though we didn’t run the race together we spent an entire week together. It was very fun to see him qualify as a 40 year old and be able to run with him.
One year during the Mora Half Marathon Andy Dieters, Bob Behrens and I spent 13.05 miles together trading off first place. I happened to beat them both on that particular day, but it was just so fun to run that competitively with those guys for the entire race with nobody wanting to give ground. All three of us ended up running our fastest time for the year on that day.
What piece of advice would you give to runners just starting out?
Don’t get so tied up in the competition that you cease to have fun running. Give thanks for every day that you are healthy enough to run.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started running?
I think you really need to push yourself beyond your normal comfort zone. When I think back to all of my PRs, I think that if I had the mental outlook that I’ve developed over time, I could have run them all faster.
So much of racing is learned by racing. You learn so much about your body by pushing it. I think almost anybody who races can run faster than they think they can. I really do.