Charlie Mahler of Down the Backstretch “fame” recently interviewed Dan “Digger” Carlson about his return to the track as he’s preparing to run the Carleton Relays 10,000m tomorrow. The 45 year old who’s already been tearing up the roads this spring provided more than enough insightful information for Charlie’s article. Rather than let it go to waste, Charlie was kind enough to offer up the full interview to Running Minnesota. So, a special thanks goes out to Charlie.
Sidenote: if you haven't checked out his and Pete Miller's great work at Down the Backstretch be sure and stop by their blog too. They do a tremendous job promoting Minnesota running and track & field, which is something we shouldn't take for granted. (Photo courtesy of Wayne Kryduba)
Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions.
I'm flattered that you want me to reflect on the old and new days as a runner, Charlie. I think as I age I'm ever more cognizant of the fact that this love affair I have with distance running is drawing closer to a close...not so much never running again as getting to a point where the effort spent in pursuit of "doing my best" will produce times that in my mind aren't worthy of the work I must do to get them.
What do you remember about the 1984 race and the rest of that season? Were the Carleton and Drake 10s that year big breakthroughs for you?
I'll try to go through this in the order of your questions, and strive to sound logical! I remember on April 4, 1984 we had a home meet in Brookings and I ran the 10,000m there because I wanted to get a qualifier that I hoped would get me into the Drake Relays 10,000m. It ended up being a solo effort after 2 miles and I went 30:14.94. My coach (Scott Underwood) wasn't sure that would get me into Drake so we decided to try the Carleton Relays 10,000m to see if I could cut some more time. I for some reason always loved the setting/layout of the track at Laird Stadium, and I was anxious to run. Jeff Massman let me wear his spikes for the 10,000m, probably because he felt sorry for the poor guy who wore old, muddy, and heavy CC spikes...and I must say I did love his sleek and light Nike Zoom D's! I remember Underwood yelling splits to me and I just tried to feed off of those. I still remember that we went 1-2, but 3rd escapes me at this time. I was pleased with 30:10.0, and as it turned out it was enough to get me into Drake. I'll always be thankful for that 1984 Carleton Relays race, because without it I may not have had the chance to stun myself and smash the South Dakota State record the next weekend at Drake...I never before (and few times ever again) would feel so comfortable running so fast in front of the folks at that historic venue in Des Moines (29:34.14...the race not lost on me as it lives on in my email address, and it's one of the things that still fuels me to this day). After Drake I only ran 1 more 10,000m before Nationals on a hot windy day in Omaha that yielded a slow time. At Nationals (Cape Girardeau) we ran under high 80's temps and humid about 1 hour before a big thunderstorm rolled in. I'm a horrible heat runner but I sucked it up in my last race as a Jackrabbit and finished 2nd to Brian Ferrari by 6.5 seconds...he would go on to place 8th at the Division I 10,000m with a 29:03.
What were your major collegiate honors -- conference titles, all-America, etc.?
I really only ran for SDSU for 2 years (1982-83 and 83-84) as I was a double major in the sciences (lots of late afternoon labs) and in my early days Coach Underwood expected you to be at practice or you weren't on the team...after a couple years he and I worked out an agreement and I finally got to compete...so if Division II ever changes their rules a bit I still have 2 years CC, 1 year indoor track and 2 years outdoor track eligibility!! I ended up a 3-time All-American (8th CC 1982, 15th 1983, and the runner-up 10,000m track finish in 1984).
What do you consider the top performances of your post-collegiate career?
With nearly 900 career races that's sort of tough as even some "unimportant" races that were slow but perhaps came right after coming off a major injury, etc were at least mentally/spiritually important...but the ones that come easiest to mind would be the 1985 Twin Cities Marathon (2:21:47), 1987 St. Patrick's 5-miler (23:39), 1987 Get-in-Gear (sub 30:00 road 10k), and a few years past my prime the win at the 1993 Garry Bjorklund 1/2 Marathon (1:06:31) and a sub 53:00 10-miler as a 41 year old (52:51 in May 2003). I'm starting to like some of this year’s results too!!
Did you think back in the 1980s that you'd still be racing seriously in 2007, at 45?
Do you remember Kurt Threinen of Wayzata/St.Cloud State fame? After he won the 1985 Division II 10,000m he told me that unless he was going to be able to improve on his times of that season and run 29:00 for 10,000m or sub-14:00 in the 5,000m that he wouldn't be happy and that that knowledge was a big reason why he walked away from running after that great season. Having heard that I used to wonder what if I had caught Ferrari that day in 1984...would I have been happy to walk away a champion knowing I could never live up to greater expectations? Obviously I'll never know since I didn't win, but to be honest, Charlie, I would rather be runner-up and still out there today keeping this whole running persona/mantra/lifestyle, etc (whatever!) going. Indeed, that 2nd probably helped me to keep competing because I figured I still had/have something to prove.
This year has been a bit of a revival for you, right? Is the new age-group the impetus for that? What races have you done so far in 2007 ... what's to come?
Indeed, the new age group gives a fresh start to my running from a competitive standpoint...new times to chase, a new mix of competitors as it's unrealistic to expect being any factor in the open division anymore, and the knowledge that this important non-human factor in the past nearly 33 years of your life is a bit closer to the sunset so cherish it and don't take it for granted. In the fall of 2005 I tore my left posterior tibial tendon near the left inner ankle knob. The first doctor I saw advised me to give up running, something to the effect that I have the (very flat) feet of a 78-year old man. It took months of physical therapy, electro/ionotophoresis, new custom orthotics, cross-training, and time away from the "running habit" before I could compete again (7 months total). I found doctors and PT's who had a better grip on the soul of a runner, and they worked with me inside and out to get me back. I prayed to God that if I could ever get back on the roads that I would love running again with renewed passion, would train smarter (key), and would never just take being healthy for granted again. Last year was a year to return, and I hope that this is a (final?) year to shine, at least as much as a 45 year old could expect to [laughs].
Races this year so far include 3 indoor 5,000m races in February (15:44.36, the 15:36.20 I saw you at, and 15:32.57 over 3 consecutive weekends, 25:35 8k at Human Race, and 1:07:39 20K at Fetzer)...upcoming includes this weekend on the track, Get-in-Gear 10K, Northern Lakes 10 mile (my 10-mile split at Fetzer was 54:17 so I want to lower the current 54:47 45-49 record), Garry Bjorklund, and some time to evaluate what other races to consider.
You seem to be coming returning to the track more-so than previously. What's behind that?
Yes, back to the track! This is for a couple of reasons...I feel I need to do this now before I become an embarrassment to myself against the collegians...can you picture a 50-year old running against 21-year olds?! The track is a pure, exacting, structured competitive environment that was once a central focus of running for me, so perhaps this is one final nostalgic trip down "good memories lane". I appreciate the opportunity that a few college coaches offer "old dudes" to strap on the slippers again, and I do want to check out what I have left in the tank after all the years away from indoor/outdoor tracks. I don't want to look back someday and wonder what might have been, Charlie. I'm finding that although it's not as fast now that it is still indeed cool to run these track meets and re-live some of the same emotions I felt as a competitor half my life ago.