“Legendary” is not a term I like to just throw around. In the running community, we’ve got your Bowermans, Lebows, Waitz, etc. Closer to home we’ve got your Ratelles, Kleckers, Griaks, etc. And we’ve got Dan Conway. While he spent many years in Chetek, WI and now makes his home in Superior, WI, there’s no doubt that the Minnesota running scene is very familiar with his accomplishments. Being a “late bloomer” didn’t stop Dan from running fantastic times, including world age records.
I don’t remember exactly when I first heard of Dan Conway, but I’m guessing I was about 13 or 14 years old. Once in awhile Dan would stop at the road races in northern Wisconsin and he’d often bring a couple of his high school runners with him. Since my dad is Dan’s age, the best we could hope for on those days would be second in our age groups.
Your name litters the Minnesota Running Data Center with performances like your 2:23:07 at the age of 45, you’ve coached at the high school level for a number of years, and you’ve been inducted to the USATF Masters Hall of Fame. Is it possible to pick your fondest running memories over the last 30 years?
There are many fond running memories over the last 30 years. Probably the two most notable are winning the world masters 10k road race title in 30:26 in Perpignan, France in 1983 at age 44. And in 1992 setting a world indoor mile record for the 50-54 age group in 4:41.31 at the Sunkist games in Los Angeles. There were a dozen 50-54 year old runners in a special mile, including gold medallist Kip Keino of Kenya who had just turned 50.
The race in France was emotional because I dedicated it to my uncle Edward Franey who was killed in France while serving in the army in WWII. The last 300 meters were flat and I had decided the night before the race that I would sprint at that point. It seemed my uncle was with me.
Normally, I just ask people what their PRs are, but I think it’d be more interesting to get your PRs by age group, like 40-49, 50-59 and 60-69.
25k 1:22.24 (age 47)
5k 15:41 - Eugene, OR world track masters 1989
half marathon 1:19:xx (age 59)
Mile 5:01 - world indoor age record 60-64
Half Marathon 1:20:14
You didn’t start running until you were 37 or 38. Do you ever have any regrets or wonder what kind of times you could have run in your prime?
I remember someone asking the great pole vault champion, Bob Richards, how high did he think he would have vaulted with a fiberglass pole, rather than the non-bending pole of his era. He said he would probably sprint down the runway, plant the pole, pull and twist and jump the same height as he was jumping with the non-bending pole.
I was lucky to get into running at the height of the Masters running boom. I was sponsored by Nike for 15 years, including equipment and some trips. I have no regrets, it was a great run!
Do you have any goals you weren’t able to reach?
None to speak of.
What do you think set you apart from other runners at that time? What were your strengths and weaknesses?
I don't know what other runners were doing. I do know that I had great training partners. John Vodacek had run a 2:17 marathon, Duane Fjelstad ran a 2:36 marathon at age 45, John Kann, Dale Corbin, Bill Knickerbocker, Billy Danielson all loved to run. All were in the Chetek,WI area. We had dirt roads that were hilly for our long weekend run, we had a ski hill, a nice all weather track for speed work, good clean air and college kids to keep us humble in the summer, including Chad Johnson, the Donnerbauer brothers and many more.
On a personal level, I had been a laborer on a railroad section gang starting at age 17 and on through summers while in college. I also played college football at UW-Superior, a Division 3 school. I led the team in scoring as a 158 lb. running back one year – we didn't score much. I ran track in college as a sprinter and won a few relays, but never an individual race. My high school didn't have track or cross-country team. I believe these experiences were strengths later on.
I choose not to mention any weaknesses.
You seem to have great range from the 5K to the marathon. What do you think your best race distance has been over the years?
That's a tough question to answer. I'm not sure really. I liked them all if I was fit. Maybe the 10k, on a good day.
70 is right around the corner. Do you have your sites on any age group records?
After taking a year off last year from coaching the high school cross-country teams in Superior, I am going to be coaching again this year. Perhaps after the season I'll take a look, but for right now my thoughts are on the high school season.
In a previous interview I told Bruce Mortenson that I find myself thinking about age catching up and the inevitable slow-down. What do you attribute your longevity to and what advice do you have to help combat the aging process?
What did Bruce say? He certainly has had a great running career that spanned many decades, from NCAA Champion at Oregon to elite masters runner.
As for me, I feel like a million bucks - all green and wrinkled. I guess the good Lord has been good to me. I'm not one to give much advice. Just keep moving and be happy.
[Note: Bruce’s response was; I've been able to run so long because I love to run and had great teachers and running friends who continue to inspire me. The hard/easy approach to training is a big factor. I also try to run trails as much as possible. We have some great areas to run here and that helps mentally and physically. I get amused when young runners talk about "burnout" because I can say that I don't feel I have ever really had burnout in all my years of running (maybe just some injury "delays").]
Do you ever find yourself looking at race times for guys in their 80s like Lloyd Young, Burt Carlson, John Keston, etc.?
Yes I do. I really admire these guys. They are amazing. And the older I get the more amazing they become. I've known Lloyd for several years. He is a wonderful man.
With the Olympic Trials having just taken place, were there any particular events that you looked forward to watching?
I watched every day. The 800 was really exciting - the winner pulled an old Peter Snell trick and stuck out his arm to get himself out of a box. Kara Goucher, being from Duluth, was of particular interest, and she came through winning the 5,000 and placing second in the 10,000. I was surprised that Alan Webb didn't take it out fast when he realized it was a tactical race in the beginning. What was he waiting for? Bernard Lagat sure was impressive. I enjoyed all the distance races
You make your home in Wisconsin, but if you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
I may live in Wisconsin but I sure got to know a lot of Minnesota masters runners over the years. And let me say they are a class act. A better group of guys you'll never find. I mean that sincerely. I learned from the best. Fierce competitors during a race and friendly after - as sport should be. I'd be proud to run with anyone of them!
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
That I wear a size 9 ½ running shoe, not an 8 ½.