Thursday, October 12, 2006


Don Wright started running at the age of 61 and has been running for 4+ years. Two years later he was diagnosed with myeloma, which is a cancer of the blood. So far this year Don has run 34 races. At Grandma’s Marathon in June, Don ran 3:43:08 to win his 65-69 age-group. On October 1st, Don ran a self-proclaimed “dumb race” at Twin Cities Marathon yet still finished with a PR in 3:36:00. That placed him 3rd in the same age-group. Along the way he also PRd at 30K and 20 miles. Personally, I think Don’s zest for life and “make it a masterpiece” motto shine through in his emailed responses to my questions.


When did you start running? How'd you get involved?

My brother-in-law Cal is a runner, and invited us to races. For a few years I resisted, but finally decided to do it. When I started to train, it felt so good that I got hooked.

What are your PRs?
1 mi 5:54 Rice Street 2006
5k 21:22 Monticello 2006
8k 35:13 Human Race 2006
10k 43:55 Victory 2006
15k 1:12:22 Masters 2005
10 mi 1:16:17 Lumberjack 2006
20k 1:44:49 Fetzer 2005
Half 1:42:14 New Prague 2006
30k 2:27:25 TCM 2006 (unofficial but I count it)
20 mi 2:38:32 TCM 2006 (unofficial but I count it)
Mar 3:36:00 TCM 2006

What's your fondest running memory?
The Superior Trail (Moose Mountain) marathon last summer. My longest finishing time by far, but the most fun and the most beautiful. A gorgeous trail, which I ran with family.

Regarding your running, what are you most proud of?
My best accomplishment to date is first in my age group in Grandma’s Marathon last June. But what makes me proudest is that running is a family activity for my wife Ardis, daughter Sarah, and myself. We all run and support each other in our running. We go to races together, and mostly avoid races that we can't do together.

What are your interests outside of running?
Reading, law, computers

How would you characterize your commitment to running?
I will run until I can’t run any more.

How does running fit in with your philosophy of life?
My philosophy of life is “live one day at a time and make it a masterpiece.” For me, that means an active lifestyle. Running is the most important of those activities.

What do you do for a living?
Computer consultant, lawyer. Or retired, take your pick.


What's your training philosophy? How has it changed over time?

One time an older runner said to me “I was always ready for a marathon.” That’s my philosophy; constantly train for a marathon. The rest falls out of that. I take one to three days off from running every week. Recovery time. And last December I took three weeks off after a minor surgery unrelated to running. Since I made PR’s in every distance I ran this year, I may take three weeks off again!

Are there certain plans (Pfitz, Daniels, Lydiard, etc.) that you tend to follow?
I use a modified Hal Higdon plan for marathon training.

How do you go about setting up your cycle/year?
No cycle, unless I take three weeks off again this winter. I plan ahead one or two marathons at a time, setting up a day-by-day training calendar.

Do you train with a heart rate monitor at all? Explain.
I started with a heart rate monitor, but as I’ve gained experience I’ve come to trust other body signals just as much, especially breathing.


What is your history with injuries?
Minor things only. Pulled hamstring, pulled Achilles’ tendon. A few weeks of cross-training and off we go again. But those few weeks are kind of agonizing.

Any tips to help recover or avoid them?
Recovery: DON’T PUSH IT! A nice easy jog with a slower friend is a perfect recovery run. I don’t know how to avoid injuries, but regular days off may help.


How do you decide which races to run?
We normally decide as a family. This year I was competing in the Grand Prix, so we did all of those for sure.

How many races do you typically run a year?
We’ve done 34 so far this year, which is fewer than usual.

Do you try to peak for a few special races during the year or run them all all-out?
I run the Grand Prix races all-out. Many of the others I start with the idea of taking it a little easy, but end up caught in the moment and go all-out. Some of my PR’s have come that way. Go figger.

What do you look for when choosing a race?
Certified distance, past (good) experience with that race, perhaps other friends running it too, beer at the finish.

Do you have a favorite local/national race? Why?
I love Grandma’s Marathon. I grew up in Duluth. My parents, who are 93 and 96, have been volunteers at Grandma’s since the beginning, and still are. I get to kiss my mom at Mile 7. I run past my son’s house at Mile 13.1. My high school friends cheer between 21 and the finish.

Do you have any advice for race directors?
What happens after the race is just as important as the rest. Get results computed promptly, and on the net promptly, and provide the documentation required to give people the records and other times that they have earned.

How do the MDRA series and the Runner of the Year series factor into your racing decisions? Do you plan them out a year in advance, strategize according to what the competition is doing, etc.?
I’m not fast enough to really compete in the ROY, at least not yet. But I’m tenacious enough to compete in the Grand Prix, so I run all of those I can.


Do you prefer running alone or with friends?
Yes! Both.

Who do you enjoy training with the most?
Jim Graupner has probably done more for my running than any other person; I love running with Jim. A nice jog for him is a tempo run for me, and we've had lots of those. I also enjoy the camaraderie of the St Croix Valley running group in Stillwater. And I love to run with my wife and daughter, especially in the winter when we all train together on a short indoor track.

If you could run with anyone (past or present), who would it be?
Lance, because we share the cancer thing.

Do you have any running heroes?
Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon.

Who is the toughest runner you've competed against?
Lee Stauffacher. He has tremendous heart.


What's your favorite place to run locally?
The two-rut dirt road alongside the railroad tracks in Lake Elmo.

How are you connected with the running culture in Minnesota?
(1) I run with two different groups; (2) I certify races and therefore know some race directors; (3) I run lots of races.

How have you benefited from local, regional, and state running organizations?
There is really a very long list. Running organizations measure and certify races, maintain records and statistics, organize races, and set the standards for others who organize races.


How has your training and racing gone this year?
Training has been mostly without injury. Racing has gone very well, with 12 PR’s at nine distances. Probably my best year.

What is a typical training week like for you, in season and out of season?
Forty miles per week for two weeks, thirty for the third week, repeat. Should include at least one long run of 13 miles or more, preferably a 20-miler if there is a marathon in sight. Run with the St Croix Valley runners Saturday morning (5 miles), long run Tuesday morning, run with Woodbury runners Wednesday night (6 miles). Fit the rest in, planning it on the calendar in advance. On a blog I saw someone say that she trained 40 miles per week for a marathon. A commenter asked “How can you train for a marathon running only 40 miles per week?” A wag responded “Two twenties.” I don’t do that, but I do run a twenty at least every other week. Races (5k, 8k, 10k) are my speed work. I don’t plan intervals, but if a buddy wants to do them I may go along. I do include hills in my long runs, and some of the short ones.

How has your training changed since over time?
I started when I was 61, and I’m now 65. The first year of running I was content with short runs and 5k races. Eventually, though, I decided to try seven miles, and enjoyed it. A week later I registered for Grandma’s, not even sure I could do it. I’ve been training for marathons since.

Do you have a favorite workout?
A race, any race.

Do you have a least favorite workout?
The last half mile of a race.

Do you have a workout that you use as a benchmark when approaching a goal race?
A twenty mile run.

How nervous do you get before a race? How do you deal with that?
I do get nervous when I have a meaningful and difficult goal. This spring I wanted to qualify into the NYC marathon by running a 3:45 marathon in Little Rock, then a PR for me. I got stomach-churning nervous. Similarly, I’ve been nervous before some of the Grand Prix races. But that goes away about five paces into the race.

Do you have any pre-race rituals?
I don’t eat. Contrary to all advice, I don’t even drink unless thirsty. I like to stretch, whether it does any good or not.

Do you have a special pre-race diet?
The night before a marathon: Pasta, Clif bars, and only one beer.


What are your lifetime running goals?
Run for as long as I can. Run with my family. If I win an award or two, that's gravy.

Do you have any goals you weren't able to reach?
A 2:08 marathon :-)

What are your goals for the next 12 months?
PR’s at several distances, especially the marathon. I’d love to run a 3:30.


What piece of advice would you give to runners just starting out?
Don’t be embarrassed to walk. Better to walk a little and enjoy the outing than push so hard that you might not want to do it again tomorrow.

How do you balance running with life?
Who says I do?

What is your most/least favorite part of running?
Most: Drifting along a wooded trail, communing with creation. Least: Laundry.

Is motivation ever an issue?
So far not for me. I love running. But if I didn’t, I have other reason to run now. In my second year of running, right after my first marathon, I discovered that I have myeloma, an “incurable” blood cancer. My doctors are very postitive about my running, because it strengthens the immune system and the bones, both of which are attacked by this cancer. The myeloma is “stable” now. Is that partly because I’m a runner? No one knows, but I’ll continue to act as if the running is helping to keep me alive. You betcha. Make it a masterpiece!

It seems like we hear more and more about ancillary training (strength - especially core, stretching, diet, etc.). Do you have any comments on these?
I do a little upper-body training. We eat the best diet possible. I intend to stretch after every run, and often do.

Thanks so much to Don for being an initial guinea pig and taking the time to answer my questions!


Laurie said...

Interesting interview Zeke. Great job coming up with interesting questions. But what is the Grand Prix that he kept mentioning? It could be helpful to add links to such things as an editor's note. I am looking forward to more interviews in the future.

Chad said...

Thanks Laurie. Good question. I guess I shouldn't assume everyone lives in Minnesota.

The Grand Prix is a series of races that the Minnesota Distance Running Association uses where you can earn points throughout the year and win your age group.

The Runner of the Year (ROY) is another age group competition in the state. This one is administered by USA Track & Field Minnesota.

John said...

Thanks for the inspiration, Don! I'll be praying for you and hope our paths cross at some future race. Would love to run with you!