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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

The Joy of Running Keeps Gene Dykes Pumped at 70 and Beyond

Updated: Jan 19

At the 2018 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon
Photo courtesy: Gene Dykes

An article in PodiumRunner magazine outlined the 8 secrets of lifetime runners. Fifty lifetime runners, age 60 to beyond 80 and running 30 or more years, shared what has worked for them and what keeps them going. These secrets include the ability to adapt, running with others, and having the attitude that age is only a number.

But not all runners beyond age 60 have been running 30 or more years. I recently chatted with Gene Dykes, 70. Although he ran in college, it wasn't until age 58 that he began racing. He shared what propelled him to begin running, how he stays fit, advice he would give older and younger runners, his favorite distance and terrain, and much more.

He jokes, "I fell in with a bad crowd." The right time and the encouragement of others inspired him to run competitively. "I hadn’t run in a number of years. I’d always jogged in my adult life. I enjoyed running. I ran for fun then I injured my hamstring for 6 years and could not run at all. So the time was right. I ran with two guys that ran on weekends. They convinced me to run."

He's been running distances from 5Ks to ultramarathons ever since.

Gene wins the 70 - 74 AG - 2018 USTAF Masters
Half-Marathon Championships in 1:26:34
Photo courtesy: Gene Dykes

What keeps Gene fit? "I just run. That’s it. I don’t do anything else. A lot of people look for the right cross fit, core strengthening, flexibility exercises. I don’t do any of that. I just run." While he's not a fan of planking, if it's fun enjoy it. "What ever is fun. I’m not saying you should not do those things if you enjoy them but I consider them distractions if you’re trying to improve your running. Nothing is better for running than running."

If you're an older runner and pondering the world running, Gene will tell you, "the obvious best advice is to start slowly. You just don’t go out and run a half marathon. A lot of people crank up too fast. The whole idea is to keep it gradual and fun. And while there will be pain, minimizing running pain is key.

"The worst pain is being "out of shape" pain. I think a lot of people run a mile or two and they are so tuckered out. If it’s that bad right now, how bad is it going to be when they are running faster. Of course, it’s easier when you run faster because you’re in better shape."

The same advice applies to younger runners, but make it fun. "There are so many ways to have fun running. Running with a group, running trails, running tracks. Find out which one keeps it fun for you. Nobody is going to get better if it's a chore."

Gene seems to be having lots of fun running no matter the terrain or distance. "Where ever I’m running is my favorite." But he favors certain types of races. "If I had to choose between one or the other, I like to have fun on road competition and trails because you can make vacations out of them even though I’m better at road running than I am at trail running." He adds, "The 1500 meters is definitely my favorite and I will never do that again. It was so hard."

Gene approaches his races differently. "If I'm doing a PR marathon, I'm a slave to my watch. I stay very much on pace. If it's not a record performance, I try to keep out an eye for people keeping the same pace or strike up a conversation. You can meet some really interesting people. During trail races, I wish I could concentrate on the scenery a little bit more. If I don't concentrate on my feet, I'll fall down hard four or five times. In general, I think about how much fun it is to be out there and I look forward to it being over."

While most can't imagine running ultras, Gene runs ultras "for fun" and to train for marathons. "Doing ultras gives you this huge base. When it comes time to run a marathon, I've already got the endurance. I can devote my marathon training to getting up my speed. It seems to be working. You can't argue with the results. Maybe I've got something here other people should emulate."

His 12 years of running have taught him a few things. "A lot of conventional wisdom is crap," says Gene. Find out what works for you. Stretching I think is totally bunk." Some might cringe when he asserts that, "the vast majority of people don't need electrolytes whatsoever." He stopped taking them four or five years ago. He adds, "I never miss them at all. Your body stores all the electrolytes you need. Eating something at the aid station will get you through."

Gene's way is working. He's winning his age group. In December 2018, Gene made national and world news in the running community when he broke the world marathon record in his age group. Previously held by Ed Whitlock, Gene broke the record by 25 seconds at the Jacksonville Marathon in 2:54:23. However, because the marathon was not sanctioned by USTAF, Whitlock's record still stands and Gene's record is not official. But knowing Gene, he'll aim to break the record in the future on a sanctioned USTAF marathon course.

Sets a record 2:54:23 on an unsanctioned course 2018 Jacksonville Marathon, Photo Credit: Mark Grubb

His 2019 schedule posted on Facebook might make your head spin. He's already completed 4 of his 35 races in 2019 ranging from 5Ks to the Delirious W.E.S.T 200 mile trail ultra in Australia, which he will run February 20. The Delirious W.E.S.T. 200 will be his 114th marathon/ultra since he started running 12 years ago. Running so many domestic and international running events might be cost-prohibitive for some. "Thankfully, my social security is nice. It's my running budget," says Gene.

Gene and I will meet at the Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 hour track ultra in PA in May. This event will be my 7th 24-hour ultra but my first on a track. Gene will be running it a second time. Last year he set 4 records at Dawn to Dusk to Dawn. In 2019, Gene is aiming for more records. "I'm going for two records - 100 miles and 24 hours. If I run 120 miles in 24 hours, I'll probably be good. I'm sure I can run 110. 120 is a stretch."

Gene has been tested for banned substances twice. "I must have gotten someone's attention. It's kind of extraordinary to test a senior athlete. I had been running well but my best times were yet to come. I always tell people that I'm pleased to being able to prove that it's always the joy of running that pumps me up."

Copyright 2019

I am the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. You can order the book here from from the publisher, Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble.

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