Gene Dykes Has Come of Age

Gene Dykes runs pretty fast. He ran in college, but most of his all-time PRs came after college. Well after college. Earlier this year he ran 39:02 for 10k, his all-time PR. This summer Gene ran 1:26:34 for the half, and expects to set a new PR this month. Last month he set his PR for the marathon, at 2:55:17.

Gene is 70 years old. He’s nipping at the heels of legendary British-born Ed Whitlock’s 70-plus marathon record of 2:54:48. Gene’s recent marathon caused a thread to spring up on our Reader Forum. Turns out Gene has had a Slowtwitch Forum account since 2011. He’s not a triathlete, but you never know who’s lurking on that Forum! Gene answered questions for our Forum users, but I wanted to hear more from Gene.

SLOWTWITCH: You posted on the forum that you intended on running a 50k trail race on Saturday and a marathon on Sunday, in Sacramento. That’s serious mileage for anyone. Do you have knees of iron?

GENE DYKES: I’d say my knees are much healthier now than when I started running seriously 12 years ago. I get twinges now and then, and MRIs have shown that the arthritis is there, meaning that it’s only a matter of time, but for now they don’t bother me at all.

This isn’t the first time I did a Saturday/Sunday double. Three years ago I did four Saturday/Sunday marathons in December and January. I ran them all hard, winning my age group in the first seven, but, alas, I finished second in the last one.

ST: What is your height and weight?

GD: 5-feet-10 and 140 pounds.

ST: You ran in college, “stunk up the joint,” as you say, and had more success in bowling and golf. Then you returned to running and have set your all-time PRs after age-65. Were you just a loafer in college?

GD: I worked hard, but my times were slower in college than high school. Bad coaching? I ran a 10:17 2-mile in high school, something like 10:40 in college! I did help out the team a lot, though, by picking up points in the triple jump and intermediate hurdles.

ST: I note that things turned for you when you got disgusted with a lack of progress and got a coach. Since then, you don’t run slow. Instead, you run harder, faster, you run before you’ve fully recovered, and that’s part of why you think you’ve improved. Do you think you’re just one of those who thrives on quality versus quantity?

GD: I guess that’s as good an explanation as any. Another explanation is that with a coach there’s accountability. I can run much harder to meet the expectations of my coach than I could ever make myself do when it was only me I had to please.

ST: Here’s what you wrote on our Forum. “Just Run. No stretching, no cross training, no special diet, no meds. I don't eat anything before or during a training run, and I consume very few calories before and during a marathon. I like to start a marathon slightly dehydrated. I'm pretty minimalist!”

Take it from there…

GD: I see so many runners looking for a silver bullet. What can I eat so that I don’t bonk? What can I do to avoid nausea? How can I recover quickly? What, besides running can I do to improve my times? The answer to all of the questions like this is that you have to be in better shape. Better running shape. I achieved all of these things by training, not by looking for some magic solution.

ST: You’re trim. It’s gets very hard to remain trim when you’re older. Were you this trim as a bowler, during your interregnum from running? Or, is it the mileage that keeps you trim?

I’ve never been overweight. I suppose I tipped the scales at 165 once, and I felt just terrible. I was probably about 153-155 most of my non-running years. I definitely started losing weight as I ran more, but I probably would have bottomed out at 145 except for the fact that with world records amazingly coming into view, losing some more pounds would be a huge help. So, I had to cut out some calories, and now I’m about 139 going into major races. I’d like to get to 136 for my next world age group marathon record attempt, but it’s tough with a See Food diet.

ST: Do you think there’s a genetic disposition that favors a particular age? Meaning, we all wish we had Jim Ryun’s genes. But, Ryun is about your age right now. Are your genes actually better than his for 70-plus racing?

GD: I’m not sure anybody knows the answer to that question. It’s certainly true that being at the top of your game your whole life seems to be almost impossible. Maybe Joan Benoit Samuelson, for instance. But, all you have to do is look up all the winners of the major marathons who are now my age and ask the question, “Where are they now?” I wouldn’t be surprised, expecting even, that before long some folks will come along with those world class genes who never discovered running until they were in their late 50s or early 60s. They will totally destroy the age group records.

It certainly is odd that I am enjoying such success when I didn’t show any outstanding aptitude early on. Ed Whitlock, whose records I’m chasing, was a very good collegiate runner. Of course, as far as world age group records go, the tally is currently Ed: 36, Gene: 0. I’m hoping to take down perhaps his most famous record, but that could be it. To me, it’s odd that he is mostly famous for his marathon records, because his 5K, 10K, and half marathon records are so formidable – I’m nowhere close to beating them.

An interesting question that you didn’t ask is whether or not all the ultras I do are help or hindrance to my marathon and shorter races. I tend to think that the fact that I run so many ultras gives me the kind of base that no other marathoners have. To train for Boston next year, I’m going to kick off the training schedule by running two 50-milers in January and a 100-miler and a 200-miler in February. I’m expecting that doing marathon specific training in March will be all I need to run a great time at Boston in April. But, who knows. Maybe I’d be a much better marathoner if I dedicated all my training time to marathon training. My way is so very much more interesting, though!