It all started with one 10k race. It was 1979 and a 12-year-old Dink Taylor stepped onto the starting line of his first race. The next day, his stepmother took him to the mall for his first pair of running shoes and a training log.
For the next 38 years, every race finish time has been written down. Every single mile of every single training run documented. Course records have been frequent, and PRs are numerous. These log books represent the career of Dink Taylor, but you don’t need them to see the importance of this sport has on the runner.
Dink can rattle off the numbers of a race run 10 years ago. He knows that the amount of ultras he’s competed in is around 178, and around 78 marathons. The voluminous number of short-distance races will take some time to count up though, he says.
There are two approaching figures on his mind right now: 100,000 and 50.
“Right now I am close to 100,000 miles,” he said. “I was looking at my training a few months ago and knew I was on pace to hit 100,000 around my 50th birthday this June.”
Most of these are trail and road-running races, including four from this year already, one of which was yesterday’s Boston Marathon where he ran a 3:09:46. Sixteen of them were triathlons and there was one mountain-bike race in Leadville, Colorado which he did “just to keep things interesting.”
For the big 5-0, Dink has something else in mind for the logbooks. “I am doing four Ironmans this year,” he said. “I’m calling it the Ironman Slam. I had to do something big for my birthday. My own event.”
It takes a strong person, both mentally and physically, to stick with something and reach such an accomplishment. For, Dink, that strength is inspired by his current hometown of Huntsville, Alabama.
He was born in Houston, Texas, but spent most of his childhood in Gadsden, Alabama. He moved to Huntsville to attend the University of Alabama in Huntsville and to live with his mother, who had divorced from his father when he was four. Since then, he has remained near Huntsville in a small community called Hampton Cove.
“Huntsville is a running town,” he said. The town has its own Facebook group called We Run Huntsville and a nonprofit club, the Huntsville Track Club, which has over 1,300 members. “Think about that,” he said, “1,300 people. I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
And he has been. Dink eats, sleeps, thinks, and breathes running.
Dink and his wife, Suzanne, opened in 2004 and still co-own the Huntsville branch of Fleet Feet Sports, a lifelong dream of Dink’s. He and Suzanne have three children, two in their 20’s; a son who works at the store, and a daughter who is still in school receiving her Masters degree. Neither are big runners, but the gene did pass onto the youngest son, Skylar, who runs cross-country for his school team.
According to Dink, his neighbors claim him as the “forefather” of trail running in the Huntsville area. In 1995, he initiated one of the first trail races in the Southwest, the Mountain Mist 50k. He directs the race every year, and tries to jump onto the course to run it as much as possible.
“I realized my passion for running,” he said. “I wanted to make running everything. I wanted running to be 24/7.”
In Suzanne’s words, Dink is pretty laid back, except when it comes to his daily run. “His schedule revolves around making sure his run is done,” she said. “At the end of the day all things happen, a balance between work, family, and running. But the run must happen!”
And there have been many. Dink measures his progress by looking back at the race times of 50 milers. One of his first 50-mile races was run in 7:05. It dropped quickly to 6:40, then 6:30, then 6:05. Even today, he says, a six hour 50 miler is pretty good in his book.
In the early years, his training goal was to average 12 miles a day. He kept the streak going for 17 years with a three-mile minimum. During this time, Dink experienced his first and only injury in 1998. He developed plantar fasciitis from overtraining and not taking good care of his feet, he said. It took six months to heal, but by then Dink knew he had to readjust his training. But, his all-or-nothing mentality stubbornly persisted.
“When I was young, I would take a day off of running, then two, then three,” he said. “I found that because of my lack of discipline, I had to run everyday to keep with it.”
So, his 12-mile average switched to nine miles a day, which he then kept up for the next 20 years. This routine resulted in 60 to 85 miles a week and 3,000 to 3,600 yearly miles spent running. Now, as he gets older his training has finally changed. Recovery he says has been the most challenging alteration he’s experienced as he approaches 50.
“I did not need a lot of recovery back in the hay-day,” he said. In 2000, he listed off three ultras completed in three months; the Mountain Mitchell Challenge 40 Mile (4:57:50), the Mississippi 50 Mile Trail Run (5:55:41), and the Ouachita Trail 50 Mile Endurance Run (7:04:46).
“I ran all three ultras and set three course records,” he said. “I ran, recovered for three or four days, then was ready to run again by Thursday.”
The 5 hour and 55 minute 50-mile run in Mississippi remains the course record to this day.
Steve Carter, a friend of Dink’s since they met back in the fourth grade, and the former general manager of Dink’s Fleet Feet Sports store in Huntsville, believes the three course records in one spring is one of Dink’s greatest achievements.
“His training is focused and impressive,” he said. “But, if you know Dink like I do, you know that he enjoys being outside and soaking up the scenery.”
“The fact that he’ll reach 100,000 miles soon doesn’t surprise me, but it is very impressive.”
According to Steve, high mileage has always been Dink’s thing.
Within the last few years his mileage has dropped to 2,400, a still notable number. Now, instead of running for every workout, Dink spends time in the pool and outside on the bike for Ironman training. He also spends two days a week in the gym, doing a straight 30-minute core exercise.
“I have only taken three days off this year,” he said. “I only run five days a week now, but tri-train a lot.”
A strong, but steady swimmer, Dink says he can keep going for the 2.4-mile swim and he caught on to the biking part pretty easily. But deep down, and his triathlon partners confirm it; Dink will always be an ultrarunner.
Suzanne sheds light on the reality of Dink’s “rest days.” They are not necessarily rest days but really just a shorter run, she said. “He is pretty much a genetic freak,” she added. “He definitely has had a very long very career and his times have not slowed down that much given the fact that he has been running for over 35 years.”
His UltraSignup page lists his first ultra in 1996. In reality, Dink’s first one was in 1986 after he read an UltraRunning magazine article about a 24-hour race on a track in Alabama. “I ended up doing 16 hours, about 80 miles, and then quit,” he said. “I could hardly walk the next day.”
Three months later, he was at another 24-hour race. This time he completed 107 miles in the 24 hours.
Dink prefers to stay in the South for long runs and races instead of traveling to races farther away. This way, Dink spends more time on his hometown trails. And, his biggest competition at races is his previous finish times.
He chooses his favorite races by the distance. For 40-to 50 milers he enjoys the Strolling Jim 40 Mile, the JFK 50 Mile, and the Mountain Masochist Trail Run 50 Mile.
This May will be Dink’s 29th year to run the Strolling Jim 40 Mile. He has run it every year since he was 21 years old, has finished under five hours nine times, and holds the masters record for the most consecutive finishes. It is a classic race he says, and the only road race he competes in now.
For the 50k distance, his favorite race is the Mountain Mist, but in his completely biased opinion. “I try to run it sometimes,” he said, “but it is hard to run and direct the race.”
The 100-mile distance is not a favorite he admits. He has been out to Western States, the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run and Old Dominion 100 Mile Cross Country Run, among others. No matter which one, he says, “they beat me to death.”
“Hundreds are challenging,” he added. “Fifty miles and under there are no doubts of finishing, but 100s kick your butt and get you down mentally.”
There are a few factors that Dink will take into account before deciding to DNF a race. If he’s at mile 55 of a 100 and not doing well, Dink says listening to his body to prevent further harm outweighs reaching the finish line. But, if he’s at mile 80, Dink says he will finish no matter what shape he’s in.
“Even if I have to walk, I am finishing those 20 miles,” he said. “If you make it to 80 you go on. It’s a different beast then.”
Dink knows his ability to train and race as much as he does requires a healthy lifestyle. “I try to live healthy,” he said. “I am goin’ for quality not quantity.”
In a lifetime of running there have been very few changes. He’s learned what works for him during a run and can recite the exact time he crossed the finish line at a race run 10 years ago. He’s friends with many of the veterans of the sport, and keeps tabs on the accomplishments of the new speedy runners, like the “unbelievable” Max King.
Similar to his own style of running, the world of ultrarunning over the years, Dink says that it is pretty similar now to what it looked like 30 years ago. “There’s not a lot of change,” he stated. “There’s a big population in the sport, yeah, but when you look at the Boston Marathon, there’s still not a lot of people. There is more talent now, though.”
In his day, Dink says he has won maybe 50 ultras overall.
“It is hard to do that now,” he said. “It is a good thing that ultras have attracted the faster guys. But there are still the same guys here, too. They’re just older now, like me.”