Age-Old Runners: Richard

‘Age-Old Runners’ is an article series where we explore runners’ performance potential after the age of 45 by interviewing excellent middle-aged runners. Is there still potential to improve? What roles do motivation, mindset, and specific training and recovery techniques play in allowing runners in their mid-forties to mid-sixties to continue to excel? To learn more about this series’ goals, check out its introductory article.

Richard is one of the pillars of the San Antonio, Texas trail running community. Most San Antonio Rockhoppers have at least a few stories about his generosity, kindness, and care. Richard started running trail ultramarathons around 2008 when he was 54, and now, at age 67, he’s run more than 54 of them. [Editor’s Note: Richard requests anonymity, so we’re using his first name.]

Initially, running was simply a means to get to his girlfriend’s house in high school (three miles each way), but Richard kept running recreationally and completed his first marathon in 1978. He’s been racing ever since. In 2014, at ages 59 and 60, he ran 13 trail races, of which 10 were ultras. In 2019, he ran the Cactus Rose 50 Mile and the Destin Beach 50 Mile. He plans to run a 50k in March.

The following is a transcript of a phone interview with Richard. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What is your potential to improve as a 67-year-old runner?

My best years were when I was between 50 and 59. But at about age 52, I knew 9:00-minute-mile pace was going to be a thing of the past. I could sense I was working as hard as before, but now [I was] just going 9:30. And then when I turned 60, my slowing down has been exponential. It’s not linear. Boy, to do a 10-minute mile now is really tough. A 13-minute mile is my norm. Call it a shuffle, call it running, call it whatever you want. So the reason you go out becomes [paramount.] You do it for yourself, not for other people. I have all the t-shirts, all the swag that you would ever want. I run because it’s a way to think and relax. I had a trainer a decade ago, and he was all about lifting weights, and I came to the conclusion that every minute, every hour that you would spend at the gym is an hour that you’re not going to run. And as you get older, as I was going to see the end of my life, then every minute was: Why are you doing this? Are you doing it to be fast? Or are you doing it because you enjoy doing it?

Having said that, everybody is different…. There are different reasons why [older runners keep training and racing.] And all their reasons are good. If you want to be fast, then be fast. For me… it’s a way to solve the world’s problems when I run, and the speed does not make a difference to me. It’s just a matter of getting out.

Richard and friends in the Grand Canyon. All photos courtesy of Richard.

So at age 67, you feel you have no potential to run faster. Do you think you can improve in other aspects of your running?

I’m not going to improve in speed. I want to improve in distance. I want a 30 miler to be easy. I want 50 milers to be hard. And I want 100 milers to be the hardest of the hard. I want to be able to run 100 miles in about 30 to 36 hours.

Why is distance important to you? Why those time goals?

Just because I can. I can’t go as fast, but I can go long or longer than most. Last night, I received an email, and I need to think about how exactly to answer it. So I’ll wait until I run, and it’ll take about an hour to sort out all the pluses and minuses. I run an hour during the day and then three or four hours during the weekend. I’d like to get to where I could do four hours without thinking. Four hours is still sort of hard.

Has getting older as a runner distressed you?

For only a couple of weeks… but focusing on effort has always been the satisfaction achieved. Knowing what to expect next became important…. It is what you want that is important. You can want recognition on many different levels.

How long have you been a runner?

I met [my wife] Jeannie in 1968. We were in high school together, and I would run almost 3.5 miles to her house, and then we’d make out, and then I’d run home. The running part of it was just because I didn’t own a car…. When I was in college at the University of Texas at Austin, I would run 10 to 12 miles at lunch. It was about a 7:30 minute-mile pace. It was just easy. My first marathon was in 1978 in Galveston, Texas. I hurt myself at about the 16-mile point, and I finished in 4:03. I lost track [of all the marathons I’ve done] after a while. I don’t think I’ve done all 50 states.

When did you move from the roads to the trails?

My first trail run was probably in Wichita[, Kansas.] Then, I went after the 100k there in [Washington,] DC. That was down on the National Mall. We just did a two-mile loop there. You did it over and over again. But I became a true ultra-type person in the 2007 to 2008 timeframe. I was doing an ultra almost every month then.

What do you enjoy about racing?

At first, it was just not being last. Then, it became okay to be last, and it was finishing within the timeframe allotted. That became a goal.

And the community. There was a guy at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile, and he was hypothermic. It was 23 degrees Fahrenheit, and a gal gave up her race and jumped on top of him to warm him up…. It was more important to keep this guy alive. I remember [at one of my triathlons], a gal was going down a hill and crashed, and people stopped to get around her, but they were cannibalizing her gear. “Oh, you won’t need this now.” So the trail community is a lot different.

Do you race for the same reasons now as when you started?

Yes. I still solve a lot of the world’s problems when I run. You do a lot of thinking along the way. I remember when [my friend Jessica and I] did Rocky Raccoon one year, and she quit at 80 miles. And I said, “Hey it’s only 20 more miles!” And she said, “I wasn’t having fun.” I said, “This isn’t about having fun. This is about finishing.” But she helped open my eyes. It is about having fun.

Jessica and [another friend] Jean were pacing me during one of these ultras, and they told me I couldn’t feel sorry for myself. They told me I needed to greet everybody [who ran by.] Not just say hi, but genuinely greet them, to care about the people as they passed. Those types of things have made all the difference over time.

Do you look forward to races as much as when you first started?

Yes. Mainly because it’s an organized milestone.

Why do you think older runners stop racing?

I think some [older runners] race because of the swag. The t-shirt, the medal, that type of stuff. [I know older runners who] didn’t start in the 1960s, so they don’t have 30 or 40 years of swag in a closet. It’s still cool for them. But not me. I expect after 10 or 12 years, they’ll also think, Oh I don’t need another medal. All that becomes irrelevant.

Richard says he doesn’t need any more race swag.

So they stop because the prizes become less meaningful? If race directors prioritized publicizing age-group records, do you think that would keep more older runners racing?

If you’d asked me that question 10 years ago, I would have said yes. I participated in the Texas Trail Championship Series and that was good. But it was only good for the half hour when you went out and picked up the medal. I’ve got a whole bunch of them on the table here. And now, [they don’t matter to me.] But I needed to go through that to get to the, “Why are you really doing this?” That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t [entice] other people.

How has your training changed since you started running?

I don’t think my training has changed much. I still run four to eight miles a day. Now, four miles is going to take 50 minutes or an hour as opposed to 35 minutes. So the volume has not changed, just the time it takes me to do it.

Did you incorporate much speedwork into your training when you started?

I did 220s and 440s and lifted weights all that. I went to the Boston Marathon, so I did all that stuff to be fast to make those types of cutoffs. I could run from the Pentagon to the National Mall and back in less than an hour–that’s eight miles. I also had a trainer there at the Pentagon, and three days a week, I would lift weights for an hour to an hour and a half.

And now?

I don’t do any speedwork now. That is a thing of the past. It’s not about speed anymore. It’s just about the distance.

Do you stretch regularly?

No, I like to say that is what the first couple of miles are for. At the most, I will stretch for about three minutes. But we are all different and need different things. I think stretching is wonderful for the right reasons. I just haven’t needed those yet.

Do you think you’ll do more timed events, so you don’t have to worry about cutoffs?

For me, 30 hours for a 100 miler is the new goal. I’m signed up for the Snowdrop Ultra 55 Hour. You have 55 hours to see how far you can go. I learned you want the time to be generous, so that you don’t worry about making the cutoff.

On being a runner and not a hiker.

One of the times I was out with Joe Prusaitis, he said: “You know, you could go faster if you hiked fast.” And about four years ago, maybe it was longer, I came to the realization that even if I was moving at an 18-minute pace at the end of a 100 miler, I wanted both feet off the ground. I wanted to at least think I was running as opposed to hiking fast—even if the fast hikers passed me. I did the Leadville Trail 100 Mile one year, and this guy who was hiking fast, hiked past me. And I said to myself: That’s okay. He’s out for his reasons and I’m out for my reasons. And as long as I think I’m running, as long as I’m putting forth the effort to run, that’s what’s important. I’m not a hiker. I’m a runner.

Do you limit your diet in any way?

My two cents is that it doesn’t matter whether you go for the South Beach Diet or all protein or low fat. All of them start out with, you can’t take in processed foods. As long as you’re loyal to that, it doesn’t matter.

Training specifics:

  • Weekly running volume: Forty to 50 miles
  • Strength training: No
  • Off-season: No
  • Sleep: About eight hours, but fitful
  • Race nutrition: Gels, The Right Stuff sports drink, electrolyte capsules
  • Recovery: Varies, takes a recovery day when fatigued

Three factors Rich attributes his running performance to:

  1. Genetics
  2. Understanding running’s value to his life
  3. The trail running community’s support

Call for Comments

  • Age-group runners, what motivates you to get out on a daily basis?
  • And, what if anything encourages you to run races?

Richard’s gear closet.

Liza Howard

is a longtime ultrarunner who lives in San Antonio, Texas. She teaches for NOLS Wilderness Medicine, coaches, directs the non-profit Band of Runners, and drives her kids around in a minivan.

There are 41 comments

  1. Scotty Kummer

    Great stuff. This is for
    sure who I want to be when I grown up. It’s also the kind of person we were thinking of when we made the Badger 100 cutoff 36 hours. Because sometimes it’s nice not to have to sweat it over cutoffs. :)

  2. Julie Schmal

    I’m so happy to read an article about Rich. I can’t begin to list all the ways Rich and his wife Jeannie have helped me and other San Antonio trail runners over the years. Pre-COVID, they’d set up a big tent at the start/finish of pretty much every Tejas Trails race and welcome anyone they saw with water, food, propane heaters, blankets, anything you could possibly need. Jeannie would stay up all night long tending to the needs of anyone who dropped by. When a few of us did R2R2R, they took their partnership on the road and Jeannie was a Bright Angel for us all while Rich completed the run. Words can’t express how wonderful they both are!

  3. Stefan Grater

    A sense of community and belonging is such a wonderful part of running and trail running in particular. Richard and Jeannie have been a cornerstone of that community for us in Texas. Greeting Richard on the course and being welcomed home by Jeannie at the finish has become so normal that we only realize how much it counts when we experience the void when they are not there.

  4. Rick Yelverton

    Another nice article and motivation to continue running as we all age. I love the anonymity Richard embraces and his take on age group awards and recognition. It kind of gives me license to pursue a different type of running goal, to become the greatest runner that no one ever knew. It is hard to fail at that goal since no one is paying attention. Yes, I like the idea of just running for the sake of running and its enjoyment.

  5. Don Flynn

    Liza,

    Congratulations to you and all those who helped with this wonderful interview! Outstanding! I’m especially impressed in that you were able to get Rich to open up. In spite of his many personal, professional and athletic accomplishments, he is easily one of the finest and most humble men I have ever had the privilege of calling my friend. Since Rich kindly and patiently took me under his wing five years ago at the age of 60, I have learned, along with all the Rockhoppers to love this brilliant man and his amazing wife, Jeannie. I thank you! Very well done!

    —Don

    1. Liza

      Thank you so much for sharing this, Don. I was so very happy to have an excuse to talk to Rich. (I have to say, his running gear organization makes me feel particularly untidy though.)

  6. JacobsA

    Richard has been a fixture at so many Hill Country races I’ve done. Steady, deliberate, and those trekking poes!

    However, from past battles in the Texas Trail Championship, I can’t fully endorse the Rockhoppers ;)

  7. Ric Moxley

    This was my favorite part: “They told me I needed to greet everybody who ran by. Not just say hi, but genuinely greet them, to care about the people as they passed. Those types of things have made all the difference over time”

    It reminded me of my very first ultra, a 50k, on a 2-mile loop course. What amazed me was Patrick Sweeney, the guy who ended up winning it (who of course lapped me several times LOL) always had a word of encouragement as he went flying by in his supra-minimalist sandals. Me. A lowly mid-packer. It was super encouraging, and spoke accurately to the character of the ultra runner community.

    1. Liza

      That was my favorite part too Ric. (Well, and the bit where Rich didn’t rule out the possibility that stretching might be useful to him eventually.)

  8. John B

    Great article. While I am not 67, somedays at 50 I sure feel like it. I can only hope that I have the passion that Richard has for running as I continue to age.

    That said, I do disagree about prioritizing age group results, or at least those over 40, over 50, etc. I personally do like the competition. I can’t tell you how many times I search the placings and think “if I were only younger I would be X number of places higher”, and then I see that there were a handful of people my age and older ahead of me. That really gives me some good motivation! I don’t necessarily believe there needs to be an award given, but I do think it would be nice for Race Directors to acknowledge placings for older racers.

    1. Liza

      You are in the majority, John. Most of the folks I’ve interviewed have all talked about the motivation and draw that age group records or age group competition has. It’s something I’d like to work to address with RDs when this series is over. I also think more generous cutoffs could keep older runners racing — if they want to.

  9. Heather Stadnisky

    Such an honest and motivating interview. Richard’s attitude and perspective show that if you run for the right reasons (whatever the right reasons are for you!) you will keep running as long as it is possible to do so. I had to chuckle when he said that he realized when his friend dropped at mile 80 from Rocky Racoon that is WAS about having fun, because my main motivation for not attempting a 100 miler at this time in my life is because I don’t see how there is anyway, later on in the race, or maybe in the middle of it, it will be fun. My longest race to date is the Waldo 100k, and the only reason I wasn’t having fun for the last 10 ish miles was that I had forgotten to cut my toe nails and I was in so much pain from my toes being completely beat up that I almost ran barefoot. But, otherwise, I was actually still having fun at that point. My fear is that it wouldn’t last for another 40 miles…great article, thank you Richard for sharing your experiences and insights with us! Now, off to buy an over-the-door shoe holder for all my running and skiing accoutrements! Brilliant!

    1. Liza

      It’s a matter of broadening your definition of fun, I think, Heather. ;) Also, for many folks, 100s are definitely Type 2 Fun (fun afterwards) rather than Type 1 (fun at the time).

  10. Thomas Bowling

    Another great article Liza! It’s fun to read about a Rockhopper compadre who truly has contributed so much to our trail running community. Rich would arrive early to races to set up a tent for others to gather at and set out their drop bags, would bring extra goodies to share at any transition or finish, and would wait until every friend finished before packing up – his wife, Jeannie, has always been there to reinforce this good will while Rich was on the trails. Rich also came up with the Tejas Trails 400 challenge, which included running 400 miles of Tejas Trails races in a year (all ultras) to get an incredible buckle. I believe he accomplished this several times! (it’s still on my to-do list). Cheers to Rich!

  11. Tim Jordan

    As a fellow 67 year old who is still running, including the uphill sections, but has yet to do an ultra, having done both road and mountain marathons, I was going to post a comment but I am refraining from doing so because I suspect that saying how my approach to remaining an active runner differs radically from that of Richards I suspect it would be seen as negative in a string of otherwise positive comments. So I am exercising self censorship.
    I will however echo the joy of being part of a community when I was competitive. Unfortunately I have not had that for many years perhaps because I do not compete other than with myself, and now live in a foreign country. The upside is that I am pandemic proof.

    1. Liza

      Tim, thank you for this comment. I really appreciate it. Most of the runners who have been interviewed in this series have a much different approach to their training than Richard does — continuing to cross the t’s and dot the i’s that allow for speed and strength. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to share his experience. What do you do to keep running strong? Is it possible to find out if a race has runners in the 65-67 age group racing where you’re living?

  12. Tim Jordan

    Hi Liza,
    thanks for your reply. Out of necessity I have had to work on mobility (range of movement i.e. active, rather than flexibility which can just be passive), strength, and even plyometric fitness. We all begin to lose muscle mass from the age of around 40yrs and mobility issues can begin even earlier as in my case. Most of us, myself included, did not or do not encounter a wide enough range of physical challenges in our daily lives to stay fit and healthy. I did a lot of sport, mostly running, for most of my life with serious movement problems due to poorly managed injuries and the global compensations to those. So I am proof that you can keep running even when in the worst of shapes. I had to rebuild myself out of necessity having ground to a halt with chronic pain. But the upside is that I now understand a lot more about how the body works in terms of the myofascial system and what it needs to continue to function well. And as a doctor I thought I knew but how wrong could I be. I do a mix of activity now including running, swimming, cycling, indoor rowing, and strength training. I always warm up and warm down religiously without exception. It works.
    As a final thought not everything you enjoy does you good, and not everything you don’t enjoy does you harm. Having said that there can be a great deal of satisfaction gained from mindful strength and mobility work and most if not all of us will benefit from that.
    As Scott Jurek said, if you have perfect biomechanics then you probably don’t need to stretch (or as I prefer, to work on mobility). But how many of us have perfect biomechanics? Even Usain Bolt didn’t have perfect biomechanics! So what chance for the rest of us. I want people to enjoy what they do but I prefer it if I see them doing it in a way that is sustainable.

  13. Liza

    Thanks so much for responding, Tim! Your thought about “mindful strength and mobility” work really struck me. As far as balancing the enjoyment of running and the ancillary work that makes running more enjoyable, it seems like most folks, myself included, could spend more time considering what makes most sense for their goals. Like you say, a lot is possible if you put in the work. And, for me, that’s what I hope people take away from this series. When you’re figuring out that balance of running/racing and ancillary work, and when you’re setting goals, don’t underestimate what might be possible.
    PS. You should try an ultra. :)

  14. Aj

    Wow! Richard and I run for the same reason…”solve the world’s problems” love it. Running is more healthy for the muscle between the ears than in the legs.

  15. Cheryl Anderson

    This was such a nice article. I love his outlook on running. I also attempt to solve the world’s problems while running. I now also need a gear closet!!

  16. Jeff G

    I agree with Cheryl about the gear closet! Up to this point, I’ve been cramming gear into plastic tubs but Richard’s repurposing of a hanging shoe rack seems like a much more organized solution. I think the part of the article that resonated the most with me, as an aging athlete, is Richard’s comment “He’s out for his reasons and I’m out for my reasons.” Once I adopted that approach toward others, especially about someone who was apparently faster than me, it removed a lot of my inherent need to compare myself to them. (Plus, occasionally I’d even overtake them when they spent too much time at an aid station. ;-)

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