This month's Runner of the Month happens to be a good friend and an idol of mine. I have been running with this guy since moving to Frederick a little over 3 years ago. Better yet,
I’ve been trying to keep up with him! I was hooked up with “Dobson” for my first trip out in
the “Shed.” I informed him that I was looking for good 16 mile run. As any good respectable ultrarunner would, he tried to kill me with all that the “Dark side” had to offer in 16 miles.
On that day, 13 miles was all I could take.
I idolized Steve for many reasons. First, he just seems to glide along at a pace that looks slow but you still find yourself trying to keep up. Second, he never seems to drink or eat no matter the distance, no matter the pace. Third, he will simply run 2 or 30 miles at a blistering pace or a jog, distance and pace truly doesn’t faze him. This was how I wanted to be and so I set out to mimic Dobson. I learned a lot from him and he has made me an even better runner.
I still can’t understand how a guy at Dobson’s advanced age can run so fast for the mile and the 100 mile distance. Dobson and I have done a lot of stupid things together. We’ve been the only 2 people out running 100 miles on the AT for fun. We ran all night while the Easter bunny dropped off candy. We ran a 50k and then drove 4 hours to volunteer all night at an aid station. This guy is tough, as tough as they come and for that reason he is an idol of mine. And furthermore, the reason he is our runner of the month. Friend, thank you for all these memories and for the ones to come.
When did you start running and what made you get started?
I started running in July of 2004. I was overweight and felt bad. I knew what the problem was so I scheduled a physical. My cholesterol was 299, triglycerides were 454 and everything else was out of whack. My doctor wanted to put me on Lipitor. I told him I wasn't funding his BMW so he gave me six weeks to do something about it. I didn’t want to live my life on meds so I started running on the treadmill. I lost 22 pounds, my cholesterol dropped to 151 and everything else was back on track. Whenever I felt like quitting, I would think about the alternative and that would keep me going. I eventually burned up the treadmill so I started running laps around the border of my property. One day I got bored and took off down the road and I was hooked.
How has running evolved for you over the years?
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, running started out as a way to get my health back and then keep it. Now it’s more the focus of maintaining a healthy lifestyle along with eating a healthy diet. I was very naive about running organized events when I first started out. It took me a long time to work up the courage to run a 5K. I always thought only elite athletes ran organized events. After my first event, I was hooked. I began running 5Ks almost every weekend until my friend, Larry, encouraged me to start running longer races. A 10K, followed by a 1/2 marathon which eventually led to a marathon and then multiple marathons. But even at that point, I never imagined running 100 miles. That’s just crazy talk! After running a marathon, I couldn’t imagine having to run an additional five miles to complete a 50K. Before Memorial Day in 2007, Larry came to me and talked about how they were running trails in the watershed and I should come up and give it a try, so I joined them that weekend. Again, I was hooked. I ran my first ultra, the Catoctin 50K, a few months later. The JFK 50 miler was next. The more I learned about the ultra-world, the more I wanted to be part of it. The idea of going longer appeals to me. Trail running is so much different than running the roads. There’s a lot less pounding on the body; that, along with spending hours in the woods and the camaraderie of fellow trail runners, was the perfect environment for me.
I'd have to say 2014 was quite the epic year for you. Out of all of the races you completed what would say was your favorite and why?
2014 was definitely different for me. I ran more road races than I had in recent years including the downhill mile in Brunswick. I remember standing at the starting line having no clue how I was going to run that race without getting injured. I somehow managed to survive. I even ran track this year for the first time ever, participating in the Steeplechaser’s Summer Decathlon series. It’s tough to pick a favorite race. The Catoctin 50K is always at the top of my list. I’ve run it more times than any other ultra. It’s my playground, it’s where I train. I had a lot of fun this year doing the Beast series in Virginia. Running the three 50Ks in the spring as a warm-up and then the toughness of completing the 100 miler, 50 miler and 100K over a ten week period in the fall made for a great year long challenge.
What has been your lowest point during a race or in particular at any point during the Beast Series last year? How did you overcome it?
I think one of my lowest points during the Beast series was during the Grindstone 100; the climb up to Little Bald Knob. It was during the first night and it was cold and raining. I felt like I was slowly stumbling up the mountain. I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts. Anytime another runner would come up behind me, I would just step aside and let them go. I was using a crew and pacers for the second half of the race. Just knowing that others were out there willing to give up their time to help me achieve my goals was inspiration enough to keep me going. While running an ultra, you will face many lows. You just need to tell yourself to keep moving forward and the low will eventually pass. Another tough race for me was the Hellgate 100K. It was the first time ever that I was truly chasing the cutoffs. Wondering if I had what it took to finish, I kept pushing forward through the first two-thirds of the race knowing I had a pacer waiting for me at mile 42. She was also crewing for me up to that point, so knowing she was out there helped greatly in the first part of the race. I came in at mile 42 and told my pacer I didn’t know if I was going to finish in time. She looked at me and said, “We better get going then.” Feeling dead tired but with her encouragement, I managed to finish with almost an hour to spare.
How many 5Ks and marathons have your completed?
I’ve run over 80 5Ks, the majority of them between 2005 and 2008. I’ve also run over 40 marathons including 12 in one year. Again, I ran most of them during the first few years after I started running. I’ve run about 50 ultras and numerous other, shorter races. It is funny when my non-running friends find out that I’m running a 5K. The response is always the same, “Well you run 100 mile races, a 5K is nothing for you.” The approach to running them is so different. I would much rather run a 50K or even something longer than a 5K or a 10K. The shorter road races just flat out hurt.
How many 100s have you completed?
I have completed 4 100-mile races; Oil Creek twice, the CAT 100, and Grindstone. I started the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 in 2011 and dropped out after suffering from GI issues for about 35 miles. This has been a monkey on my back ever since that I hope to get off this year. Of the ones that I’ve completed, for me, the CAT 100 was by far the toughest followed by Grindstone.
What is your key to successfully finishing a 100 mile race?
I really think it's more mental at this point than physical. As long as I stay injury free, I have the physical part down. It's more about staying focused; knowing that no matter how bad things are at any given moment, they will get better. I have never walked to the starting line thinking I have 100 miles to go or 50 miles or whatever the distance. I break it down into a series of runs from aid station to aid station. Not only does this allow me to mentally comprehend the task at hand, but it allows me to make adjustments more easily; ok what
do I need to do to get through the next 5 miles or so.
Having accomplished so much – what is in the future for you in ultrarunning/ running? Is there a Dobson bucket list of races somewhere?
When thinking about what I would like to run, Western States always comes to mind. After all, that’s the granddaddy of them all, the Boston of the ultra-world. Last Christmas, my girlfriend and I visited Mount Mitchell, which is the highest point east of the Mississippi River, in a beautiful area of North Carolina. I would love to run the Mount Mitchell Challenge, a 40 mile race held there in February. A couple out west, the Miwok 100K in Marin County near San Francisco and the Leadville 100 miler in Colorado also come to mind. One that I would like to try one day is Big’s Backyard Ultra. At the start of the race, due to its last man standing format, you don’t know how far or for how long you may be running.
If you could give advice to a runner who is pondering about going the distance but is intimidated by making the first step, what advice would you give them?
I know it's such a cliché but to just get out there and do it and have fun doing it. The body is an incredible machine. We can do so much more than what we give ourselves credit for. Genetics plays a big part in how fast we can run but for most people, how far is only limited by desire. I have run with several runners who were just starting out running trails. After a couple months, they're all amazed that they are running as far as they do. "I never imagined I would be running this far just for fun!"
What is your favorite meal after finishing long run out in woods?
Pancakes! I’ve never met a pancake I didn’t like, especially after an ultra. They always seem to hit the spot.