You’re Never Too Old to Be Serious About Your Running

Jeannie Rice and Gene Dykes are going after the record books at 70-plus years old. Here’s what you can learn from them.

 

Over the past two years, Jeannie Rice and Gene Dykes, who were born within a few days of each other in April 1948, have attacked the running record books in their age group.

Rice kicked off the record spree in October 2018 at the Chicago Marathon, where she ran 3:27:50 and shattered the existing 70-plus world record by more than 7 minutes. A few weeks later, Dykes went to the Toronto Waterfront Marathon and finished in 2:55:17, coming within 30 seconds of the world record (2:54:48), set by the great Ed Whitlock of Canada in 2004 when he was 73. Many considered the record to be untouchable until Dykes came so close.

It seemed he bested Whitlock in December 2018, when Dykes ran the Jacksonville Marathon in Florida in 2:54:23, bettering Whitlock’s mark by 25 seconds. But Dykes later discovered the Jacksonville race was certified, but not sanctioned, a classification snafu that rendered the course ineligible for records.

What’s next? For Dykes, 71, he’s training to make another run at the record, possibly in London in April or in Chicago this fall. Meanwhile, Rice, also 71, improved upon her own time last September in Berlin, when she ran 3:24:48, or 7:49 pace. She has a full racing calendar for 2020, including the Tokyo Marathon in February, when she’ll try to run faster.

Gene Dykes after running the Naples Half Marathon on January 19.

How do they do it? Some of it is the luck of genetics, sure. But the rest is hard work, focus on a goal, and committed training. (Rice logs about 65 miles per week, and Dykes builds up his mileage through numerous ultras.) In other words, they’re just the same as athletes decades younger.

Reach for a goal

Dykes plans each upcoming year in December, and he makes his intentions public on his Facebook page. For 2020, he aims to enter 35 races, a mix of distances and surfaces. Along with trying to officially set the 70-plus marathon world record, he hopes to win his age group at Boston and improve his own 5K PR (19:01). There are six ultras on his calendar, including the Bigfoot 200 in Washington.

“Runners, if you haven’t planned a really nice adventure, you are missing out on one of the great pleasures of running—anticipation!” he wrote on the Facebook post.

Rice has many races planned through the spring. She encourages anyone to set a goal and write it down. She keeps a list of records she wants to go after—her own or someone else’s—on her refrigerator and on a slip of paper in her purse, crossing out the times once she betters them. “Set the goal,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be winning, it doesn’t have to be 3 and a half hours, 4 hours. If you don’t have a goal, what do you do it for?”

 

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