Earlier this year, Philadelphia resident Gene Dykes ran 2:57 at the Rotterdam Marathon. In the lead up, Gene ran a 50 mile ultra in January, followed by a 100 miler in February, which he says gave him enough time to recover for Rotterdam in April.
Gene Dykes is 70 years old.
“Well, basically I’m a guy who loves to run. I always have a blast doing it,” Dykes explains over the phone. That morning, Gene had already completed a hill workout of 12 miles and was heading into his 12th consecutive weekend of racing. “Races are so much fun,” Gene says, adding, “but part of the fun is seeing how much better you can get.”
In October, Gene will make his way to Toronto for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, where Ed Whitlock set the current world record for the 70-74 age group when he ran a 2:54 in 2004.
Like Ed, Gene’s current streak of accomplishments have come in the midst of a resurrected pursuit of running. According to Gene, “I first started running when I was 12 or 13 and had a girlfriend who lived about three miles away.” When his first attempt resulted in a walk break about a mile in, Gene was determined to never take a walk break again.
That initial foray into running led to a decent career as a high school competitor. When he got to college, “I was blown off the track and was getting lapped, so I switched to triple jump and hurdles so I could at least notch some points for the team.”
Following college, Gene “had it firmly entrenched that I was a mediocre runner.” Golf and bowling became his preferred avenues for recreation.
Gene jokingly explains that he “fell in with a bad crowd” later in life that encouraged him to chase his first half marathon. Gene’s result allowed him to bypass the lottery for the New York Marathon, his first crack at the distance at age 58, which in turn landed him in Boston. In the years since, Gene estimates that he’s completed 60 marathons and 44 ultras.
Marathons are great experiences, GEne grants, but it’s the ultras and adventure
races that allow him to squeeze the most joy out of running. “I guess you could say that I train exclusively for marathons, but do ultras for fun,” Gene says. He and his coach have come to the conclusion that ultras in the summer prove excellent base building for spring and fall marathons, when he can chase national and world age group records.
Gene’s perhaps peculiar idea of fun has netted him the Triple Crown of 200s (Moab, Tahoe, and the Bigfoot 200).
While he’s determined to catch Ed Whitlock’s marathon record, Gene says his reverence for the Canadian legend will always be strong. “When people think of Ed, they tend to think of his marathon records, but he’s had records at shorter distances and on the track that I couldn’t dream of.”
Like Ed, a runner like Gene can baffle anyone who tries to understand his success through a single factor. One thing that’s clear about Gene, however, is that in running, he’s never written off the possibility of growth and has held enjoyment as running’s most prized reward. Gene also has a respect for gradual growth, believing in small improvements that, as he says, “eventually make the impossible routine.” It’s clear that Gene sees his journey in running as one with many more miles to go.