(Dec. 2019) Captain Dave Walters, 65, has been running for 50 years and piloting United long-haul flights for 33 years. He flies internationally for two, six-day periods a month. It’s not unusual for him to pilot a 16-hour flight into Hong Kong, then rise at 2:00 am and go for a run (time zones can be nasty).
After winning his age group at the 2015 Chicago Marathon, Walters captained a flight to Brussels the next day. When he discovered that marathon champ Dickson Chumba was on board, he gave Chumba a cockpit tour and upgraded him to first class.
Walters ran his first marathon as a
high school sophomore, and in 1988 qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. He believes his success comes from hard work. “I’ve learned that if you spend enough time investing in what you care about, you’ve got a running start.”
[We're taking a short Holiday Break. Enjoy yourself, your friends, your family, your health. See you in the New Year.]
When did you start running and why? I started running as a grade schooler while growing up in East Africa. My father taught at a Teachers Training College on the side of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The college students were mandated to run 3 miles every morning so as an 8th grader I joined them. It was frightfully painful yet exhilarating at the same time. Back in the US as a freshman in high school, I signed up for track and initially tried out for the pole vault…..and failed miserably. The competition and camaraderie of distance running finally drew me in. The ability to push myself to the limit and succeed at something kept me in the sport. I ultimately won the Illinois State XC and Two Mile crowns as a senior.
Anyone who inspired you? Dave Merrick (HS National 2 & 3 mile champion -- and HS team mate) and Craig Virgin (3 time Olympian at 10,000 -- and U of I team mate) were direct inspirations who each taught me how to push thru the pain barrier and take up residence in the Dark Room.
How much did you run per week in your peak years? Now? Peak weeks in peak years…….100 to 140 miles per week during the build phase. 80 to 90 miles per week mid season. Now…...60 to 80 miles per week year round which includes 20 miles of elliptical mileage. I used to do much more mileage, along with more speed work on the track. Injuries were not as much of a concern! Flexibility seemed less important.
Current training regimen? I am a 777 Captain for United Airlines and fly internationally…...mainly China and Europe. The flight schedule requires a lot of flexibility as far as running workouts go. I mainly try to target a couple of key workouts per week then fill the rest in wherever I happen to be in the world.
It’s fairly common for me to run a hill workout in Hong Kong one week followed by a long run in Beijing or Tel Aviv the next. Mileage wise I am running MUCH less now and run far fewer track workouts. Once a week fartlek and hill workouts are the norm. Usually a speed/hill workout on Wednesday and a hilly longer run on Saturday. Injuries always lurk around the next corner, so you have to be much more careful!
Memorable races? 1973 Illinois State High School XC Championships -- 1st Place in 13:57 for 3 miles. It established me as a major runner and got me a scholarship to the University of Illinois. 1985 Orange County Half Marathon in Orlando -- 1:03:22 for 7th place. Went out hard and hung on for dear life. Easily my best performance in long distances. 1986 Columbus Marathon -- 2:19:56. 8th place. Slower than anticipated (brutally cold and windy day) but qualified for the 1988 US Olympic Trials. Another milestone day! 2013 NYC Marathon -- 2:45 at age 58. 1st in Age Group and one of my strongest finishes ever. 2016 Boston Marathon -- 2:45 for my only Age Group win at Boston. I celebrated wildly all the way down Boylston!
Guesstimate of total lifetime miles? 140,000. 50 years at 3000 per year….with a few 2000 mile down years thrown in.
Diet/weight changes? My diet used to consist of a lot of pasta/potatoes/pizza/whatever. Plus beer. That has slowly evolved to salads and lean grilled meat…..and no alcohol. I was at 127 lbs in HS, 133 in college, 135 post college, and now back to 127 in my 60s. No alcohol and mindful eating (salads) has kept my weight in check. I quit drinking alcohol 10 years ago and lost 5 pounds immediately. I also sleep better!
Cross training? I have added 30 to 60 minutes of elliptical 4 times per week in an attempt to increase my aerobic base. Strength training 4 times per week includes upper and lower body exercises…..45 min sessions. This has been increased recently due to a number of leg stability issues that have cropped up. Band work on the adductors and abductors has proven quite beneficial. Romanian dead lifts have strengthened the hamstrings and stabilized the entire chain from heel to hip.
Obstacles along the way? Fifty years of running has brought it’s fair share of injuries! You name it and I’ve had it. I TRY to use these issues as learning experiences and pass along what I have learned to others in the running community and to the runners that I coach. My worst injury happened while out running in Miami Beach in 2013. I was hit by a guy on a motor scooter who was traveling at 30 miles per hour down the street the wrong way. The right side of my body was crushed. I didn’t run for two months and was off work for over 4 months.
A favorite quote? “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” - Mike Tyson. “Embrace pain and make it your friend.” - Dave Walters.
Running philosophy? Enjoy each and every day you are outside running and competing. Each run is a celebration!
How has running helped you with the aging process? Running has kept me feeling young! My health and wellness seem to be better than that of my peers. As you can imagine the effects of high altitude/polar flying combined with near constant jet lag can take their toll, but my body seems to be holding up…..thanks to running!
Three tips for other lifetime running hopefuls?
1. Run consistently -- run or work out every single day if able.
2. Pay attention to flexibility and overall strength.
3. Enjoy the process and the competition. It will be the most positive experience possible!
What are the biggest lessons learned from running? Running has demanded that attention be paid to the MENTAL side of life. Having a positive attitude in running AND life in general makes all the difference! Mental preparation (and being POSITIVE) makes the difference between success and failure every single time.