PROFILE--James Dill has been running--and walking--for 50 years

(Apr. 2020) James Dill trained over 100 miles/week in the early 1980s, ran a marathon PR of 2:18:45, and qualified for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Buffalo. He continued running hard for another 25 years, then switched to mostly walking to give his knees a break. Now 62, he lives in Richmond, VA, and has picked up fiction writing as a new passion, recently publishing his first novel, Racing Shadows (more below). He says he writes as he ran, with particularly long efforts on weekends. 

Career-profession? I am a nonprofit executive director (8 years) for Virginia’s small colleges. Prior to that I was a trust and investment officer with Wells Fargo Bank for 17 years.

When and why did you start running? I started running in 7 th grade junior high school (1970), although I always loved to run as a kid. I was not a ball sports kid, so running cross country appealed to me. After cross country, I went out for track, inspired by Frank Shorter, Steve Prefontaine,
and Lasse Viren’s heroics in Munich in 1972 on live TV! At first I ran 1 – 2 miles on my own after school but eventually I was up to 5 and 7 miles during the summer and between seasons. I always enjoyed the solitary running and getting better/faster.

How much did you run in your peak years? In 1984, prior to the Olympic Marathon Trials, I was averaging just over 120 miles per week. My highest ever was 142. For the most part I was consistent at 90 – 120 per week between 1979 – 1986. It was then that I left graduate school and began working.

Top performances? School records at East Carolina University – 5,000 meters 14:47 (stood until 2017 - 40
years) and 10,000 meters 30:57 (stood until the early 2000’s)
US Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier, Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, 1983, 2:18.45 (5 th place)
US Olympic Marathon Trials, Buffalo, NY 1984 2:32 (100 th place/finisher)
Cherry Blossom 10-mile, Washington, DC,1978, 49:47, 21 st place
U.S. Masters Nationals – Baton Rouge, LA, 2002, 5,000 meters, 2 nd place 45 – 49 years
Maryland International Marathon, Baltimore, MD, 1984, 3 rd place, 2:23.45
Bermuda International Marathon, 1985, 3 rd place, 2:30

Any estimate of your total lifetime miles? 119,600 miles

How much are you running and cross-training now? My last competitive running was on one of the popular team relays over 24 hours in the mountains of NC in 2008. Since 2010, I have mainly walked on the treadmill, 3 days per
week, 2 days on elliptical machine, and a long (1 hour, quick-paced) walk on Sundays (my version of the long run, sigh). I lift three days per week, moderate weight, two sets, 12
reps. I stretch after each session, working on joint mobility.

How do you deal with aging and slowing? It bothered me at first in the 80’s when I was first out of school and working full time. My mileage went down and performances slid. With kids and full time work, I got over it. I really enjoyed the Masters competition from 40 – 49. The age group records and age graded performance helped.

Diet and weight changes? Supplements? At my most competitive, I was 6’ and 148 lbs. At age 62, 6’ and 193 lbs. I eat a healthy diet (green, low fat, low carb) and generally don’t take supplements. I take a 90 mg Pravastatin and 30 mg CBD (hip/knee soreness) oil daily. I could stand to lose 10 – 15 pounds.
Injuries or major health issues? No injuries per se. I had a period where my quads in my legs went numb. I had to get intense massage and ice for 6 months to loosen the fibers, and I have stretched vigorously since. My knees are arthritic (mild), and I have sciatica (mild), so I don’t run any more but walk and stretch. Also take the CBD oil which has lowered the pain.

A favorite inspirational quote? “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,  because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” President Theodore Roosevelt

Three tips for hopeful lifetime runners?
1) Run with more intensity (sprints, plyometrics, and weights) at a younger age.
2) Rest and recover, which includes stretching.
3) Go long and go longer; you can always do more as you age.

Philosophy of running and fitness? Running (walking/weights) gives me time to work things out and be introspective. I can usually solve most problems or come away with a better outlook, mindset, and disposition after a workout. My kids were in sports and we enjoyed their pursuits. I’ve gotten to travel (Boston, NY, Bermuda, Canada, and Europe), and meet many wonderful people.

Lessons learned along the way? There is always another race. If one goes bad, there is time to rest, train and come back. Few things are ever so bad that time and training (waiting, doing something else, asking someone for help) can’t solve. I wasn’t able to run any longer without pain, so I began to walk, and it is almost as good, although I miss cross-country running and still do it some days if there is good grass. 

took up writing at age 60 and have published my first novel, Racing Shadows. I’ve found that the daily writing discipline is much like daily training. I even write long on weekends, just as I used to run. My philosophy is to challenge yourself and look for other opportunities in life.