|Brannen and Marcy Schwam last March, Great Glen NH|
(Oct 2020) Dan Brannen has never done things half-way. A one-time 2:31 marathoner, he moved up to the really-longer distances (like 48 hours, and 6 days). He also established a business measuring courses, and organizing events. In recent years, the 67-year-old from Morristown NJ has specialized primarily in adventure races where, in tandem with one or several teammates who must stick together at all times, he runs, bikes, hikes, skiis, and snowshoes through wilderness areas for 12 to 24 hours at a go. Along the way, he enjoys dealing with whatever issues come up. "Seriously, folks: There is a solution to every problem," he says. "It never just gets worse."
Over the years my volunteer activities have included the following: President of the NJ Association of USA Track & Field; National Budget & Finance Committee member, USATF; Chairman of the Ultrarunning Subcommittee of USATF; Co-founder and General Secretary of the International Association of Ultrarunners; Executive Director of the American Ultrarunning Association.
When and why did you start running? I started running in the fall of 1967, Freshman Cross-Country team at St. Joe’s Prep High School in Philadelphia. Why? Because I was too small, weak, and slow for any other sport.
Peak years and best achievements? My peak years were immediately post-college (Bucknell University, class of ’75), from 1976 through the late ’80’s, the height of the Running Boom. For many years I averaged 100 miles/week, regularly getting up to 120 miles/week, occasionally up to 140/week. I usually did double workouts, and for a few years I even did triple workouts a day. I religiously forced myself to take 1 easy day per week (typically a 5 mile easy run), and I usually would do one long day per week (up to 30 miles in one run; or 40 miles in 2 runs; or 45 miles in 3 runs). My peak interval workout was 40 x 400 meters on the track, averaging 76-77 seconds, with 30 second jog recovery. Not really a “speed” workout, but one hell of an endurance interval workout.
My best road racing su
|With frequent race partner Brian Gatens.|
Current training? I generally work out for about 1 hour each day during the week, but I go longer on the weekend days. Typically I alternate running days with cycling days. For my runs, about half road, half trail. For my cycling, mostly road cycling but at regular intervals I mountain bike on trails. On one weekend day I will usually road bike anywhere between 30 and 90 miles. On the other weekend day I will run between 2 and 6 hours. My weekend runs are always on trails, wearing a backpack weighing anywhere between 10 and 20 lbs. I do no strength work and very little stretching. Whenever there is enough local snow, I cross-country ski on local trails. For as long as there is sufficient local snow, I’ll do nothing but xc skiing 7 days a week. If there is not enough local snow (which has been the case in recent years), I head north whenever I can until I find sufficient snow.
Any recent races? I rarely do pure running races anymore. If I do, they are only trail races. 2 or 3 years ago I won my age group at Red New Racing’s Breakneck Point Half-Marathon Trail Race in Beacon, NY. I do about 3 or 4 orienteering races each year. My “serious” racing is focused on Adventure Races and Cross-Country ski races. I usually do 2 or 3 12-Hour Adventure Races each year, and 1 or 2 24-Hour Adventure Races. My teammates and I (they are always about 20-30 years younger than I) usually finish about halfway among the field of finishers. We did the National Championship 24-Hour Adventure Race in the mountains of Western NC in September 2019. My most enjoyable racing experiences these days are Cross-Country ski races, where I usually finish about 2/3 of the way down in the final results.
Does aging and getting slower bother you? No, it doesn’t bother me than I am slower. My primary sport is Adventure Racing, and legspeed is a relatively unimportant component of that sport. I derive motivation mostly from appreciating that I am one of the most senior practitioners of the sport, and that if I keep at it I may some day have the distinction of being THE oldest participant in the sport, and still able to complete races such as the national championship. The sky’s the limit!
Where do you get inspiration? I mostly get inspired by relatively small things done by average, everyday folks. Every day I am inspired by my next door neighbor and Goddaughter Hedda, who passed away from brain cancer at age 15, but beat the odds for a full year (literally sat up from her deathbed 3 times) before finally leaving us. I am inspired by 2 Adventure Racing friends, a young couple with full time jobs and 2 young children who are members of the team that won the Adventure Racing National Championship and who also organize and direct some of the best Adventure Races in the east. Among prominent athletes, I have been inspired by ultrarunner extraordinaire Yiannis Kouros, and by Swedish Cross-Country skiing star Charlotte Kalla. In recent years I have been (and continue to be) inspired by the exploits and attitude of new American ultra star Camille Herron.
Diet and weight changes? The first thing that comes to mind is that I don’t each as much junk food as I did in my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. I gradually added about 10-12 pounds through my 50’s, and I still can’t figure out why. I’m not happy about it, but I’m also not concerned enough to try any serious cutting back of what I normally like to eat and drink. There are no foods or beverages that I try to avoid. I’m still in the “normal” weight range for my height. Also, I have found that I do not have the capacity to consume as much as I used to at meals. I take no vitamins, minerals, or supplements. I basically trust my gut instinct on all things nutritional.
Health and injury issues? Through my high school and college running years I was injured frequently. Muscle strains, tendonitis, bursitis, etc. I missed a lot of major competitions because of it. In my post-college years I cut way back on speedwork but added distance. The less speedwork I did, and the more distance I added, the fewer injuries I incurred. I am a classic case of benefitting from “Long, Slow, Distance” at every racing range from 1 mile through 100 miles. Over the years I have had illnesses such as bronchitis, mononucleosis, and pneumonia, and recovered well from all of them. About 5 years ago I had arthroscopic snipping of a small piece of floating cartilage in my left knee. In recent years I have suffered from a lower back - SI joint discomfort, sciatica, and a tight left hamstring syndrome. But they all come and go sporadically. Cycling is therapeutic for all of them. Also, racing while wearing a backpack (which I do 100% of the time in Adventure Races) seems to alleviate all of them. If I feel any of them during the first half of an Adventure Race, they are gone by the second half. Go figure!
Advice for hopeful lifetime runners?
1--“Train, don’t strain."
2--“The secret to running ultras is not to see how much pain you can withstand; it’s to see how much pain you can avoid.”
3--Follow George Sheehan’s maxim: Each of us is an experiment of one. Keep experimenting with your body and your attitude. The cardinal rule of distance running is that there are no cardinal rules of distance running. We create our own possibilities. If you encounter physical challenges that seem insurmountable, fall back on the single most underrated cardiovascular activity: brisk walking.
How does running improve your life on a daily basis? It helps me keep all of life’s challenges in perspective. Helps keep my problem-solving (and problem-approaching) faculties constantly re-freshened. Helps me instinctively understand how to interact with people of all different personality types. Keeps me hungry. Allows me to sleep soundly.
Philosophy of running and fitness? Seriously, folks: There is a solution to every problem. It never just gets worse. The possibilities for creative thought and action are limitless. I remember a line from a novel that someone quoted to me many years ago: “Those gusts of joy that lift me out of my ribs.” Seek them out. Do not fall into the trap of adopting the cynical view that they don’t exist. If you can’t find them, create them. Embrace them. Ride them like a wild horse. Savor and wallow in them, and don’t be embarrassed about doing so.