PROFILE--Dick Rapson has been running for 65 years

(Mar., 2021) Dick Rapson has been running and coaching in northeast Philly for longer than most. He says his athletic credentials aren't special, but how many people do you know who are still running strong 65 years after starting? "I’ve tried to combine my fitness with my coaching career," says Rapson, 81, from Lansdale, PA. "Back in the 60’s-80’s I used to run with the guys and explain the biology of fitness as we ran." A true coach-educator; we can never have enough of those. "I've always tried to use our sport to help kids feel good about their achievements," he adds. [ co-host Amby Burfoot can attest to this. Burfoot's wife, Cristina Negron, got her start in running on one of Rapson's mid-1970s cross-country teams.]

Career-profession: I began teaching in 1961 and retired in 2006. (43 of those years at Lower Moreland- mainly teaching AP biology). I continued to coach track (about 40 years; beginning in 1966) and cross country (51 years until my Covid “sabbatical” in 2020; I began the LM program in 1969). At this point I’m up in the air about returning to XC in 2021. 

When did you start running and why? I begin running in HS as track was the only spring sport. It was a terrible

experience! The coach knew nothing about track and practice every day was a time trial- literally. No surprise, I didn’t attempt to do track in college at Bloomsburg. XC didn’t exist at Bloom at that time either, so running took a pause. I often told my runners that the Battle at Marathon hadn’t occurred yet when I was a young runner. I started to run a little for fitness as a graduate student @ ‘64-‘67. 

How much did you run in your peak years? In the 1970’s I got into racing a bit. Between 1978 and 1981 I did a few races. In September of 1978 I raced the half 3 weeks in a row(never realized that wasn’t a good idea.) Went 1:31/1:28 in the Philadelphia Distance Run Half Marathon PDR in the days before computer chips. I was training about 55-65 miles a week, getting in extra fall mileage with xc kids. Did about 10,000 miles between ‘78 and ’82- topping out at 281 miles in January of 1981. 

Top race performances or running achievements? Philadelphia Distance Run(9/21/80) 1:27.14- before chip timing. Hilly 10k in 1981 in 40:20(never ran under 40) 5k in 1982 in 19:35/ 22:58 in 10/02. No good marathon times: Penn Relays in ‘81/3:43 Marine Corps in ‘78/3:55 Ran 2:00:18 at Disney at age 69 in 2009; unfortunately, I was at the wrong end of my age group- was 11 th of 114. Came back the next year to run 13 minutes slower but got the 5 th place plaque. By 2016 I won my age group (75-79) at Disney in the 10k- and finished ahead of ¾ of the runners in the 70-74 group- running 1:08:16 at age 75. In 2014 I placed in the 75 age group(4/13) at Beach 2 Beacon. Thank goodness for a lottery entry as I could never type fast enough to get in otherwise. Also had some success age group wise running the 10k from 2013-2016 at the RW Half and Festival. 

An estimate of total running miles? This one is kind of hard ; possibly @ 50,000mi 

How much are you running and cross-training now?  About 5-6 years ago I began to alternate running days with days in the gym (elliptical et al- no treadmill). Gym days were 45-60 aerobic followed by 30 minutes working on strength and balance. I also began to work one day a week with a trainer to learn things I might share with the xc runners I coached. Sadly, stretching never became a priority for me. 

If you still race, please provide a somewhat recent race result or two. Well, Covid kind of messed that up, though I did do 3 virtual runs in 2020 supporting groups promoting races I had done in other years. Looking at my logs I realized my last race was a 5 miler on Thanksgiving 2017. Plodded through in 57:11. 

Does it bother you that you are slower now? Absolutely! The modern watch is a cruel task master! Then again I’m a glass half full guy. I continue to go out the door and accept what I can do as an octogenarian. I still read and experiment with ideas which may help me. I read a lot and try to experiment with new ideas in my coaching and running. As a scientist I have always tried to collect and evaluate data. I can’t try to match my ’78-’82 results, but I do look for improvement from last week, last month, last time I did a certain workout. Although I continue to be amazed at the efforts of other athletes- including those I have coached- I am probably more driven by what I can still accomplish. (If it counts, I do have a framed front cover from my Sports Illustrated of June 15, 1970 of Pre as a freshman at Oregon.) 

How have your diet and weight changed through the years? Diet has changed very little- never much been into supplements. Eat in moderation. Breakfast( cereal, fruit, coffee) is important. I’m probably 15 pounds heavier than the 147 I found recorded in my log from 1978. 

What injuries or other health issues have you faced through the years? Injuries have never been a big concern. I have always contended that genetics has been a factor for those of us who are able to continue running. Though looking through my logs, I have been slowed down for a few days from time to time, but nothing chronic shows up. I see the dermatologist to remove skin cancers. 

Any favorite inspirational quotes? “It’s better to wear out than rust out”. "Downhills are free!" “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” And what coach can fail to quote Pre? “To do anything less than your very best is to sacrifice the gift.” 

What 3 short tips would you offer hopeful lifetime runners?

1--Enjoy getting outside- without your phone perhaps. 

2--Whenever you race there are four factors involved- your opponent, the terrain, the weather, and yourself- but you can only control one of them. Apply that to all you do when you are out there. 

3--Enjoy your successes; accept your failures, try to learn something from each.

How does running and fitness improve your life on a daily/weekly basis? No matter how much slower I run these days, finishing a run gives me the satisfaction of accomplishment. Especially these days it’s good to get outside and “social distance”. 

What are the biggest lessons (life lessons and running lessons) you have learned from running? Always work as hard as you can; but be willing to acknowledge your limitations. Enjoy every time you accomplish a goal. Never stop learning. 

After family get togethers my mother-in-law used to take me aside and tell me to never get old. I promised her I wouldn’t, and I'm doing my best!