I’ll continue the Boston theme in The Interval this week by interviewing Doug Dempster. Doug is a longtime member of Gilbert’s Gazelles, part of a core group that’s been with Gilbert for a decade or more. He’s always been fast, running with the Gazelles who annually race in Boston, but didn’t bag a BQ himself until recently. In a little more than a year after turning 60 he was able to set a marathon PR of 3:46 at CIM in December and then a half marathon PR of 1:36 at 3M in January. Doug kindly agreed to answer some questions by email:
1. I know you from Gilbert’s Gazelles, over the last 9-10 years. How long have you been a runner?
I came to running late when I was turning 50. I’ve been running with the Gazelles ever since. Before Gilbert—BG—mostly I was a delusional jogger who imagined he was a “runner.” I used to think a 5 mile run was heroic. Even farther back in public school and college, when I was wrestling competitively, running was the preferred form of punishment for slackers—that often meant running while carrying someone on your shoulders or back, in the snow! The idea that running could be a social recreation or provide a deep sense of well being—that you could really “run with joy”—was a completely strange notion. Now I’m totally a social runner, totally addicted. It’s as close as I think I’ve ever come in my life to a spiritual revelation.
2. You’ve run marathons before but didn’t get a BQ until recently. Were you close in the past?
Many of my friends whom I admire enormously are really great runners. I’m not, especially at 26.2 miles. But I’m pretty persistent. I ran five marathons in five years between 2006 and 2010. I struggled to break four hours and never came close to a BQ time, though my half marathon and 10K times, my Yasso 800s, and all those voodoo runner calculators said I should have qualified easily. Ha! I was persistent and frustrated. I envied my friends’ Boston Marathon jackets. I pretty much gave up on marathons after the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon.
3. You trained hard over the summer of ’16 for the St. George Marathon but had a tough day at that October race. You rebounded with a great run at Sacramento CIM in December. What was it about your training and that day that led to the BQ?
Over a year ago I decided I had been half-assed about qualifying for Boston so decided to stop screwing around. My friends would be quick to tell you that actually following their good advice is not one of my personal virtues. So I started emulating those good runners around me. Really good runners, I decided, are meticulous about their training and are of course diligent. So I became meticulous and diligent. And incidentally, a lot less fun as a running companion. If you’re like me, a big part of the challenge of succeeding at a marathon distance is that the trial-and-error cycle is so protracted and costly. I decided to speed up that learning cycle by running a marathon every six months until I figured out how to qualify for Boston. Simple, right? So I ran Austin in 2016 on a too warm day and DNF’d at mile 20, in spite of a lot of hopeful race support from encouraging friends. I trained hard for St George all through Austin’s horrible summer in 2016 and was on my BQ pace for 18 miles until cramps nailed me just as the course descended into St. George. Another 4-hour plus finish. The horror! The horror! A sensible person would have taken up dominoes or ballroom dancing. But I thought I had learned important things about my body in both those races and especially about nutrition and hydration before and during a race. So a week after St George I signed up for CIM, just two months later—not a plan endorsed by Gilbert or any of my admirable friends. At Sacramento, on a perfect day on a famously generous course, I finally ran a PR and qualified for Boston with 9 minutes to spare. In January, I ran my PR at the 3M half and qualified for the NYC marathon. The Santa Rosa Marathon was on my calendar for this August just in case. I’m going to pass on that one.
4. Achieving a BQ could bring on feelings of relief, triumph, or even dread (Heartbreak Hill?). What does it signify for you?
Distress and delusion. Distress because I need to fill in more than a year of training—and racing—while staying uninjured, before I even get to the starting line at Boston in 2018. (I didn’t qualify in time for 2017.) Delusion because I believe I can PR again at Boston if the weather is decent. That’s one of the few advantages of being a not too-precocious or too-great a runner—there’s always a little room to get faster.
5. The Gazelle family is so supportive and you’ve been a big part of that for the past 10 years. What does being a Gazelle mean for you?
I know I run just because the Gazelles are such a friendly, generous group of fierce competitors—which is a weirdly special combination. Is there something wrong with me that I’m happy to be berated, taunted, and harassed to the limits of my strength and endurance in unbearable heat at 5:30 in the morning? And it’s often the best part of my day! If you think about it, this recreation borders on all kinds of clinical psychiatric disorders. So much the better! My professional life requires that I maintain a public image of such respectability that it’s nice to have a semi-feral recreational life. Keeps me balanced. Running with this group of friends, including you Sam, has been one of the truly great joys in my life.
6. What aspect from all the stories and chatter about Boston are you most looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to seeing Doug in his jacket in about 13 months.
The most recent edition of the Running Rogue podcast has a discussion of the Boston course and race strategy.
This Runner’s World article describes the NY Half Marathon from last weekend. Molly Huddle won her third straight, in a time of 1:08.
A pack of fast trail runners were in northern Washington last weekend for the 25th Annual Chuckanut 50K. The strong field was attracted by prize money and the chance to qualify for the US team that will compete in the IAU Trail World Championships. The men’s race was won by veteran Max King, just ahead of Hayden Hawks, both of whom finished under the course record despite the muddy conditions. Ladia Albertson-Junkan won the women’s race. Full coverage by iRunFar.
The first of three races in the Rogue Trail Series is this Sunday. The Maze is an appropriate name for this event at Walnut Creek park in north Austin. The 10K course will feature twists and turns, creek crossings, and a few quick hills. It’s a great route for new trail runners and experts alike. 30K racers will run the same loop three times. I’ll be stopping after one loop.