Columns-Running

August 7, 2010

Doug Hawley: Ex-Bruin takes runner’s high to extreme heights

One Dalton native’s main obstacle while training for the first Dalton Half Marathon, which is scheduled for Oct. 16, is not the excessive heat that most people encounter, a subject addressed in last Sunday’s column.

“I know well the struggles of running in the heat as you discussed in today’s article,” 1959 North Whitfield High graduate Gary Ray wrote from Fairplay, Colo.

“Here I live about 10,000 feet above sea level. My problem is not heat but enough oxygen for long and hilly runs. Hopefully, October in Dalton will not be so hot that maybe I can make the transition from cool, high altitude running and get through the half marathon.”

Many world-class runners train in the high altitude of Colorado to develop incredible endurance. With mid-October in Dalton anticipated as much cooler than now, Ray might be better off than many lowland participants.

“A lot of the elite runners in Colorado are in the Boulder and Colorado Springs areas, which are moderate elevations beginning at 6,000 feet,” Ray wrote. “I believe that (1972 Olympic marathon champion) Frank Shorter still lives in Boulder, but not sure. Colorado Springs is the headquarters for the USA Olympics Training Center.

“I know no elite runners personally, but am impressed by many I encounter running effortlessly at this altitude.”

According to Ray, Fairplay, Colo., was founded as a gold mining town in the 1860s. Its history is celebrated each July with a runner and burro team competition.

“The runner and burro team up to run 27 miles together from Fairplay to a 13,000-foot pass and return,” Ray explained. “The burro is on a lead held by the runner. Imagine a marathon that goes up 3,000 feet on rough, rocky trails at these elevations, and you get the idea of the kind of athletic runners the burros and runners are. They usually finish in about 5 1/2 hours.”

Before feeling sorry for the 69-year-old Ray and any high altitude problems faced, consider his follow-up communication.

“I know that you guys are in a tremendous heat wave at this time,” he wrote. “Not rubbing it in, but the temperature outside my house now is 47 degrees. I hiked near Vail today, and the temperature was not above 65 degrees. Now you know why I spend the summer in Colorado.”

Although he’s been into distance running for some years, that was not the case in Ray’s school days. He was the Southeastern Conference’s 100-yard dash champion while running track at Auburn University.

If distance runners are not accustomed to the high altitude, they may face problems. Consider the 1968 Olympics at Mexico City, where many runners crashed, including several from the U.S. (However, at the same Olympics, American Bob Beamon shattered the Olympic long jump record with an amazing leap of 29 feet, 2 1/2 inches, more than 2 1/2 feet better than the previous mark.)

In a similar vein on the Major League Baseball scene, what pitcher would want a trade to the Colorado Rockies? Home run statistics at their stadium are always inflated.

College football coaches for years have faced the dilemma on traveling to high-altitude sites. Do you arrive early for acclimation or get there as late as possible before the oxygen factor strikes? Georgia runs into this question Oct. 2 on a visit to Colorado. The adaptation no doubt will be a key for coach Mark Richt’s Bulldogs.

n While Colorado is a long way from Georgia, one outstanding local runner, Adam Dodson, was due to be much farther away this weekend in Gambell, Alaska. Dodson, 26, has moved there to join his fiancé, Ashley Watson, a instructor at John Apangalook School.

“This will be her second year there as a second grade teacher,” Dodson said. “I have been out there a couple of times. I have applied for a health care position in the village. I’ll be a full-time substitute teacher. We’ll be coaching cross country together. It will be my first time to coach.”

Dodson said the tiny school has a few more than 200 students from pre-K through grade 12 in a town of 700 people on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea.

The 2002 Northwest Whitfield High graduate has won several overall area road races, including the 2009 Coulter Hampton 5-K memorial race at Fairmount in Gordon County. Watson was a distance runner at Walker Valley High (Tenn.).

“We’ll only be 30 miles from Siberia,” Dodson said. “There shouldn’t be many distractions.”

This is the seventh in a 16-part instructional series leading up to the Oct. 16 Dalton Half Marathon. Doug Hawley, a competitive distance runner for more than 50 years, was a top 10 percent finisher in five Boston Marathons between 1976 and 1981. You can write to him at Dhawley@optilink.us.

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