Dykes closing in on men’s marathon age-group 70 world record

Gene Dykes is just the second 70-year-old runner to break the three-hour mark for the marathon.

The world’s fastest 70-year-old living marathon runner doesn’t sound like he’s going to rest until he becomes the fastest 70-year-old marathon runner of all time.

He only has to run about one second per mile quicker to achieve that goal.

Gene Dykes of Bala Cynwyd nearly achieved his goal two weekends ago when he ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in the amazing time of two hours, 55 minutes, 18 seconds, an American record.

That’s just 34 seconds off the world standard held by the late, great Ed Whitlock of Canada.

If not for some questionable weather and a glitch in his GPS watch, Dykes might already be the new world record-holder.

That distinction will have to wait for another day.

In the meantime, he’s hoping to break the national age-group half-marathon record at the Philadelphia Half-Marathon later this month.

What’s even more remarkable about Dykes’ recent accomplishments is that he’s only been committed to serious training for about five years.

After running high school track back in his native Ohio and later at Lehigh University, Dykes took a “little’’ break of about three decades from dedicated racing, including a six-year gap to recover from a serious hamstring injury.

Then, in 2004, he fell in with a training group and realized he had some potential.

Soon, he was racing almost every weekend.

By 2011 he was into some major mileage, including preparation for the famous Comrades 56-Mile Ultra in South Africa.

“It became way more than just a hobby,’’ says Dykes, who has since retired from his career as a computer programmer. “While it will never quite reach the point of being ‘all-consuming,’ I suppose you would be forgiven for thinking that, considering I’ve done 38 races in 34 weekends this year.’’

Dykes was doing well in races but noticed his times weren’t improving.

So in 2013, after running his first Toronto Marathon in a time he wasn’t happy with, he hired a coach, John Goldthorp (located at fixyourrun.com), who completely overhauled Dykes’ training program.

“What a life-changing decision that was,’’ Dykes says. “In just five months I went from a half-decent runner with modest goals to a runner capable of competing at the highest levels.’’

The training program included harder workouts with fewer miles and rest days.

“Every year I expect to slow down and it doesn’t happen,’’ he says. “I was determined to follow his (Goldthorp’s) advice. He was personable and I think you’re more inclined to want to be accountable to someone with whom you have a good relationship.’’

Apparently, something is working right.

In the past year or so, he’s won 10 United States Track and Field titles, at every distance from 1,500 meters to the marathon.

Oh, did we mention he’s also an accomplished ultramarathoner, having competed at distances of more than 200 miles?

On top of that, he manages to avoid any serious injuries.

There are other factors as well.

Diet, of course, is a big part of the equation.

“I consume far fewer calories before and during a race than most runners seem to,’’ he says. “And folks seem totally surprised when I tell them that one of my key stratagems is to be at the starting line slightly dehydrated.

“Two seconds per pound per mile is a rule that is awfully important. Keeping weight down for a major race is the hardest part of training.  It’s especially hard when the only special thing about your diet is that it is a ‘See Food’ diet.  I’ll eat just about anything, especially when I see it.’’

Dykes holds a Ph.D from Cornell University and it’s fairly obvious that once he sets his mind to achieve something, he does just that.

Is he goal-oriented?

“When I throw myself into something, it’s whole-hearted,’’ he says. “It wasn’t always running – it was golf and bowling. I did everything I could to be as good as I could.

“Chasing records is the new thing, though. Actually, at first, it was about trying to ‘beat me.’  But then it became, ‘if I keep improving, I have a chance at these records.’ That’s what it is now.’’

Speaking of fast times, Dykes has recorded almost all of his personal records in the past year, including: 5 miles, 32:31; 10K, 39:02; 10 miles, 1:03.01; half-marathon, 1:26.34 and marathon, 2:55.18.

He holds seven USATF records, from 15K to 20 miles and beyond.

He’s completed the 206.5-mile Big Foot 200; the 238-mile Moab 240 and the 205.5-mile Tahoe 200 all in one year, one of only 13 runners to do all three.

Dykes takes all the gaudy numbers in stride.

Asked if it will mean something to possibly take down Whitlock’s age-group record for 70-year-olds, Dykes sighs ever so slightly.

“Well,’’ he says. “He’s got 34 world records (at various distances) and I’ve got one.

“Having come up just 34 seconds short of beating Ed’s venerable record, you can be sure that I’m making plans on another attempt within a year. I’m keeping those plans secret, though.’’

A secret for now, perhaps, but the whole running world is watching to see how this fascinating drama turns out.

Race calendar


Race for Resources 10K/5K, 9 a.m., Bucks County Community College, Newtown. Contact www.raceforresources.org


CCCNYC East Regional Meet, 11 a.m., Tyler State Park, Newtown. Contact www.pa.milesplit.com

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About Wayne Fish 2437 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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