Friday, May 31, 2013

Going the Distance: Don Sullivan

Way back when I was blogging the "Running Pyramid," I asked Don Sullivan a few questions about his running experience. Don is, to put it mildly, an avid runner, who not only inspires others through his frequent (and possibly compulsive) running, but also helps out the running community--he's definitely at the top of the pyramid.

Tomorrow Don will be participating in the FANS 24 hour race. While most people would never dream of running for 24 hours, I'm fortunate to know several dedicated (possible crazy) runners participating in tomorrow's race. I know Don's been training incredibly hard for this race. Anyone who's trained to run 24 hours has worked hard, but Don's running story is inspiring to all kinds of runners--whether they're tackling their first 5k or their first ultra marathon.

Amazingly, Don's running career began only five years ago. Don witnessed his brother and many other runners battle through the heat and humidity of The Twin Cities Marathon. "After seeing Tom and all the other runners go through such a grueling race," he said, "I was determined to give running an honest effort."

While some people might get put off of running by watching runners suffer through brutal conditions, Don decided to give running an honest effort. He'd run the Get in Gear 10k a few times, but had never really trained for it. Now, however, he was ready to train for real. "I told myself that Monday after work I’d set out to run 1 mile and continue to run nearly every day for 3 months," he said.

It wasn't easy. In basketball shoes, Don suffered through a 12 minute mile. Eventually, however, Don worked himself up to 2 and then 3 miles. A little over a month later, he'd worked himself up to a 10 mile training run. "I did 3 laps around Lake Calhoun with my brother and was so proud and amazed that I could run 10 miles with very little stopping," he said.

Don found support through his brother, Tom, and a local running club that developed online. After getting that support, Don soon began offering his own support to the running community. Besides offering advice, training runs, and words of encouragement, Don has also paced many races over the years.

In an especially memorable pacing experience, Don left his pacing sign behind at the Eau Claire Marathon to help a young runner finish his first marathon. "Faced with the decision of running my goal pace and finishing alone or throwing down the pace sign and helping this kid finish his first marathon with as much positive energy as possible," he said, "the choice was easy." Don dropped his 3:00 pace sign, and helped the 19 year-old finish his first marathon in 3:10.

What drives don to help others?
"I think more than anything it’s the joy I feel when I see others get excited about a goal, whether it’s a time goal or a general fitness goal, and work hard to achieve that goal. The enthusiasm that is generated when someone sees progress in their training is contagious and I cannot help but get excited for them and find myself asking about the progress of runners that I help throughout their training cycles. Maybe it’s because I remember what it was like to be there and appreciate all the help, motivation and support that I received. Or, maybe it’s the teacher in me that wants to see others grow and do well in their goals. Either way, there is a genuine satisfaction in helping others, whether that be in the area of pacing at races or by offering training advice to those seeking help."
Don will be running his second 24 hour race tomorrow, and I hope to get out there and maybe run a few laps with him and cheer him on.

Happy Running!

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