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Jim Dill — May, 2021
Jim Dill is the author of ‘Racing Shadows,’ which chronicles the triumphs and losses of a marathon runner and his coach, told with heart and a genuine love for the sport. ‘Racing Shadows’ received a Readers’ Favorite Five Star review and an Indie Reader Approved 4.0 rating. Jim raced at the 1984 Olympic Trials Marathon after qualifying with his personal best time of 2:18:37 for fifth place at the 1983 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. His previous PR of 2:19:45 was at the 1980 Rocket City Marathon (6th place). Jim won the 1979 Jonesville, NC Marathon and 1980 Bethel, NC Marathon. Other top marathon efforts include the 1984 Maryland International Marathon, (3rd), 1985 Bermuda International Marathon (3rd) and 1985 Marine Corps Marathon (5th). At the 1980 Cherry Blossom 10-miler, Jim raced 49:49 for 24th place. His road race wins include the 1980 Carolina Street Scene 10k, 1980 Diet Pepsi 10k and 1985 National Capital 20-miler. Jim’s Masters’ racing was capped by a 2001 U.S. Masters Championships age 40-44 Silver Medal at 5,000 meters. At East Carolina he was a member of three Southern Conference Champion teams and set school records in the indoor 3-mle and outdoor 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. His Gaithersburg High School racing highlight was running leadoff on the Gold Medal 4-mile relay team at the T.C. Williams Relays. Jim’s personal best times include: 5,000 meters – 14:46.0; 10,000 meters- 31:02.24; 10-miles – 49:49; half marathon – 1:07:00; 15-miles – 1:19:33 and marathon – 2:18:37. He is the Director of Leadership Giving at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. His next novels, ‘Viral Bandits,’ about middle school runners during a covid-like pandemic, and ‘The Girl in the Pink Dress,’ about a young woman runner dealing with the opioid crisis amongst her family and friends, are in the editing and publishing process. Jim lives in Richmond, Virginia with his wife, Wendy, and was very kind to spend over two hours on the telephone for this interview.
GCR: BIG PICTURE As a distance runner you have been immersed in the sport of running for your entire life since your early teenage years as an athlete, fan and author. Could you have imagined in your teens a future such as this and how has running contributed to and shaped your life?
JD I think the short answer is there was a kid standing on a path watching the junior high school cross country runners while he was in seventh grade, and I thought I would like to try that. It wasn’t even two years later that I was running in a road race with the likes of Frank Shorter. It was just one of those experiences where you see something you have to try. You do it and you have a little success, and then a little success breeds a little more success and I never imagined I would get to travel to races and write this book. That was exciting as it kind of was coming full circle with my whole training and running experience.
GCR: As you look back on your running career and the solid years of strong training and racing, what was it that drove you to aim to reach your potential rather than just participate and how exciting was it to be putting in the hard training and racing and pushing yourself to try to reach your ultimate best in terms of times and competition?
JD I've thought about that before and I’m never quite sure I got to the answer. In junior high there was a sorting out process. I wasn't a gifted athlete like some guys we had in high school. In high school there were some tremendous athletes out there that were running cross country and track. When I got to high school, we had just an unbelievably talented team, so I was always one of the middle guys on the team. I really had to train and what I found is that the more I trained and the more I liked it, the better I got. I think it was one of those days where you're out there by yourself and there is no one out there around you, you’re wearing your training flats and a pair of nylon shorts, the sun's out and it's not too hot and it's not too cold. You feel that you can do that for hours. It just was that realization that happened and that this is why I love running. When I was doing the work, it wasn't an effort. It was just sort of what I did. I had a lot of teammates and friends who were satisfied with just participating, but for me, I just love to do the work and to see the results.
GCR: For runners who are in the sub-elite category, and I was also one of those, many set a goal to compete in the Olympic Trials. Please reflect on what it means to have qualified for the 1984 Olympic Trials Marathon and the excitement of competing with the best in the USA that day.
JD It was really the combination of all those years, the junior high and the high school and college years. Probably the one thing that was consistent was not making the championship level. I always wanted to try and go to the NCAAs in college cross country or qualify in track and I just wasn't at that level. No matter how much training I did, I just wasn't going to get there. Then one year we were having an off year for indoor track, so I decided to run a marathon that was in a neighboring town and finished second with no specific training other than just what we were doing for track at the time. I kind of realized that that was my goal and I set my sights on 1980 and qualifying for the Olympic Trials. I fell short by a couple of minutes, but it told me that I could do this and so 1984 became a goal. When I qualified, I had never felt felt such a pure rush of adrenaline. When I was coming across the finish line, Hal Higdon was the announcer at the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon and that was amazing to have him announcing the race. He said something like, ‘now look at the smile on this runner’s face and you can tell what qualifying for the Olympic Trials means. I have a picture of that finish that I look at from time to time and it really was just the realization of ten to twelve years of solid running.
GCR: Many of us who competed in track and field, cross country and road racing stay close to the sport through master’s racing, coaching or as a spectator. How unexpected and fulfilling has been your recent foray as a running author with your first book, ‘Racing Shadows?’
JD It wasn’t totally unexpected. As my running career leveled off and I was working full time in banking, I always tried to stay close to the sport. Since I was still running and training, I jumped in a road race every now and then just for grins. Then I started with the master’s level competition which was fun. I just dabbled in it. The other guys that run in the masters track are friendlier, but you're still you're competing on the national level and so it was sort of an attitude to get out there and race and achieve some things that you didn’t as a collegiate runner. So that was all exciting. But John Parker’s ‘Once a Runner’ was like our Bible reading when we're playing around and when we want to remember what it was like to do the hard work and race. For many reasons it's a great literary piece of fiction that stands well today. I just thought, ‘why not more of that?’ There's good other writing out there like Kenny Moore's stuff and a lot of the biographies. I really was thinking that writing a book would be something interesting and I was getting to the point in my professional career where I wanted to have something to do where I was not just watching TV or reading or doing those kinds of things. I really wanted a discipline. I took a class on writing and that's how it got started. I've always had this idea about writing something about the Olympic Trials and that process, but I had no idea where it would take me.
GCR: How similar is the process of daily training for a lengthy period as a runner to reach smaller goals and bigger goals, and the disciplined effort necessary to plot, write daily, rewrite and edit a novel?
JD I found it to be almost identical as far as the discipline portion of writing. I have a good friend and he has been a New York Times ‘Best Selling Author.’ His name is David Robbins, and he will tell me he isn’t going to answer the phone during the day. He’s up and at his desk at nine o’clock in the morning and he writes from then until two o’clock in the afternoon. He says sometimes he is just staring at the page, adding ten words and subtracting twenty, but that is the process. And then sometimes he may erase twenty words and put down two or three that fit. Even before the writing, there is plotting and character development and setting and research. Without those elements, the book doesn’t come together. I found that was like running training when I was building up my base. An author is gathering all this information, and much of it will be discarded in the process, but it is a discipline to do the writing and critiquing. I’m in the process of trying to find an agent now to help me with my newer books because the agent can help sell my books on the market. It is like trying to find a coach or agent as a runner. If you aren’t good enough, you aren’t going to find one. It is a competitive market out there, so a writer must keep honing his craft. For one of my newer books, I am working with an editor. Hopefully, when it is finished, I will find an agent and get it on the market. It’s a lot of miles!
GCR: RUNNING AUTHOR Most books on distance running tend to be autobiographies or highly focused on training. You spoke about ‘Once a Runner’ by John L. Parker, Jr. setting you on the fiction pathway. Is there anything else you wish to add about how you set out to write a novel that is a work of fiction?
JD John Parker is the influence. I’ve read ‘Once a Runner’ so many times. I have a copy that he signed for me. I got it after a race when he was selling it out of the back of his station wagon. I don’t remember what age I was, but I think it was after a track meet where he was out in the parking lot selling books. It was very special. When I started writing ’Racing Shadows,’ there was a group of four or five of us who were writing books. Going back to the running analogies, we would meet once a week and bring our chapters. We would divide them up and it was brutal hearing the criticism about how this works and this doesn’t. We had a good group. Originally, my book was focused on college running and the time just after college. It wasn’t until a few other things happened in the writing that it took off with the Olympic Trials being the starting place rather than the ending place.
GCR: Your first book, ‘Racing Shadows,’ has many elements in its main character, Jeff Dillon, including the closeness of name. that are based on a portion of your running career, especially the 1984 Olympic Trials Marathon. Did you find or rediscover facets of your own character while you were developing the character of Jeff Dillon and writing his story?
JD It’s funny as the story is fiction as I didn’t try to commit suicide and I don’t know any ghosts. I don’t want to reveal too much plot for those who haven’t read it. But part of character development is to take your protagonist and do these awful things to him or her, so the story becomes interesting. I tried to find things that were tough for Jeff to face that would make the book more interesting and readable than just my experience of going out there and training day in and day out and then racing. Adding personal situations adds to the story. One thing I did want to do that John Parker did was to be true to the craft of the sport so that the workouts were real in the sense that this is something that a person who was training at that level could do. Also, they were chronological, so there was stuff on the track early on, then some longer training followed by tune up races. I took some of the results of my races and dropped them in there. In terms of finding out about myself, it was going back into my running log books. That was fun. It was like a stroll with an old friend.
GCR: How challenging in the process of writing ‘Racing Shadows’ was staying true to the story you wished to present while, as you mentioned, adding elements that would increase readers’ interest and hold their attention? Also, were there some potential storylines or elements that were discussed and then discarded?
JD Mostly on the personal side of the story, if I put in too much, it could have taken away from the reader’s ability to imagine the story. There were some things in racing and personal life and interactions with his coach that were added as the story developed.
GCR: How important was adding the fictitious element of Coach Bill Atlee and an unusual plot twist?
JD For me, that was my ‘a-ha moment.’ I was probably annoying my wife with my writing because I was doing so mostly at night and on the weekends. I would set up on the table where we eat dinner, and I would be tapping away on the keyboard. I would update her on how I was doing. I was telling her that I wasn’t sure about my story as my writing group didn’t like how it was going. I told her I was having a hard time with the plot as it was kind of boring. I happened to be reading the Sunday newspaper one day in 2016 and they had listed all the athletes from Richmond, Virginia, where I live, who had competed in the Olympic Games. I was going through the list and I saw Bill Agee, marathon runner, and I had never heard of this guy. He competed in the 1930 Olympics. He ran with great runners of that era like Clarence DeMar. He was a prolific runner and, the more I read up on him, and all these races he won, I was so impressed. Then came the horrible news that he killed himself in the 1950s and I thought, ‘Oh, my God!’ I knew I had to bring this guy into my story. It gave me an element of interest. I changed his name to make it somewhat more fictitious. But I kept his racing, just like I kept all the racing that I had done and others in my book, such as Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter had done, true to form. So, there was some reality along with the fictitious parts that took place.
GCR: As you have done more writing, when you re-read ‘Racing Shadows,’ is there anything you would do to improve the novel or are you still pleased with your inaugural novel?
JD I’m pleased with it and don’t have much I would have changed. The one thing I would change is the name of the main character. It’s funny how that came about because I was struggling in the beginning to get going on this running novel for this group of people I was writing with. I thought I could document some of the races and training I did, so I used a name that was close to mine. One of the guys in the group’s name was Jeff, so I grabbed his name. Then I added a couple of letters to my last name. I would change the name because it is probably a little to close to mine.
GCR: If someone wants to order ‘Racing Shadows,’ online or get an autographed copy from you, what should they do?
JD They can go to my website which is www.jameskdillauthor.com or go to Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Racing-Shadows-James-K-Dill/dp/1627202420
GCR: Could you tell us about your next writing effort, a middle grade novel about cross-country runners during a Covid-like epidemic called, ‘Viral Bandits,’ and if it is published or awaiting publication?
JD I was sort of in between writing projects when covid came about. The topic was everywhere that all college, high school and middle school sports were cancelled. I couldn’t even imagine what I would have felt like if I were out there training and looking forward to racing and, suddenly, there is nowhere to compete. Not only that, but the kids were also home from school, and they couldn’t see their friends to hang out. Their whole way of life was put on hold for a year or more. We have all heard of people being bandits at races when they haven’t registered, and they hop in. At the same time, there are races that happen which aren’t sanctioned. I started having fun with this idea. I wrote a story mainly about a young, middle school runner who was going out for the team for the first time. He doesn’t know much about running and was just hoping to make the team. He and his friends are in this covid-type environment. His sister happens to be a very good athlete of national caliber in the same event, but she is a few grades above him. Eventually, they go to a ‘bandit nationals’ on their own. I had a lot of fun writing the story and it is finished. I am looking for an agent to get the book out. If I don’t find one, I will self-publish. This story would probably be the beginning of a series in the middle school genre. The story is shorter, but it’s not a short story. The print is larger, and it is written realizing that the middle school readers have a shorter attention span. It’s about friendships and how weird the parents are and things that middle school kids are thinking about.
GCR: Your upcoming novel, ‘The Girl in the Pink Dress,’ combines the saga of a young woman who is successful at distance running with personal problems that plague a significant portion of society. Did you draw from people you know for this effort or is it much more fictional than ‘Racing Shadows’ which was drawn from your own background?
JD This is a one hundred percent work of fiction. The characters are fictitious. The events that take place are fictitious. It started more as a story I was writing about the opioid crisis. My wife and I spent a lot of time in Roanoke, Virginia in the southwestern portion of the state that is very close to West Virginia. That area has been strongly impacted by the opioid crisis and so have some of our family and friends. That was the genesis of this story and how societal problems can affect families and relationships. I originally was going to write about two brothers but, the more I worked on it I decided to write about a woman. Initially, she wasn’t involved in running but liked to compete in high school sports. She wasn’t a runner but the cool thing about running is that we can put it down and pick it back up. I needed something for her to do once she had found her stride in life, so I wrote into the story that she had been a cross country state champion but because of her family had to turn down college scholarships for running. She finds later in life when she gets back on her feet and goes back to college the love for running. I was inspired in part by watching the women run in 2020 at the Olympic Marathon Trials. First place is fantastic and so are second place and third place. But those fourth and fifth place finishers light me up because they are so close to making the team. That is part of this plot that I wrote into the story – how to deal with almost being on the team but you are not. I had fun with that part of the story and was inspired by Steph Rothstein and Des Linden. Desi is such an icon. They both totally inspired me. And ‘The Girl in the Pink Dress’ may not be the final title of the book. It is a working title because of something in the plot.
GCR: Do you have plot ideas for future novels, and could we see a return of Jeff Dillon, perhaps in adventures that you didn’t experience in your running career, but that you would have liked to experience like running in Europe or doing ultramarathons?
JD I haven’t thought about it but, now that you bring it up, maybe it is in the cards. That could be fun to explore some adventures. I did get to run in Europe. I wrote a chapter about racing in Bermuda, where I did race several times. The next book I am considering writing, and I am plotting it out, is about somebody in my age group who is looking at the situation in our country with civil unrest and Black Lives Matter and is thinking about how to deal with those types of events. That has been great because here in Richmond, Virginia, my house is very close to the Robert E. Lee statue that is the focal point of the protests. We were right in the middle of the protests last year and I feel strongly about what has happened. I’m watching how the city reacts and how my neighbors react. I would like to take some of the events and different characters and put them in a story. It is tentatively titled, ‘La Vie en Rose’ which translates to ‘Life in Rose (colored glasses)’ and is about an older man viewing the events of last summer. He has faced changes in his life and is viewing the unrest, the protesting on both sides – Black Lives Matter and White Supremacy - meeting some of these protesters and hearing from his wife, daughter and friends. It is sort of a Chauncey Gardner (Being There, Peter Sellers) meets Black Lives Matters in Richmond. It’s been fun researching the speeches and events while creating and plugging the characters into the story.
GCR: ROAD RACING When you were fresh out of college and in graduate school, what were your thoughts and plans as a sub-elite runner for competing in the intermediate distances from 10k to 25k and the ultimate endurance test for a college graduate – the marathon?
JD I felt I had to focus on the marathon. I didn’t have the leg speed for the 10k or even the 15k or 25k. This was also at the beginning of when the foreign athletes were coming over more and more on the road racing scene and it was tough to compete at the shorter distances. I needed to move up to the marathon and that was my whole focus when I came out of college and into graduate school. I wanted to ramp up and get to that level and race competitive marathons.
GCR: At distances below the marathon, did you enjoy the southeast U.S. racing scene and this group of sub-elite runners we both were a part of with races such as the Peachtree 10k, Virginia 10-miler and North Carolina races like the Maggie Valley Moonlight 5-miler, Carolina Street Scene 10k, Great Raleigh Road Race 10k and longer distances such as the Blowing Rock Autumn 25k and what memories are most paramount in your mind from these races?
JD It was great doing those races. One of my two favorites was the Virginia 10-miler in Lynchburg, Virginia because it was an easy drive to get there, and the level of competition was unbelievable due to the First Colony Insurance Company underwriting the costs and brining in great fields for that race. It was a tough race. Likewise, the Charleston Distance run 15-miler was a brutal uphill and downhill in the first five miles and then a flat ten miles through the city. Those were some great races. The fun thing was that there was also a good 10k or 5k almost every weekend where we could race. I just used the shorter races as part of my training. It was the speedwork for that week. I would go as hard as I could.
GCR: Since you mentioned the Charleston Distance Run, in 1981 you and I ran on the Southern Sport Shoes team with Jeff Moody, Kevin Amigh, and Jim Deni and maybe a couple other guys. I believe we finished second as a team, so that was a nice team effort for a bunch of us who had been top runners from different universities along with Jim, who was an App State professor, to come together on the same team in Charleston.
JD That was so much fun, a great effort and a great race. I finished 13th, a bit ahead of you and not too far behind Jeff and our team did great.
GCR: In late 1979 you won the Jonesville, NC Marathon in 2:26:54 and followed it up with a 2:29:42 victory at the Bethel, NC Marathon in early 1980. What did you learn from these two marathons as you were getting used to the distance and how cool was it to break the tape and win after nearly two and a half hours of effort?
JD In 1979 I was just out of college, in grad school and wasn’t sponsored yet. I talked to the guys at Pheidippides running stores and they told me they had a plane ticket for me and a race entry for the Nike-OTC Marathon in Eugene, Oregon. I thought that was perfect and I would go out and run that race to try and qualify for the 1980 Olympic Trials Marathon. I was planning to go and, at the last minute, they told me they weren’t going to send me out there. I think the head guy decided to go out and I got bumped. So, the 1979 race in Jonesville wasn’t in my original plan and was a bit of a disappointment that I was there instead of Eugene. I was in great shape and decided to jump in the race. It was only a forty-five-minute drive from my home. I ran the 2:26 and second place was maybe forty minutes behind me, so it was a long training run. The Bethel race was down near Greenville where I went to college at East Carolina, so I had a lot of friends there. I ran alone as well and did the 2:29. It was great to duck under 2:30 and to break the tape. It was also the North Carolina Marathon Championship that year, so that was a nice victory.
GCR: At a shorter distance the next spring, you had a big breakthrough at the 1980 Cherry Blossom 10-mile with a two minute plus personal best time of 49:49 for 24th place. What do you recall of how you felt during that race, who you ran with and how strong you finished in the last mile or two?
JD That may have been my best race ever. All I can say is that it felt like I was running in a vacuum. It takes place on the tidal basin and is a completely flat road right on the water. The field was remarkable. I was about eight miles into the race and there was a group of about thirty good runners. I was running with Carl Hatfield, some guys I used to run against from George Mason, a steeplechaser from Georgetown, and there was this big pack hitting sub-five-minute miles for mile after mile and there was no effort. It was flat out racing to try and stay in the pack as long as you could. It wasn’t until those last two miles that it started to string out as the guys were starting to make their bids for places. That was a fun, exciting race. Knowing that I ran under five-minute miles for ten miles was an indication of what I was doing at the time in terms of my training and where I felt I could ultimately go in terms of my running career.
GCR: What were some memorable races during the next six months in the remainder of that year as you readied for the December 1980 Rocket City Marathon?
JD In that time period, it was typical of me to just run the local road races. I’m pretty sure I ran the Natural Light Half Marathon that year and I was 1:07 and change for second or third place. There was always somebody there who seemed to beat me at the line, and in that race, it was a guy or two from Chapel Hill. There was one two-mile race that was unofficial where I went out and blew everybody up, picked up my trophy and went home. There were many of those races that were racing, but training, days. I did win my first big 10k, in 31:44 at the Carolina Street Scene in Winston-Salem, which was one of your big wins the previous year! It was a week after the Charleston Distance Run 15-miler where I finished ninth in 1:18. That was 5:18 pace per mile on that tough course in the summer heat, which ended up being the same pace I ran for the full Rocket City Marathon. I had put in the mileage that summer and it was paying off. I never rested for those races, training through, six miles every morning and then an afternoon session. I also won a Diet Pepsi 10k two weeks later. I was on a roll at that point, having picked up a sponsorship with Converse and was living the dream of the semi-professional runner!
GCR: You followed up your breakthrough at ten miles earlier that year with a big seven-minute personal best at the 1980 Rocket City Marathon, finishing sixth in 2:19:45. What type of splits did you run, how did you feel during the race and how exciting was it, not just to set a big PR, but to break 2:20?
JD I ran even with my splits. I was out in around 1:09:40 in the first half. We had a very strong top ten runners at that race. I wasn’t too comfortable during the first half. My shoes were giving me some issues with my socks, and I made a quick pit stop to get my laces tied right on my shoes. The second half was remarkable. I felt great. I almost negative split the race and ran the sub-2:20. What both races, Cherry Blossom and Rocket City, highlighted was the training I was doing. My first big training adjustment occurred years earlier in college when I added long runs on the weekends and double workouts which increased my mileage. In 1980, I consciously ramped up to over a hundred miles a week during that time period. I was utilizing a schedule based on Arthur Lydiard’s coaching and did a lot of hills that summer and fall leading up to the marathon. I was in a very strong place where I was able to run the even pace the whole way and get in under 2:20.
GCR: Racing has its share of ups and downs and you experienced the latter at the 1981 Boston Marathon. I’ve raced there an even dozen times, so I know the course very well. Can you take us through a race where you were racing strong and then fell prey to an extreme case of hitting the wall in the last two miles, dropping from a top fifty and maybe top twenty-five position to 130th in 2:24:29, a nice time, but not what you thought you could do?
JD It's a funny story because, after the Rocket City Marathon, Converse made me an offer and I was running for them. That’s why I ended up running the Boston Marathon because they wanted all the Converse athletes at Boston. It was very exciting to be sponsored by Converse and to be in Boston with the team. When we went out to the start, Gary Fanelli was slumped in the back of our team vehicle drinking coffee and popping bee pollen tablets. We were chatting on the drive. He took that race out and came through the half in about 1:03 or so. He was leading and caught fire. I was doing the same. I think I came through in 1:07 and change at the half. I felt fantastic. I ran fine up Heartbreak Hill with no qualms and no problems. I was thinking I could make the top twenty-five and run 2:16ish or in that range. When we were running through the Back Bay and making our way toward the finish line, I had to stop. There was no fuel in my tank. My legs wouldn’t work. I had stopped and the crowd was thick and enthusiastic and screaming, ‘Go, go, go!’ I couldn’t. I walked and jogged the last mile and a half or so to the finish. Even with that, when someone looks at my time now, they think it’s a great time. But back then I was very disappointed.
GCR: During the next two years as you completed your masters’ degree at Wake Forest, taught high school briefly and then returned to Wake Forest to work on an MBA, what were some races at intermediate distances and the marathon that you recall for strong efforts, fast times or both?
JD I ran a marathon in Frankfurt, Germany after the Boston Marathon that year. I wasn’t really recovered but it was my first time traveling abroad and having my expenses covered for hotel, food and airfare. Frank Richardson, Don Kardong and I raced for the United States. One highlight was meeting Emil Zatopek who was a speaker at the prerace banquet. He was so wonderful and such a humble guy. I ran 2:26 and finished 31st. I bought tons of Adidas gear even though I was running for Converse. It was a difficult time when I got back to the States because I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I taught high school in Florida in Gainesville. It was great being in the home of the Florida Track Club and working out with the guys. I ran for the Florida Track Club for a year or so and that was so much fun getting out to do the training loops I had read about with them. Though it was great, I was also working, and my racing was suffering. One of the great things about running big races like the New York City Marathon and Boston Marathon is making connections. I had done that with the Bermuda Marathon organizers and one of my highlights was getting to go over and race in Bermuda during their national race festival. It was annually in January, which is a nice time of year to visit and run in Bermuda. Since I was training in warm weather in Gainesville, Florida, I was happy to go over there and race. The first year I finished fourth, the second year I finished fifth and one year I finished third. I also DNF’d one year when I took a fall during the race. Another highlight was racing at Falmouth one year. I wasn’t running my best though, due to work, and that was when I decided to go back to graduate school and a good environment for me to train.
GCR: As we mentioned briefly, on October 9, 1983, at the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon you ran 2:18:37 for fifth place, a one-minute personal best time and an Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier. How ready were you, what was your race plan and were there some low points and challenges during the race you had to overcome to achieve your goal?
JD I had left my job teaching school to go back to graduate school and get my MBA and take one more shot at qualifying for the Olympic Trials Marathon. I had met the Dean of the school the year before on the way back from the Falmouth Road Race. We were on the same plane, and he talked me into coming back to Wake Forest. That summer, I was building my mileage and, on the way out to see my parents in California, I ran Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. It was just an easy race, sort of a training run, and I ran it in 2:24 for 39th place. So, I built off that with 13 straight 100 plus mile weeks and an average of 112 miles per week. Jumping forward to the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, if you had asked me halfway through the race if I were going to qualify for the Olympic Trials, I would have said, ‘No way!’ I struggled. During my training, I had tweaked my back when I was doing sit ups or pull ups and I had a low-grade back ache that I could feel when I was racing. That bothered me for the first five or ten miles. I also was having a left hamstring cramp for much of that time. I was trying to stay on pace and my goal was to be somewhere around 1:09 at the half, right in there. I hit the split even though I felt badly. I continued to hydrate and to run on. The competition started to atrophy around me, and I was feeling stronger and stronger. As I hit the twenty-mile mark around 1:47, I was right on pace and thought, ‘I might as well finish this as strong s I can.’ The lower back spasms had stopped, and the cramp had worked itself out. I was moving faster and faster for that last six miles into the finish. As I was doing that, I got a little excited and my calf cramped because I was trying to go too fast as I was aiming to catch the guy in front of me. I eventually worked that out and the last three miles I was close to five flat mile pace. I gradually felt better and better and better. My splits were around 1:09 and low change for the first half and close to 1:09 flat for the second half.
GCR: After making the Olympic Trials, I’m sure you had your mind set to go even faster. What were key factors that didn’t allow this to happen, and how disappointing was it to not be able to perform at your best at the Trials where you finished in exactly 100th place in only 2:38:41?
JD If there is one part of ‘Racing Shadows’ that closely chronicled what I went through, it would be the sequence of that race. The character’s discovery that being sick over the winter hadn’t allowed him to do the necessary mileage to compete well is what happened to me. We had a terrible winter in Winston-Salem, and I had a case of something, maybe strep throat, that was very bad. The doctors never diagnosed the specific problem, but I was on my back for a month or month and a half. I went home and stayed with my family for a while to recover. My mileage wasn’t there. Even though I was training well and got in some good races in the spring to get ready to go, I got out there and it was a red line kind of day. I was going as fast as I could but had no reserves and couldn’t relax. By sixteen miles my body was shut down and a good performance wasn’t going to happen. I kind of stumbled in from there. The whole point became to finish the race so I could say I was a finisher.
GCR: How much redemption was it not long afterward to race to a third-place finish at the 1984 Maryland International Marathon, in Baltimore in 2:23.45 and were you exhilarated afterward?
JD That is a hilly course. There is a hill on that course that is world famous and the runners who have won that race are luminaries. The race management team brings in a good field every year, so to place high and to get on the podium and run that time, I was super pleased. It was the exact opposite of the Olympic Trials race and was more like I ran in Milwaukee. I felt good right from the start and ran with the pack. I watched a couple of guys go out very fast and let them go. Then I worked my way up over the hill and into the finish. It was one of those races where everything worked out well and it was fun to run a marathon.
GCR: Speaking of fun running a marathon, you mentioned a bit about running the Bermuda Marathon. The following year you raced internationally at the 1985 Bermuda International Marathon, placing third in 2:30. How did the weather affect you and what are highlights of that race and how exciting was it to be on the podium?
JD It was so hot. There was a ‘go out with the pack and hang on’ attitude, letting the race knock everyone out. Even in the middle of February the Bermuda weather is hot, and it was also a humid day. It was a battle of attrition. One of my Converse teammates who had won the year before dropped out of this race. There were two other guys who duked it out for the win. One was Canadian and one was from Minnesota. I was back in fifth or sixth place for much of the race and started moving up. Bermuda’s National Champion, Ray Swann, was there and he is a great guy who ran in the 1976 Olympic Games. He was right in front of me, and it became a duel through the last three or four miles where he and I were duking it out. The sun was shining. The course rolls over the island with some wicked hills and no shade. We were covered in salt from the waves crashing on either side of the island. It was not very comfortable. Ray and I were sweaty and salty and just holding onto each other for dear life. I was flat out. I’ll never forget coming to the top of the last hill outside the National Stadium, which is cut out of coral cliffs, and onto the track, the first shade and cooling down almost instantly. I pulled away there for third place. The podium never felt so good! When we finished, everyone had to drink tons of fluids. It was exciting and, once we recovered, we partied hard that night. It was exciting to finish third ahead of Ray Swann, who was fourth.
GCR: As you balanced work and running, what were some of your other best races from 1984 to 1988 when you transitioned away from competitive racing?
JD One final great race was the National Capital-20 Miler as I prepared for the Marine Corps Marathon in 1985. There was no one in the race in my fitness level. The race went from Old Towne Alexandria to Mount Vernon, which is 10 miles, and back on the bike trail along the river. It was cool and nice weather conditions for running. I smoked the course in 1 hour and 48 minutes, a new record. I celebrated by eating oysters and drinking beer afterward in my new city as I was working in Alexandria then. A few weeks later in November of 1985 was the Marine Corps Marathon. It’s interesting on another level because your college teammate, Norm Blair, was racing with me. I was in very good shape. I was balancing working and running. I caught Norman coming across the bridge towards the Iwo Jima Monument to finish fifth and he was sixth. I ran 2:24:49 and that was one of my last good marathons. I ran the New York City Marathon in the low 2:30s the following year, but it was mostly for fun.
GCR: While you were focused on post-collegiate racing, how important was it to have the support of training groups, running clubs and shoe companies?
JD I’ll tell you a great story that is an example. I was planning to run the Charlotte Marathon in January of 1981, which was scheduled for right after the time that I instead ran the 1980 Rocket City Marathon. The guys who were on the Twin City Track Club, from Greensboro, Winston-Salem and that area, who I trained with almost every day, had all planned to go to Huntsville to run the Rocket City Marathon. I told them I didn’t know if I could do it because I thought I needed another month of training to be ready. They said, ‘C’mon, and run Huntsville with us in December and then you can take some time off at Christmas.’ That was the sales pitch and I agreed. They also wanted to compete for the team championship and needed a fourth guy. Their encouragement and being able to travel with them led to my running Rocket City. I had my best marathon to that point and was top five. Our second guy ran 2:30 and he was in the top fifteen. We had two other guys who were in the high 2:30s and we ended up winning the team championship and beating the Nike-sponsored teams and a very good group of runners from Clemson. It was great to have that camaraderie at the race on top of how nice it was for the long runs on the weekends. Training with your teammates, your buds, really helped. Getting picked up and sponsored by Converse was huge in 1981 after the Rocket City Marathon. It validated everything and what I was doing. Now I had gear, shoes and a travel budget. I knew a lot of guys who were running better than me who didn’t have any sponsorships. But I had made the rounds at the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon, made connections and got sponsored. I ended up running for Adidas my last two years after the third place in Bermuda which was sponsored by Adidas. Training groups were a big key. My best success came while I was running for Southern Sport Shoes in Winston Salem, with my teammates on the Twin City Track Club and with the Wake Forest men’s cross-country team.
GCR: FORMATIVE YEARS, HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE Were you an active child and in what sports did you participate as a youth and teenager prior to starting running?
JD I tried to play baseball like all the kids did and I wasn’t very good. Eye-hand coordination sports and ball sports weren’t my thing. It would have been good if we had soccer, but soccer wasn’t happening in youth sports yet. I always liked running when we had the President’s Physical Fitness test every year and ran the 600-yard run. For some reason I always did well on that test. I hiked a lot in Boy Scouts. I always like getting out and doing hikes so running was attractive to me.
GCR: How did you get started running and what are some highlights of your early years on the cross country and track teams in junior high school and as a high school freshman?
JD I was in seventh grade, and I saw our high school cross country team out training. They were running in single file around this lake near our home. I thought, ‘Oh my God! That looks cool. I’d love to do that.’ After they ran by, I started running behind them. I gave them some distance because I didn’t want them to see me. I made it about a hundred meters before I had to stop and catch my breath. I was wearing moccasins. After that, I started training in the afternoons after school and I made the eighth-grade team and that was it. I was hooked. At the tryouts for the eighth-grade team, I was the fifth qualifier. When I made the team, that was worth everything to me. The training was what made the difference. In junior high, cross country was the highlight season and there were one or two track meets. In high school things started to change. I was running between five and six miles a day in the summer leading up to high school and I made the varsity team my freshman year.
GCR: In cross country, you mentioned that your team was good, so what positions were you usually in on the team your junior and senior years, how did your team finish in big meets and how much fun was the camaraderie of the cross-country experience?
JD We had a great team, and it was unusual to have that much quality. My sophomore year I was the fifth or sixth runner on the team. Then I got sick and ended up dropping down to the junior varsity squad. My junior year I was the fourth man – a solid number four. I think it was my fault that we lost at State that year. We had all the places to win. If I had run my normal race, we would have easily won. But I was so excited about going to State that I was doing double workouts. I got to the race and was totally exhausted and had the worst race of my entire high school career. We finished in second place at State in cross country and in track and field that year. So, there were all those ‘we should haves’ and ‘we could haves’ and ‘we would haves,’ but we didn’t make it happen.
GCR: How did your times progress in the half mile, mile and two-mile and did you score for the team in any big Invitational meets, the Conference meet and the post-season meets leading up to State competition?
JD We always ran a couple big invitational cross country meets and did well. I don’t remember any of the places, but there were some top ten finishes for me my senior year. The race that sticks out in my mind is when I finished fourth in the District cross country meet. My teammate, Kevin Amigh, and I went to State, and he finished third while I didn’t do too well that day. In track I had the typical progression like John Parker talked about in ‘Once a Runner’ where everybody was a four thirty miler. My progression was close to breaking five minutes for the mile my junior year and finally getting down into the low 4:40s with a best of 4:38 as a senior. I ran a 2:05 for the half mile and a 9:40 for the two-mile.
GCR: Can you relate the story and details of a race we have chatted about before, the 4-mile relay at the T.C. Williams Relays and how you and your teammates had great competition, but rose to the occasion?
JD That was probably the highlight of my high school track running. We were a county school in Gaithersburg out in Montgomery County, Maryland. We had three high-quality runners in the mile and two-mile and I was the fourth guy. So, we put this four-mile relay together. We crossed the river to go over to T.C. Williams. The all-star there was George Watts who was a multiple-time State champion, close to sub-four-minutes in the mile and well under nine minutes in the two-mile. He was ready to go on to a great career at Tennessee. Everyone figured that his team would win this four by one mile relay. There was another guy who was right at four minutes in the mile from Fort Hunt and people thought he and George would duke it out on the anchor leg. Nobody knew about us. I led of the relay for our team, so we had our slowest runner go first. I came in at 4:42, which put us right in the middle of the pack. There weren’t too many teams with faster runners. Kevin Amigh ran second and dropped a four-twenty-something time and we had around a hundred-and-fifty-meter lead after his leg. Our third guy, Greg, was a sub-4:20 guy and he ran a 4:16. By this time, we had a 200-meter lead. The other two teams that were looking to win thought George and the other guy would walk us down because they figured there was no way we could have anyone left who was fast. But Billy, our top guy, who was a 4:10 miler in high school and went on to Mt. St. Mary’s where he ran low fours, went out and ran easy. They never got closer, and we won. They were wondering who was Gaithersburg High School and where did they get these runners? If we had won State the year before, they would have known who we were. It was a cool victory and we got jackets for our effort. It was a meet record and was fun.
GCR: You ran the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race under six-minute mile pace as junior and senior in high school. Were you finding that, even though you raced much shorter distances on the track and in cross country, that you enjoyed racing longer distances?
JD It was a great place to grow up in Montgomery County and the Washington, D.C. area. The D.C. Road Runners organized races about every weekend. Many of the races were on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath, so they were on dirt which was easy on the legs. There were a variety of races from two miles up to a marathon, so we could race about anything. I liked doing those races because I found that I liked to train, and I liked to compete. I went to the Cherry Blossom race to see these great luminaries who were there, and I got to line up with them. When I was a senior in high school, my race was listed as the fastest time for my age for a ten-miler in Runners World. I didn’t even know about it until some friends told me. It was a great ten-mile race and one of those fun times.
GCR: When you finished up high school and were deciding where to go to college for academics and athletics, how did you decide to go to East Carolina and were there other colleges in the mix of your choices?
JD Kevin Amigh, my teammate, was going to Wake Forest, and most of my other friends were going to the University of Maryland. I knew many guys who were going to run for Maryland, and I knew I would have to be a walk on if I went there. It would be tough to make it on that strong team that had a strong history. I decided to head south and had two choices. One was East Carolina that I had read about in Track and Field News magazine, and they had a very good sprint core that had raced well at the Penn Relays and other big meets – so I knew of them. The other school I considered was East Tennessee State. That was right when they were loaded with a big group of Irish guys like Neal O’Shaughnessy and Ed Leddy. I would have had to try to walk on there and that would have been even tougher than Maryland. It was a good decision to go to East Carolina. Coach Carson told me I would be on the junior varsity because they had good recruits like Jeff Moody and Gary Griffith and some other top runners that we ended up competing with during the next few years. But none of them ended up going to ECU. So, when I got there, I was the number one distance runner.
GCR: During the next four years, did your times progress steadily, what were some big wins and medal performances and what were your top finishes in the Southern Conference Championships in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track?
JD It was very frustrating for me because Coach Carson was a sprinters’ coach. The good thing was he let me do my training on my own, but the bad thing was he let me do my training on my own. I picked up a Lydiard training book, was following it and doing that method of training. It didn’t convert too well to running the two-mile indoors or the 5k and 10k outdoors. But I ended up having some good success there. We never saw eye-to-eye and Coach Carson and I had some tough times as a coach and athlete. We did have a great chance to make up for that later in life and, when we got together, we enjoyed each other’s company. Probably the best race I had was my junior year in cross country at your home course near Boone at the Moses Cone Park. I finished thirteenth in the Southern Conference. It was such a competitive time for distance running in the Southern Conference. You guys had five good runners at Appalachian State. Furman had good runners. VMI had some good runners and there were strong runners on other teams. It was tough to make the top fifteen and I was very pleased to make the top fifteen. I remember running with you and Norman Blair in that race. Throughout our years in the Southern Conference, I always was running just behind or just ahead of you guys. I had a strong finish that year.
GCR: It’s interesting that you mentioned how runners in college at that time would segue out on our own and do extra training. I remember over Christmas break in late 1977 our junior year, if you can believe this, I was working forty miles a week and still ran 133 miles and 142 miles during those two weeks. Then when I came back, I was so strong that I was able to do great track workouts and I won the Southern Conference Indoor 3-Mile. Similarly, when you did high mileage training that many people wouldn’t suggest for racing 5ks, that it helped you a lot?
JD Yes, especially when outdoor season started, and I was running the 10k. What I needed was a coach to guide me in a race. I would just go out with the leaders and then die most of the time. That was my strategy, to go all out. It worked sometimes and sometimes it different. That extra mileage did make a difference. I was running well in some of the road races like the Virginia 10-miler and then I finished second at the Bethel Marathon. So, I was getting my feet wet in the longer distances on the roads.
GCR: In track and field, it is neat to have sprinters and distance runners and throwers and jumpers pulling together to try to win a championship. How thrilling was it to be part of East Carolina’s Southern Conference Indoor Championship teams in 1976 and 1977 and how exciting was it for your team to win by only three points over Furman in 1976 and one point over William and Mary in 1977?
JD It was exciting. The indoor meets were at VMI. As you remember, the 220-yard track went behind the bleachers. Sprint relay teams would go behind the bleachers and only two or three would come out. Batons would be flying all over the place. It was like a crucible. I remember running the two-mile against Hillary Tuwei of Richmond, tried to stay up with him, and it was very tough. I fell apart. It was great to be a part of the teams. I got my letterman jacket and we have had some reunions with some of the guys. We won those two championships and one outdoors and that was a highlight of my collegiate running. I still have the ring with those three diamond chips. For me they were the best days.
GCR: What was it like to have an outstanding sprinter like Carter Suggs on your team who could race strong from 60 yards to 440 yards and anchor the 440-yard relay and mile relay?
JD He was also a great person. He gave me the best advice I ever received from anybody in college. I was a freshman and was just hanging out and drinking a beer. He was in a chair with a book open and school hadn’t even started yet. He looked at me and said, ‘What are you looking at?’ I answered, ‘Why are you reading a book?’ He said, ‘Because I’m in college, stupid. That’s what we’re here to do.’ He taught me a very good lesson. I got to pay it back maybe ten years ago. I heard from a friend that Carter had passed away. He had a massive heart attack and died suddenly in his mid-fifties which was very sad. I went to the funeral and Coach Carson and Coach Fry were there and so were a lot of the guys. I asked why Carter wasn’t in the ECU Athletic Hall of Fame and was told they wouldn’t vote him in. I thought that was ridiculous and so I wrote up his testimonials and all his great accomplishments. He was the fastest high school sprinter in the U.S. his senior year and even beat the Russians. Carter set a high school World Record in the 100-yard dash as a high school senior. In the Southern Conference Championships as a freshman, he won the 100-yard dash, 220-yard dash, quarter mile, mile relay, 440-yard relay and long jump. But he was never the same after that meet. I sent the paperwork in and, sure enough, he got was inducted into the ECU Athletic Hall of Fame that year. I was happy to get him into the ECU Hall of Fame. His family accepted the award, and it was a nice, fitting gesture from the University. I was at the ceremony and stayed in the back. It was great for his family because they needed the recognition. Carter was a humble guy and ran his heart out for the University. He was the ‘Athlete of the Meet’ at the Southern Conference Indoor Championships but then moved on with his life after college. I also nominated our assistant coach, Curtis Fry, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Curtis is now at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and is Head Coach for Track and Field. Curtis went from our assistant coach to Women’s NCAA Champion Coach, Olympic Coach, and coach for many All-Americans. He is a good friend and a great man.
GCR: TRAINING You talked somewhat about your training as an eighth grader and during your freshman year in high school doing five to six miles a day. Were you doing hills, fartleks, long runs or other elements of training?
JD The runs were initially one lap around this lake that was maybe a mile-and-a-half or two miles. Then I started adding on a segment out and back to the highway, so I was running three to five miles. I branched out and got up to six miles. By the time I was a freshman in high school, I was running maybe six miles a day. It was just easy running, cross country running, and not anything specific. In high school, I was introduced to hill training and track training and intervals. Those types of workouts made a big difference for me in terms of my times dropping in races.
GCR: How did your mileage, length of long runs and intensity increase during the final three years of high school?
JD I started to add longer runs on the weekend. I’m unsure where I learned that, but I would train with my team during the week and go out and do long runs on the weekend to recover. That started to make a big difference coming into my senior year. We went to a cross country camp up at Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland where my teammate, Billy went on scholarship. I was the one guy on my team who was in good shape because I had run all summer. Everyone else has pretty much taken time off, including Kevin Amigh. They went to running camp to get in shape. I was pacing the workouts. We were doing hill intervals. There was a skinny guy named Alberto Salazar who had come down from Massachusetts. This guy was the skinniest guy I had ever seen, and he was supposed to be this phenom. I can truly say that I beat Alberto, but it was because he didn’t run in the final competition the day our parents came to pick us up. I won that race, but Alberto had already left for home. So, I won by a technicality.
GCR: What were some of your favorite hill training sessions and track sessions and at what pace did you run your repeats on the track when you were in your best high school form?
JD My favorite workout was one that was designed by our coach who was very innovative. There were two tennis courts that sat on opposing hills. We ran a figure eight. We would sprint up the one hill and around the tennis court. Then we would run back down the hill, up the other hill and around that tennis court. We would do three of them hard, take a break by running around the track and then come back and do three more. We did those during cross country season. We would do 330-yard repeats and 440-yard repeats on the track. We ran the quarters in the mid-70s from 72 to 75 seconds, something like that. Billy and Kevin could knock out sub-70s if they wanted to, but they never worked that hard to do that.
GCR: Who were your high school coaches and what were key points you learned that helped you improve mentally and physically?
JD My high school coach was a guy named Eugene Handlin. Gene passed away about five years ago. He was a great guy who had been a discus thrower at Penn State. He was a big guy. He liked coaching cross country, he liked us, and we liked him. He was a good, easy-going coach. Ned Joyce was our track coach. He was a Navy veteran and tough as nails. Herb Tolbert was another one of our coaches and he is still coaching there at Gaithersburg High School. Herb has run the Boston Marathon several times and lots of master’s races. He is a good, all-around guy and was just starting out coaching when I was in high school. We had some great coaches and the best thing they did was to just let us run. They encouraged us, they gave us uniforms, they were there at the track after school and they were on the bus with us. I think of those long days when we got on the bus to go to a meet at six o’clock in the morning and got back at ten o’clock at night. Eugene had this one run that he had us do before cross-country season each year. We would run out to his house from the school, and it was about sixteen miles. Half of the team would get picked up by halfway to his house after seven or eight miles. We were always trying to see who could run the whole way there, and usually two or three of us made it. He would have ice cream for us at his house, so that was always fun.
GCR: What were the big differences in your training as you progressed through college and how did you integrate what you learned from Coach Carson and the East Carolina assistant coaches with what you were reading in books by Arthur Lydiard and Fred Wilt?
JD When I was a junior in college, I was truly struggling. I had a friend who was from Australia, and he asked me if I had read this training book by Arthur Lydiard. At that point I hadn’t read it, or the Fred Wilt books. I was following what Kenny Moore and Frank Shorter were doing with workouts like twelve quarters on the track and aiming to keep them under seventy seconds. I would go out for an additional run afterward, run in the mornings and do a long run on the weekends. I was trying to copy those guys. It was working well and had made a big difference for me and my ability to run strong. I got some good feedback on my training when I was running with some of the better runners at the Virginia 10-miler and I was beating some guys who used to beat me easily. When I started following the Lydiard workouts, there was preciseness in running a long run each Sunday, then hill sprints on Tuesday and a tempo run on Thursday. I did this week after week. The Lydiard program included times that were goal times depending on what pace was the race goal pace. With me, it just clicked. I was able to utilize that training and have a good senior year of racing at East Carolina and move on when I left there to focus on the marathon.
GCR: When you focused on the marathon after you finished your collegiate eligibility, were you self-coached and what were keys as far as mileage, long runs and intense training sessions that turned you into a sub-2:20 marathoner?
JD I was self-coached and, if I had any kind of do-over, it would be to have a coach who worked with me and guided me on when to cut back or increase my training. Some of the guys who ran in college for Pembroke State and N.C. State ended up being coached by Jack Bachelor after college and had some great performances. I wish I had a coach like that. I was very willful, which is a good way of saying it, and didn’t mind doing the training on my own though. There is one workout I talk about in my book, ‘Racing Shadows,’ where the athlete gets out and does a warmup of three to five miles, does fartlek hills for the next five miles on a very mountainous road where he pushes hills of a quarter mile to a half mile each as hard as he can before he coasts down the back side. Then he runs five miles to recover back to the college campus. Finally, he does a series of three-hundred-meter repeats on the grass to finish up for about sixteen miles total. That was a real workout that I had borrowed from the Lydiard program. That was the type of training I liked to do. I didn’t like tempo runs. They were tough and I always felt wasted afterwards. I liked the long runs, and I liked the fartlek type of training runs.
GCR: What was your weekly mileage, and did you do long runs that were longer than twenty miles?
JD I typically averaged in that period from 1979 to 1985 ninety miles a week. But there were long periods where I would be at a hundred twenty or a hundred thirty miles a week for week after week after week. I did that particularly going into the Rocket City Marathon and that one summer in 1983 to get ready for the Milwaukee lakefront Marathon. On Sundays I would run anywhere from twenty to thirty miles. Sometimes I would run thirteen miles, find a 10k race and race it and then do whatever I needed to so I could get back home and get in as much mileage as possible.
GCR: WRAPUP AND FINAL THOUGHTS When you were past the age of forty, you did some high-level Masters’ racing. How did you adjust your training since you were older and what are some highlight race performances?
JD The key was to be able to get the running training in while I was working at my job and not to take away from that work. I was only running once a day. I would typically run at my lunch break or after work. I did a lot of shorter intervals on grass. Now there are so many soccer fields that it is easy to do strides or repeat three hundred meters on grass. I would feel good, and the soft surface didn’t take the steam out of my legs. I would do a long run on the weekend to recover. I was only running about forty miles a week, but it was high quality. I also hit the weights in the gym for overall fitness. In some ways I was more fit than when I was younger. But I didn’t have the aerobic base. When I ran the 10k, it was very tough to break forty minutes, but that was always my goal. My best race was probably my race in Baton Rouge, Louisiana when I ran the 5,000 meters at the U.S. Masters Championships in 2001. There were some very good runners from back in the day. One of them was Tony Pallone who was a sub-four-minute miler in college in New York. There were guys who came out of the woodwork to race. And I’m in the lead with a lap to go. I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m going to win my first National Championship at age forty-three.’ I was flying and felt great. It was the last lap, and I was running a fast time. It was very hot in Louisiana in the summertime. I was smoking down the track and I heard those dreaded footsteps coming up on me. Right in the last one hundred meters a guy from Oregon pulled past me and I ended up getting the Silver Medal. But I still earned a medal in a national event.
GCR: We talked earlier about the team aspect of cross country and track and field. Could you tell us about your last hurrah as a team member at the Blue Ridge Relay which is a 12-person, 24-hour relay from Mount Rodgers, Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina? How did your team do and how much fun was it with these twelve runners for 24 hours?
JD It was fun. I think my wife wasn’t sure what I was signing up for and I told her I would tell her about it when I got back. And I wasn’t even sure what it was. This was my last race. It’s the way I wanted to go out with 24 hours of madness, two vans and 12 runners. I didn’t know any of these people well, but all were from Greenville, North Carolina and had an ECU connection. Our team name was ‘Oceans 12’ because the movie was out! We started out and the distances of the run segments were all different. They were anywhere from four miles to twelve miles. We ran through the night. We went through the national forests on two-lane roads and sometimes on one-lane roads through the mountains. The best part about the event was the camaraderie. As I mentioned, my teammates were from Greenville, so there were East Carolina graduates. There were four of us from different decades. I graduated in the 1970s, and there were grads from the 1980s, the 1990s and 2000s. It was fun to represent ECU and have some fun with that. Another teammate was a football player, and one was a cheerleader. We just had so much fun putting this group of people together that loved running. We were competitive but, in the end, I don’t know where we ended up. I think we were in the top ten of the teams. It was really a fun, fun event. On the second day, my last run went up Hawksbill Mountain. It was all switchbacks and was an eight-mile leg. It was beautiful and fun to be out there. I think I did have a belly full of pancakes that were fueling me. The run up Hawksbill Mountain was so memorable. It was a wonderful, memorable run and I stay in touch with everyone on Facebook. Teammates are the best!
GCR: Since you have had success over your running career at 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters, 10 miles, half marathons, 15 miles and the marathon, what is your favorite racing distance and why is that so?
JD It’s probably the 5,000 meters which is funny because the marathon is where I had the best outcomes along with ten-milers and some other longer races. But a runner works so hard in those long races, they are tough, and it’s rare that you have an enjoyable race. The 5,000 meters is just flat-out go. I’ve always enjoyed that shorter distance and wish I had more speed to compete at that distance.
GCR: From your many years of racing, who were some of your favorite competitors in high school, college and on the road racing circuit due to their ability to give you a strong race and bring out your best?
JD I would have to go with my teammate, Kevin Amigh, in high school. Kevin was blessed with natural ability. He didn’t have to train to be good. He could run a sub-nine-minute two-mile with very little training, just some jogging every day, whereas I had to work. Kevin totally motivated me, and he was great for that. I’ve always appreciated him. Two names you may not recognize are Jeff Smith and Will Albers who ran at George Mason. I competed against them many times and they were so good. Eventually, I was up there running with them, and Jeff was one of the guys I ended up beating at the Baltimore Marathon. They were both great competitors. We had a group, the Washington Running Club, and these guys ran the Boston Marathon every year. They were inspirational to me because they could have a wife and kids and a full-time job and still come out and run the Boston Marathon and run the local 10ks. I decided in high school that I wanted to be like them. I enjoyed competing with all my Southern Sport Shoes teammates, and that includes you, Gary. Every one of those guys from Pembroke State always seemed to be there in the mix, like Dan Ryberg and Jeff Moody. They were always tough, and I liked running against them. But I was the kind of runner that I didn’t care who was there. If I was on the line, I was just going to go and try to win the race.
GCR: What do you typically do now for health and fitness in your early sixties so you can enjoy all life has to offer?
JD I haven’t done much running after that Blue Ridge Relay race. My knees are arthritic. That is the best description, and it was time to change course. I walk and lift weights in the gym. I play golf. I have recently started doing more energized walking. I call it city hiking. I will try and do two or three days a week of brisk walking and then weights afterward. On the weekend I will go for an hour-and-a-half to two-hour long walk, still at a fairly brisk pace, to try and replace that weekend long run.
GCR: How do you take the skills you learned in running, such as discipline and consistency, and apply them to your work life and your current position as Director of Leadership Giving at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture?
JD Whether it’s writing or running or doing my job, it all comes down to being focused and being dedicated and putting in the time. Some people talk in running circles about doing a lot of easy miles and does it matter? I think the time we put into anything matters. If it is a job worth doing, it requires being focused and dedicated. It takes leadership and teammates. I see many similarities between the time spent in athletics and the time spent now working.
GCR: What are some of your goals for the future in terms of fitness, writing and potential new adventures as the ‘Golden Years’ are on the horizon?
JD For fitness, my number one goal is simply to stay fit. I want to exercise to feel good, but not as a fanatic. In writing, I hope, as I mentioned before, to get an agent and have my works published more consistently. I am hopeful that my stories will catch on and I get more published. As far as new adventures – travel. I want to get out there and travel. I spent some time in Europe and would like to return. I spent a little time in Ireland and would like to get back there and to England and France. I would like to spend some more time in Bermuda. That is always a fun getaway trip.
GCR: When you are asked to sum up in a minute or two the major lessons you have learned during your life from the discipline of running, being a part of the running community, overcoming adversity, and undertaking new challenges in your professional career and as a writer, what you would like to share with my readers that will help them on the pathway to reaching their potential both athletically and as a person?
JD I can be specific that, in hindsight, I wish I had had a coach to guide me in my athletic career. I think it would have made a big difference in many areas of performance. I believe that can be applied to everything, whether it is a professional career, an athletic career or writing, which is a great example. Someone who read ‘Racing Shadows, told me they would like to write a book dealing with running and asked me what I would recommend. I told them that the main aid is to get in a writing group so that every week they could see what you are writing and be critical. That’s part of the process. Is it good? Is it not good? I also suggested signing up for a writing class. Those two items are both critical. It is the same thing in life with work or relationships or athletics. If we have a coach and teammates, that is how we get better at what we do. Trying to do it alone isn’t always the best plan. Sometimes we must but having teammates and a coach to help us toward success is important.
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests I’m an Olympic sports junkie. I don’t typically watch the NBA and most professional sports, but I love watching and following interesting Olympic sports. I like to cook, golf and garden
Nicknames I didn’t have any that stand out. Because of my last name, I heard ‘Dill Pickle’ when I was a kid, but not any more
Favorite movies I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I also like ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ the Swedish version
Favorite TV shows I watched cartoons as a kid and was a cartoon junkie. I watched anything that was a cartoon. More recently, during this covid-19 time, I went back and watched all of ‘The Sopranos’ episodes and the entire ‘Game of Thrones.’ One of my favorite series is on Netflix and is ‘Longmire.’ It’s a western series about a sheriff and is contemporary rather than an old western
Favorite music I grew up with the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s rock and still love that. Recently, I have got into jazz. I like the smooth jazz I hear on the radio and older European and French jazz from when the century turned from the 1990s to the 2000s
Favorite books This goes along with my movie choice of ‘Harry Potter,’ and that is the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series. I loved the entire J.R.R. Tolkien catalog with ‘The Hobbit’ and the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. One of my favorite recent books is Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ which is a great book about two kids who are growing up and facing extreme situations. It is very well-written
First car When I was in high school, I inherited my sister’s Fiat Spider which sounds exotic though it was a little four-cylinder car that could barely run
Current car Now I have a BMW X3 that has a hundred thousand miles on it. I don’t plan on getting rid of it anytime soon
First Job I could say I was a newspaper boy, but that was very short-lived. The one that stuck is that I was a lifeguard for years. It was one of those lifestyle jobs where it was great for me to get up and do my running in the morning beforehand. If I got up late, I could still run after work. I would be itching for a workout after sitting in the chair all day
Family I’m blessed as my father is still alive and he is in his nineties. I’ve been married for over thirty years. I am so blessed to have a wonderful wife who has supported me all these years. Wendy has been great. We did get to go to Bermuda together at the end of my running career for my last race there in 1987, the World Masters Championships in Puerto Rico, and many masters’ National events. We have two children and four grandchildren. I have two sisters and a brother. We are all doing well and healthy and I don’t see any change in that in the near future. It is a great time right now
Pets We are pet-less and are enjoying our soon-to-be ‘Golden Years,’ as you put it. We don’t currently have any dogs or cats. We had two Schnauzers that we dearly loved and when they passed of old age, we decided to spend some time without pets
Favorite breakfast For breakfast, I can eat anything. I love eggs, bacon and toast. I also like pancakes. I made waffles for my granddaughter last weekend and that was great
Favorite meal Grilled steak with all the trimmings from the grill - corn on the cob and potatoes
Favorite beverages I have a list that is Scotch, Bourbon, Whiskey and Irish Whiskey in that order. As far as Scotch, I don’t tend to like the very peaty ones and do like the blends like Johnny Walker. One bourbon that is very good is Pappy Van Winkle and it is so hard to get, plus it is very expensive. The Virginia ABC stores conduct a lottery to purchase it and I was selected to purchase a bottle recently. We are saving it to take to the beach when our family gathers there, and we are all going to do a bourbon tasting. Coffee is my favorite nonalcoholic beverage
First running memory It was when I saw the cross-country team running when I was a seventh grader and I wanted to go out and run with them. When I watched them run by, there was something magical about these seven or eight guys running in a single file around the lake. It was very cool
Running heroes My number one hero was Steve Prefontaine. He was such an idol. I watched him race at the 1974 Maryland CYO Games my junior year in high school and I got to meet him after he ran against Dick Buerkle and Frank Shorter in the two-mile. That was very incredible as a high school kid to see him. Steve was such an iconic figure. Frank Shorter was also an idol, and I was able to meet him as well. When I first saw Steve Prefontaine, I remember him coming out on the track in those blue USA or AAU sweats that he had. He was carrying his spikes and kind of looking around. He wasn’t making eye contact but was checking everybody out. I watched him race and warm down. I had run in the high school two-mile and got a ribbon for finishing in second place in my race. I don’t remember our conversation, but I asked him to sign my ribbon and he did. It was just amazing to be that close to him (note: Dick Buerkle won the two-mile that night in 8:26.2, becoming the first American to beat Pre at any distance in four years. Fifteen days later Steve broke his own U.S. Record Indoor two-mile with an 8:22.2 time)
Greatest running moment Of course, the 1983 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon where that race came together. When I crossed the finish line, even though I was in fifth place, people watching didn’t understand that with that time and qualifying for the Olympic Trials that it was a dream come true. Another race was that master’s 5,000-meter race that was the National Championship, and I was leading on the final lap though I finished in second place. That was the second dream to come true – to place in a National Championship. And those races were years apart which is sort of the magical life of running
Worst running moment The 1984 Olympic Trials Marathon is one of them. The race was difficult because the race was over for me at sixteen miles, and I still had ten miles to go. I could have dropped out, but I didn’t want to do that because my parents were there. I wanted to make it to the finish and say I had finished the race. I just sucked it up and made the best out of a bad situation
Childhood dreams I just wanted to have fun. I can’t remember wanting to do or be anything other than goofing off and having fun. That’s who I was. Nothing else started to take shape until I was in graduate school. I was so intent on running. When I was in graduate school, I thought I was going to go and get my MBA degree so I could do something practical
Funny memories When I was between my freshman and sophomore years in college, right around the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, Don Kardong had a great race and finished in fourth place in the marathon. I think he was in third place when he entered the stadium to finish the marathon, but he was caught on the track and ended up finishing fourth. My father took me to a track meet, and it was the U.S. versus Russia. It was either after the Olympic Games or the following year and was loaded with Olympians. Craig Virgin smoked the 10,000 meters and ran a great race. The Russians were second and third and poor Don Kardong got fourth place a bit back as he wasn’t having a good day. There was a press conference afterward and they opened it up to questions. I raised my hand and said, ‘Mr. Kardong, you were in third place entering the stadium in Montreal. Could you not speed up a little bit to win the Bronze Medal?’ He got a little out of space. He had a look that said, ‘If I could punch that kid.’ The funny thing is that years later, Don and I were running together in Germany at the Frankfurt Marathon as we were both invited to compete. I had run okay, in the top twenty or thirty runners and we were sitting there after the race. Don had a tough day and had either finished behind me or dropped out. We were drinking some water and I said, ‘Do you remember this time you were asked a question after this track meet at the University of Maryland?’ He says, ‘You were that kid?’ It was funny and he and I ended up being pretty good friends after that
Embarrassing moment There was one time when I was supposed to go to Bermuda for the marathon. When I got to the airport, I didn’t have my passport and I couldn’t go to the race
Favorite places to travel My favorite piece of the world is Emerald Isle, North Carolina which is not too far from Greenville where I went to college. It is a great little slice of the earth there and it’s easy to get to. One of my most favorite places is Bermuda and I have been there five times. I really enjoy it in the winter. It is a beautiful place and easy to get to. I love Bermuda