Rogue of the Week – Darris

What is your favorite distance and why?

My favorite because it is over more quickly is the half marathon, but favorite for the challenges it presents is the marathon. I have done more than 200 marathons, so it would seem like I love them, but I think I really love the feeling after they are over and I have overcome my fears (yes, I get them every time I do one!) and I am filled with a sense of accomplishment. The half has been fun because I am better at racing them, so there is an added level of joy from finishing well.

What do you struggle with most in running?

My confidence. I have forever pitted myself against others, in the field that day, people I know including my brother who is a very good runner, and of course myself, particularly my past self. Sure, competition is good for you, but I am a bit too hard on myself. I am always trying to take into account the joys that come from just doing races, and after more than 30 years, I am starting to come around.

Do you rotate shoes and if so what is in your current rotation?

Yes, I rotate them over and over in an elliptical fashion, mostly along pavement, until they wear out, and then I get a new pair. I usually switch shoes after 350-400 miles. I always know when it is time because my right hamstring starts to get sore on runs and the outside edge of the heel on my right shoe gets worn down, signaling it is time to get a new pair.

Do you have a mantra that you use when you are racing/training?

I have had many mantras in my years of running. One is F-O-R-M … focus on running motion. But usually my mind is more like, “O-M-G – why did I go out too fast again! I am dying! I am at mile 2 and I already want to drop!” … But then I turn to my go-to as of late – “get into your wheelhouse.” It is the place, the pace, where I feel comfortable, where I am not working too hard where I can’t hold it, but hard enough where I am feeling it. The wheelhouse changes as I get farther along into training, and eventually becomes race pace!

Do you ever feel unmotivated to train & if so how do you overcome it?

Nah, more than 30 years of doing this thing almost every day is a piece of cake … yeah right! I struggle weekly, always have a day or days here and there where I don’t want to go for a run. And it is a fine line, because, while I like to run in the late afternoon, there are often days that my motivation wanes by then and I struggle to get out. And I never know which day will be like that, and I will be all like, “why didn’t I go in the morning?” But I don’t like going in the morning, especially when it is colder, although I am pretty good about it in warmer weather. Very complicated, I know. Whenever I struggle, I invariably go with the thought that I know I will feel better if I get this done! And I also initially plan for less miles than I had intended, so I will have an easier time of completing the run … and then I go farther (if I planned 8, I will tell myself, just go 5, and then when I get to 5 I usually end up going at least 6, 7 or the originally planned 8).

What is the best thing running has given you?

I owe pretty much everything to running. I met my wife Star at the Pittsburgh Marathon, when I was in charge of the pace team and she wanted to run with us. I proposed to her at a marathon start line (Las Vegas, 2003), then took off and didn’t see her for hours! For 10 years I have been blessed to work full time in the running industry, with many more years actively involved through marketing and the aforementioned pace teams (first with White Castle Striding Slyders at Columbus, plus many years at New York, and with Clif Bar). And even with all of that, I probably owe the greatest thanks to running for keeping me alive. It has given me health and wellness beyond measure, helps keep my stresses in check, and my mind balanced.

What is your favorite race you have participated in and why?

I have so many favorites! Cleveland Marathon was awesome when I PR’d (2:44:55). I trained so hard, with more than 20, 100-plus-mile weeks, awesome workouts and a great weather day. But I also loved my 4-mile leg of the Akron Marathon relay in 2017, when our master’s team won the entire relay! Running behind the lead car from miles 16-20 was so cool, and passing off the baton to my brother with a 2-minute cushion and knowing his speed would carry us to the win was awesome! NYC in 2004, the first time pace teams were ever offered at this iconic race, was one of the most memorable, in part because I was so exhausted after all the work of managing (with my wife) 30 pacers, three starting lines, and the rigors of the New York Marathon experience, that I actually committed myself to get the job done or die trying. I paced 3:15, and made it (and wrote an article for “Marathon & Beyond” called, “The Marathon That Almost Killed Me”). You would think Boston would be on the list, since I have done it 13 times, but I have struggled all but once, and that was 2007, when I broke 3 hours and didn’t wear a watch! I always put so much pressure on myself at Boston! The Badwater Ultramarathon across Death Valley isn’t my favorite as far as joyfulness is concerned, but it is the most important because I stopped and laid down five times – and got up five times. The race is 135 miles, and the temperature topped out at 130 degrees. Quitting would have been accepted. But it was on the actual day of my 50th birthday and I had collected money for charity – there was no way I wasn’t finishing!

How did you get started in running?

After college, I started to gain a little weight. I wanted to stay in shape, and I was not going to stop eating BBQ, snacks, etc., so I got into running for fitness. I was always pretty good at longer distances, like for high school football when we would run laps and I was always first, but I didn’t really do anything with it back then (much to my chagrin, one of our football coaches was also the track coach – why didn’t he encourage me to run instead of play football? Oh wait, my 5-foot, 8-inch tall, 142-pound frame was so right for football!) I actually got my first taste of running in the 70s, when the “jogging” boom happened after the 1972 Olympics and Frank Shorter won the marathon in Munich. My aunt, who got me and my brother into hiking when we were youngsters, took me out on my first run! I still recall that jog down California Avenue in Akron! My previously mentioned brother Damon also inspired me. He ran in junior high and high school, then ran track and cross country at the University of Akron. I jokingly take credit for his success because, as the older brother, I used to chase him and beat him up, but eventually he was able to outrun me! My first race was the Cleveland 10K, and I broke 1 hour. The next month I ran 50 minutes for a 10K, and the next, 45. I figured, just a few more races and I will be world class! Funny but the times don’t drop as easy the longer you stay in it! My first marathon was Columbus in 1991. So proud that I am now Race Director of my first one!

What is your favorite running workout?

The ones that brought me the most success are marathon tempo runs 15-20 seconds faster than goal pace. When I was trying to break 3 hours for the first time, this was my bread-and-butter workout. I built up over time to 18 miles on the Grandview Heights High School track doing this, and it worked! I also like a workout that I read about used by Mark Plaatjes, a South African runner who won Columbus in 1988 – it is 10 X 1 mile, with 1 minute rest between, at goal marathon pace. The thinking is, if you can’t do this workout somewhat comfortably (sure, still working, but not dying at the end) then you won’t be able to hold the pace for all 26.2. I have done all the other workouts out there at one time or another, and in the end, they all are about the same thing – running faster and harder than you will in a race, and that is what training is about. I know I need to do more hills – I have never liked them, but they really can make a difference!

How many marathons have you run?

221 as of February 2019. But I don’t golf, so I have a lot of free time. I am sometimes asked if I have done all 50 states, but I haven’t, and really don’t aspire to try. I have done many of the same races, such as Columbus 15 times, and was blessed to have paced more than 100 times for Clif Bar, which covered the costs to travel and run all over, including many of the same ones year after year. I never set out for any high number, it just happened.

Who is your favorite professional runner?

I don’t really look at individual professionals with any sense of awe, but I like to follow the sport. I do think I would have been enamored back in the day with Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian marathoner who ran without shoes and won the marathon (in world-record time) at the 1960 Rome Olympics. I certainly respect what professionals do, and am amazed by their talents, though! My wife and I had the opportunity to do a training run with Meb back when he came to Columbus in the summer of 2014. He was training for New York after having won Boston that spring, and asked if we could help him with a speed workout. We met at the Hills Market end of the bike trail, and he did 6 X 1 miles on the path, with a minute rest between. He said he wasn’t sure how he was feeling so would just give it a go, and ended up averaging 4:45 per mile! Star was on a bike working hard to stay ahead of him, while I was just happy to mark the quarter miles! He was so smooth, as we all have seen, and yet faster than I have ever gone for even one mile! So yeah, he might be my favorite … I also like Vanderlei de Lima, the Brazilian marathoner who took third place at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He was the one who was in the lead when late in the race a guy jumped out of the crowd and tackled him! Star, myself and some friends even held a fun run in his honor, the Vanderlei de Lima 50-miler and Festival of Races. No one could finish better than third place, and the event was only held for three years. Get it? A friend from Brazil who lived in the same village before emigrating told Vanderlei about the event during a visit, and he wrote us a nice letter of thanks for acknowledging him!

What are the craziest race conditions you have had to endure?

If you had asked me in March 2018, my answer would be 2016 Cleveland. It was my 200th marathon, and I almost bagged it to try for another day! It was cool and windy at the start, and then it started to get colder and sleet, then snow, then there was thunder, rain, more snow, and so on – all on May 15!
I had run in bad conditions before, like in Ogden, Utah when I was pacing and it was so cold and rainy, with a headwind of about 40 miles per hour, that I actually considered breaking into a school we passed at mile 7 and calling for a ride! I had done Cleveland when it was 90 degrees, and Columbus in 1995 when I (along with thousands of others) were hoping to qualify for the 100th Boston the following year) and it was snowing sideways. So, I had my share of running in bad weather. But Cleveland was in a class by itself.
Until Boston 2018, that is. My brother and I had opted to take a charter bus to the start, so we walked from our hotel near the Finish Line across the Charles River to Harvard. The rain was already in sheets, and we were hammered by the wind on the bridge over the river and soaking wet before we boarded! I dried my gloves to some degree on the bus heater vent, and I sat on the bus until well past the time we were to head to the corrals. I had to run past hundreds of people to get into my corral and just as I arrived we were off! Like Cleveland, I had long wind pants on, plus a jacket wrapped around my waist, and was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a hat and the now damp gloves. At mile 2 there was a family crowded under a small pop-up tent on the right side; I dashed under it, said hello, and put my jacket back on. From time to time I would unzip the jacket part way to let off some heat, only to zip it tight to fight back the rain and wind and cold. We ran through deep puddles and rivers of water cutting across the road, with the rain going from steady to heavy about every mile or so. When I finished I didn’t even walk all the way through the chute, but saw an opening through which a police officer was guiding a friend, so I jumped in behind. I was shaking so bad by the time I walked into my hotel that if I hadn’t taken the short cut I might have ended up in medical.

Do you have a goal race you haven’t done yet and why do you want to do it?

I would like to do Rome or Paris, because they are amazing places to see on foot anyway, and I think one in an old-world city like Budapest or Prague or Vienna would be awesome! I have done pretty much everything I have wanted in the U.S., thanks again to Clif Bar, but I wouldn’t mind racing some of them rather than pacing, like Ogden, or St. George, or LA. Not sure about New York – I only paced it, eight times total, and it is difficult! But maybe I will give it a go (at least the lottery, first!) I am looking to go back to Boston 2020, too, so I can move past the cold, wet memories of my “lucky” thirteenth run there!

Do you listen to music while you run and if so, what music gets you pumped up for a race?

I have only listened to music while racing once, the Toledo Marathon. It was already a smallish field, and I tend to end up alone in races, so it helped get through some of the otherwise quiet parts. When doing training runs I don’t listen to music, but oftentimes when just going for a regular run I will wear my I-pod. I like older music (many of the artists in my playlist are dead!). Genres range from rock to punk to reggae to country to R & B to pop. Favorite: Thunderstruck. It is even my phone ringtone. I inherited it when I became Race Director of Columbus, and we will keep it as long as I am around!