At 70, Burnsville runner remains competitiveby Chris Dall, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — At an age where most people are counting their retirement dollars, Thom Weddle of Burnsville is counting miles. And he's not about to stop.
Weddle, 70, ran more than 1,200 miles last year, despite battling some injuries. He's already put in more than 500 miles so far this year. Whatever the conditions, Thom Weddle regularly runs five to six days a week, and puts in around 25 miles per week.
But Weddle is not just a recreational jogger. In 35 years of running, Weddle has run 27 marathons, countless 10k and 5k races, and competed in scores of track meets.
In fact, he'll be competing in the 2009 USA Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championships this weekend in Oshkosh, Wis., racing against other 70-year-olds in the 800, 1,500 and 5,000 meter races.
Weddle has won 34 masters division championships in his competitive racing career. The masters division is for runners over the age of 35, and is broken up into age groups. Weddle is currently in the age 70-74 group. Weddle won an 8k cross country race in his age group back in February, and a 3,000 meter indoor track race in March.
Weddle says he didn't start running until he was 35. He was in the Air Force Reserve at the time, and he wanted to lose some weight. So he took up a physical fitness program that included jogging.
That was in the mid-1970s, and America was in the midst of a jogging boom. But he soon discovered that he couldn't even jog a mile. "That was the incentive," he said.
Within a few years, Weddle went from not being able to jog a mile to running competitively. Of his very first race, Weddle says "I didn't do all that bad. I didn't do terrible, but I didn't do great. I got a finisher's T-shirt and I thought, 'Hey, that's kind of neat.'"
Weddle says his interest in racing mushroomed from there, and he soon started running races every month.
"I discovered I had some talents in that particular area that I didn't realize I'd had," he said.
By the time he hit his early 50s, Weddle had hooked up with a track coach and a group of older runners, and was starting to win races in his age group.
"It was around 1992, 1993 when I really started winning. And it was when I hit 55, 56 when I had my glory years and was running extremely well," he said.
His best 5k time during that period was 17:02.
Weddle has slowed down a bit since then, but not a whole lot. He recently ran a 5k in California in 20:55. But with the age-grading system that is used by the Masters Track and Field Committee of USA Track & Field, Weddle and other runners his age can still compete against younger runners.
Age grading is a way of putting all runners on a level playing field. So Weddle's time in a given race, when adjusted for his age, might come out to be a better performance than that of a 45-year-old who ran a faster time.
While Weddle recognizes that he is something of an anomaly, he doesn't necessarily see himself as special.
"I think I am doing things that a lot of people couldn't. But a lot of people, if they put their minds to it, I'm sure they could make a lot of strides," said Weddle. "You don't have to run. But with any kind of activity, the old 'use it or lose it' definitely prevails."
Weddle also says he thinks the fact the he came to running late made a difference.
"I came into it basically injury-free," he said.
And Thom Weddle says he has no plans to stop running.
"As long as it's fun, and I can still run. Somebody may not be able to tell that I'm running, but as long as I'm running in my mind, I have no plans to quit."