Q&A with WR man Gary Patton: Hall of Famer was a late bloomer

Gary’s world medals include Perth bronzes at 800, 1500 and 5000.

I’ve seen barrel-chested Gary Patton run many times, but never buttonholed him for a chat. He had a game face up or was warming down. But after he added an M70 mile indoor WR and was inducted into the Masters Hall of Fame, I had no choice. I emailed him and he graciously consented to a Q&A. One of my usual questions yielded an unusual answer. I asked about his youth PRs, expecting to hear national-class marks. Nope. Gary wrote: “I was undersized (I actually grew after high school, but you wouldn’t think so looking at me) and a very late bloomer as a kid. Only athletic involvement was as a student trainer. Only memorable achievement related to high school was that I was elected to the Athletic Hall of Fame by my school, 51 years after graduating, for my achievements as a master athlete. I’ve lived in my old hometown (Rock Rapids, Iowa) all my life – I’m known in my little burg as ‘the runner.’”Now he’s known as Hall of Famer. “Induction was pretty humbling,” he said. “I honestly believed several of those in the running deserved it more than I. I still consider myself a newbie to track and field — still have a lot to learn — and now a big honor to earn.”

My chat with Gary.

Masterstrack.com: How did you choose Armory race for WR attempt? Do you stay with friends or pay for hotel?

Gary Patton: Running friends convinced me the Armory track is one of the fastest tracks in the world. This was my third time at the Armory, and now I’m a believer.

I got up at 3 a.m. on the Dec. 7 to get to the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, airport for my early flight to LaGuardia, with a Chicago stopover. I got a late lunch on arrival, went to my hotel for a nap, and arrived at the Armory about 6 p.m. Races started at 7 p.m., and my event was about 7:45. Went out to dinner at Coogan’s with running buddies and got back to hotel around midnight. Took a noon flight back to Sioux Falls on the 8th, walking back into my house about 7 p.m.

Will you make other mile record attempts this coming season, or try other events? Which ones?

I was interviewed by John Kissane yesterday and he asked me if I intended to go after Joop Ruter’s outdoor mile record. He reminded me it was 5:19.75.

I told him I thought that’s way beyond my ability. But then I thought about it for a couple hours and went to the Hayward Classic website to see when that race is scheduled for next year. Turns out it’s May 6.

They always have an age-graded mile at that event. What the hell, why not go and see what happens? I got the outdoor 3000 American record there last year, but that was a relatively soft one. The indoor 3000 will be my first race at Landover in March. I’ll probably give a go at that record — after all, I planned on going anyway, and nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What are your chances of beating Joop’s outdoor WR of 5:19.75?

Slim to none. But I’ve failed before to meet some high goal and it hasn’t killed me yet. And what business does a European have holding the mile record?

What are your major meets in 2018? Spokane? Malaga?

Gary won 3000 gold and 800, 1500 and 4×200 silver at Daegu indoor worlds.

Indoor and outdoor masters champs, Hayward Classic, and a 3200-meter relay somewhere, where several of us M70s are conspiring to take down a world record for that. Malaga is a maybe.

Was your WR noted by Armory announcer — during or after the race?

Not during the race, but a buddy told me it was announced afterward, but he thought they said American record, not world. I was in my own zone right after the race — blown away by the fact that I’d done it, after trying and failing at the Armory last March and then falling 4 seconds behind my goal pace this time around at the half and then picking up 5 seconds to the finish.

How did you celebrate the indoor WR?

Dinner at Coogan’s — and I’m still celebrating. I’ve celebrated with each congratulatory email from the likes of Paul Carlin (The Running Professor), John Kissane, John Seto and Amby Burfoot. Oh, and even Ken Stone! Also as the congrats come in from family and Facebook friends.

Related to Mel Patton? Have any stellar track relatives?

Not related to Pell Mell (had to look him up), that I know of. Not related to the general, either. No big sports stars in the family. Just stout German immigrants, mostly. My great grandfather walked with his dad across the prairie from Northern Illinois to central Iowa in the mid-1850s behind a team of oxen and helped carve a farm out of the virgin prairie.

I saw how you do lots of weights. Can you give a sample lifting workout?

I do weights every third day, either at a local fitness center or at home with dumbbells. I use just about every weight machine at the center, and it’s well stocked. I start with 50 reps on most machines, add one weight, do 40, add a weight, do 30, add, then 20, … and by then I can usually do 10-15 more before I can’t do any more.

I know what weight to start with on each machine so that I can accomplish all sets, adding one weight to each set. So I get work done on upper body, core and legs — takes me about an hour 45 minutes, including a 10-15 minute warmup on the elliptical.

Think of everything you can do with dumbbells, and I do most. In addition to dumbbells, I do sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts, back arches, seated and standing knee raises, standing toe raises, heel lifts, bar twists, vacuums. All these exercises and the dumbbells take about an hour. Additionally, I combine this with a Swiss ball workout that’s pretty comprehensive — takes another hour.

Gary wore his cool-guy shades at Perth.

What do you do for a living — or what was your career track?

I worked 42 years for an engineering company in my hometown, starting as a civil engineering technician and then, after completing my engineering degree, as a project engineer and project manager in public water supply and treatment. Have been retired for 5 years.

Who is your support system? Wife, kids, cats, dogs or coaches?

My biggest fan and supporter is my wife, Barbara. She’s stuck with the sweaty laundry from my daily workouts and makes sure the closet is always stocked with clean gear — particularly in the winter months when I need multiple layers for running outside.

And she makes sure the fridge is always well-stocked and the table spread with all the health foods I think I can’t live without. Barb goes with me to the major competitions and makes sure everyone in shouting distance knows who to root for. She also doesn’t begrudge the money I spend on travel.

Long story short, she knows I’m happy when I’m high on endorphins and dreads the moods that can set in when I can’t maintain my fitness routine. And my kids don’t mind that I’m spending their inheritance on travel in search of those championships and records — at least that’s what they say.

If their friends and co-workers doubt what my kids say about my running, they’re told to just look me up on Google. Of course, the cat could care less and my old pooch is long gone — and couldn’t keep up with me when she got old.

I have a whole library of books written by coaches, but never had one in flesh and blood. I’ve always been a self-starter and not one to rely on others for advice — frequently to my detriment. But who knows my body better than me?

I certainly can’t leave out my running friends, most of whom are also fierce competitors, when it comes to support. The very guys I struggle with the hardest to see who’s fastest are the ones who are always wishing me the best.

What drives you to excel in track post-70?

Ego. But not only that — the more success I have. the more likely I’ll stay with my fitness routine, diet and healthy habits. I shudder to see the shape so many of the people my age are in and think, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

How long will you stay in the game?

My two boys are in their mid-30s and I’ve told them they’ll need to take me to the championships after they retire, as I may need a little help by then.

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December 15, 2017

3 Responses

  1. Bob Morris - December 19, 2017

    Great interview!

  2. Patrick Haines - December 22, 2017

    One of the nicest guys and with Barb nicest couples you could ever hope to meet. Despite what Leo Durocher said, this nice guy often finishes first.

  3. Tim Lambrecht - January 9, 2018

    Great story! I remember reading about and marveling at the record. Keep it up Gary!

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