Age-defying marathon man, 74, running strong

?Ageless Riverside resident has competed in four marathons in four years.

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By CHRIS PUMMER

At an age when some people begin to think about walkers and canes, Don Krull is thinking about running shoes.

That's because the 74-year-old Riverside resident has taken up marathon running, competing in four such events since 2002. And health permitting, he will run many more. Mostly because he loves doing it, and loves meeting new people that share his interest.

"I've been able to strike up a lot of friendships with a lot of nice people," Krull said. "And it does attract all different kinds of people. It's a lot of fun and it gives me something to do."

Distance running was new to Krull when he went into full-time retirement four years ago. Up until that point he ran, but only over short distances on a quarter-mile track.

But at the suggestion of his daughter, Linda, Krull joined a runner's club in Glen Ellyn, and has been part of the running scene ever since.

While his age didn't present a physical barrier to starting up the new hobby, it did seem to present a mental block for others that learned of his intention to begin running marathons.

"I belong to the YMCA in LaGrange and there I hang out with guys my own age," Krull said. "I was ashamed to tell them I was running They thought I was nuts to be doing it, asking, 'What the hell is a guy your age doing running marathons?'

"This thing about being 74 is definitely a topic of conversation I'd prefer we forget about," he continued. "I went through that when I first joined, now it's over with. Now I want other runners to forget about my age and accept me as one of them."

Krull proved all of his doubters and disbelievers wrong once he started training for his first marathon in 2002. He trained the way everyone else did?"by building himself up a little at a time.

"You run a certain distance, then you pull back, then go forward again," Krull said. "If you feel good you keep going, if not you hold back. It takes a good four months for anyone to get to the point that they can run a marathon."

In addition to his regular runs, Krull also put in his time in the weight room, building strength and stamina in his legs with repetition after repetition, not to bulk his legs up, but to get them ready to withstand hours of work at a time.

Krull would also run sprints, which he says helps keep your legs from building up the lactic acid that causes fatigue.

Fatigue is a factor for runners of all ages, and Krull said he was no different the first time he ran the Chicago Marathon in 2003.

"It's tough when you hit what's called the wall," Krull said. "That usually happens around 20 miles because that's all the distance you train up to right before a marathon. If you're a seasoned runner, you get to that point and it's like any other mile. But it's still tough, unless you're an elite runner.

"Even though it was tough, I did cross the finish line. I was glad to get that medal, and once you do that, you're hooked. You figure the next one is easier, and that's part of what keeps you going."

Krull finished in six hours and 59 seconds, though he said he was a little disappointed that he didn't finish with his five-hour pace group.

He would shave 48 minutes off that time in his next marathon in 2003. That was Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minn. Going back to the Chicago Marathon in 2004, Krull improved his course time there to 5:22.

Most recently, Krull finished the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati on May 1. His time was 5:36 on the hilly terrain, but that course may have taken its toll on him.

Krull says that for now his marathon season might come to a premature end because of plantar fasciitis, a condition where overwork causes microtears to develop in the band of tissue (the plantar fascia) that connects your heel bone to the ball of your foot.

"I've had to cut back, no doubt about it," Krull said. "Right now in my training program I'm supposed to be up to 12 miles, but the most I've done is eight. That's four miles off pace, and as time goes on I'm getting farther behind. So if I do anything this fall, it will be a half marathon."

But the injury will probably be just a small setback for Krull. A friend from his runner's group who also had the injury at one time lent Krull a special boot that stretches the muscles and tendons, helping them heal. And Krull adds that the injury is improving a little bit at a time.

Though more marathons are on tap once he's fully healed, Krull is probably through running the Chicago Marathon. After doing it twice, he's ready to move on to something different.

"It's good to do different marathons because it gets you to do a little traveling," Krull said. "It's fun to go somewhere and stay overnight and see a different place."

More than anything, Krull wants to keep running because of the camaraderie he's found with his fellow runners. He likes the lifestyle, he likes meeting the people and he feels like he has a whole new world of friends since he started distance running.

In fact, Krull would encourage anyone who's considered distance running to give it a try, even if they don't feel like they're the athletic-type.

"I didn't participate in sports and I wasn't an athlete," Krull said. "In fact, I still wouldn't consider myself an athlete. That's the thing about running. You don't have to be an athlete. You just have to have the will power to do the proper training.

"It has its own rewards," he added. "I'm just lucky I fell in with such a great group of people. That really helps you endure and it really keeps it fun."

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