During the 2010 Boston Marathon I noticed a striking runner next to me as I passed through Natick. He caught my immediate attention because he was fully engaged in the race. He was absolutely cruising and as smooth as silk. It didn’t go unnoticed that he also appeared to have a couple of decades on me.
I was taken by him and engaged him in conversation. I complimented him on his form (always the running coach) and how well he was running. We discovered we were aiming for the same time goal so we ran together for quite some time.
We have remained in touch and I discovered his coach is a friend of mine, Roger Rouiller. Roger recruited me as a New Balance Tech Rep. in the early 80’s, during the first running boom. It was an exciting time in the world of running.
This article appeared in a recent Running Times…I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy my friendship with Johnny “O”.
At 71, Johnny Ouweleen is setting personal bests. In the Jacksonville Bank Marathon on Dec. 18, the former New Jersey state trooper improved his marathon best to 3:20:17, winning the 70-and-over division by nearly 40 minutes while also topping all 60-plus competitors. His previous best was 3:21:49, set just a little over two months earlier in the Twin Cities Marathon, which also served as the national championship for masters. Earlier in the year, he ran 3:24.45 in the Boston Marathon.
“I was really hoping to go under 3:20 in Jacksonville,” Ouweleen says, “but I’m not disappointed. I’ll take any improvement. It gives me something to shoot for in the next marathon.”
So how does someone in his eighth decade of life continue to improve? Initially, Ouweleen thought he might be defying the aging process, but he’s come to understand that the gains from adaptation–the strengthening and molding of the body to the demands of the sport–generally run ahead of the losses to aging during the first five to 10 years of running. At some point, the aging curve overtakes the adaptation curve, and times become slower. But other factors can produce faster times as one ages, including more intelligent training, more fine-tuning before a race, smarter racing and selecting faster courses.
Ouweleen’s success appears to be a result of all those factors. He became a competitive runner in 2006, after his wife passed away the previous year. Before then, his running was limited to about 5 miles a week in preparation for the annual 1.5-mile physical fitness test required for his state trooper job. “And that was only for a month or two before the test,” he explains, adding that he usually covered the mile and a half at 9-to 10-minute pace, although he ran the Pompton Lakes Labor Day 5K several times during the 1990s, with a best time of 23:28 in 1999.
When he joined a marathon training group sponsored by a running specialty store in July 2006, Ouweleen, who’s 6 feet tall, weighed 207. By the time he toed the line for the Space Coast Marathon in Cocoa, Fla., that November, he was down to 185 pounds and finished the race in 3:39:43. “When he started I didn’t dream he would ever be able to beat guys like Joe Burgasser,” says Roger Rouiller, Ouweleen’s coach. (Burgasser, a former Age-Group Ace, was a top masters runner for more than 30 years.) “He was a big-boned 200-plus-pound guy. He seemed to me to be ambitious and excited, but a plodder I thought, lacking in speed and natural talent.”
For the 2008 Boston Marathon, which he finished in 3:27:53, Ouweleen was down to 175 pounds while training just three days a week and averaging 40 miles a week. “After I cut out alcohol on September 1, 2008, I dropped another 10 pounds,” he says.
Even with having shed those extra pounds, however, Ouweleen seemed to be stuck at 3:27 in the marathon, running 3:27:41 in the 2009 Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon and 3:27:24 in the 2010 Boston Marathon. But then he came under the tutelage of Rouiller, a standout masters runner for many years. “Roger urged me to do no less than 50 miles per week while remaining on the three-day-a-week schedule,” Ouweleen continues. “I followed his recommendation, placing third and first American [in the 70-74 age group] at New York City . I felt comfortable with 50 miles and bumped it up into the 60s. This past summer, Roger suggested I try a fourth day of training and my weekly totals jumped into the 70s.”
Three weeks before the Jacksonville race, Ouweleen cut out the Friday 10-miler he’d been doing and went back to running three days a week. (See the training sample below.) “I didn’t want to chance any injuries,” he explains.
Whether he’s fully adapted and reached the point where the aging curve overtakes the adaptation curve, Ouweleen has no way of knowing. He doubts that he can or wants to do more training than he’s been doing and he feels that 154 pounds–the weight he raced Jacksonville at–is as light as he can go without losing strength. Moreover, as far as race conditions go, the Jacksonville race was flat and cool and about as ideal as he can hope for. Nevertheless, Ouweleen and Rouiller are optimistic that he can continue to improve by better pacing himself. “He ran the first 15K at Boston last year like an absolute madman,” Rouiller offers. “Had he run the first 15K a bit more civilized, he would no doubt have run a faster time.”
Ouweleen repeated the mistake in Jacksonville, running the first half in 1:36:24, although a tailwind helped push him along. “I get caught up in the excitement of the race, the adrenaline is flowing, and I don’t like to be elbowed,” he says about his fast starts. “I know I have to work on that and keep the restraints on.”
After testing himself in the national masters half marathon championships in Melbourne, Fla., on Feb. 5, Ouweleen will shoot for another personal best in Boston in April.
Here’s how Ouweleen trained midway between the 2011 Twin Cities and Jacksonville marathons, beginning Nov. 22.
TUESDAY: 20 miles, including warm-up, 2 x 1 mile on track (6:44, 6:40), 1 x 1200m (5:08), 1 x 400m (1:25), 4-mile cool-down on track, followed by easy 10 miles at 9:30 to 10:30/mile pace on the road.
THURSDAY: 20 miles at 9:30 to 10:30 pace with some random tempo runs, fartlek and sprints (3 hours total).
FRIDAY: 10 miles at 9:45/mile pace.
SUNDAY: 20 miles, including 4 times up and down a bridge causeway of about 1 mile at 90 percent effort.
BORN: July 14, 1940 LIVES: Sebastian, FL
PERSONAL BESTS 5K: 22:20 (2011 Boston Marathon, en route) 10K: 44:47 (2011 Boston Marathon, en route) 15K: 1:07:15 (2011 Boston Marathon, en route) HALF MARATHON: 1:35:45 (2011 Boston Marathon, en route) 25K: 1:54:34 (2011 Boston Marathon, en route) MARATHON: 3:20:17 (2011 Jacksonville Bank Marathon)