Gene Dykes and the late Ed Whitlock are the only two people 70 years or older known to have run under three hours in a marathon.
Les Disher hopes to be the third.
“There’s fewer people that have done that than have gone to the moon,” the 68-year-old Courtenay runner said.
Whitlock, an English-born Canadian who died in 2017, holds the 70-plus marathon record with a time of 2:54:48. Dykes was 30 seconds away from breaking the mark at the 2018 Toronto Marathon. It appeared he had broken the record at a subsequent race in Florida, but his 2:54:23 did not stand because the course was not sanctioned for record-breaking.
“When he (Dykes) was 68, he ran about the same time as I did in my last race,” said Disher, who ran 3:07:28 at the Skagit Flats Marathon, Sept. 8 Burlington, Wash. He finished 12th overall and first out of nine men in the 60-69 age group.
“When I talked to my coach (Philadelphia resident John Goldthorp) about it, I told him what I was hoping to do,” Disher said. “I usually have a goal, and I managed to achieve it within about five seconds of what I predicted. I had a plan for how I was going to run it, and I managed to hold the paces fairly well that I was looking at.”
He achieved a negative split in Burlington by running the second half of the race about a minute-and-a-half faster than the first half.
“I really like the course. I like the small town feel of the race, too.”
Disher happened upon Goldthorp’s name after reading about Dykes, 71, who hails from Philadelphia.
“Since he’s the only coach on the planet that I know of that’s successfully got a guy through that, I had a chat with him and he’s taken me on,” said Disher, who communicates with Goldthorp by phone and email. “He’s an amazing coach. He seems to have me pegged pretty well. I guess the epiphany that I’ve had is that, in comparison, I’m a rotten self-coach. He’s amazing. The difference is striking.”
Disher was pleasantly surprised in June when he ran just shy of an hour-and-a-half at the Vancouver Half Marathon.
“It wasn’t a terribly fast time all things considered, but it was a very successful and fast enough time.”
After running the Victoria Marathon Oct. 13, Disher plans to compete in a race at the end of January in Redding, Cal.
“I want to do this distance routinely, and have it feel like 15k or half marathon. I want to become really familiar with it and comfortable with it so it’s something I can do anytime.”
He turns 70 on May 27 in 2021. His first crack at the three-hour mark will likely be the Skagit Flats Marathon.
“The time goes by quickly,” Disher said. “You blink six times and you’re there. I have a lot to do in that time. But I’m in one piece and feeling pretty optimistic.”