Coach Dahl to run Boston Marathon

Dennis Dahl during the Coeur d’Alene marathon in Idaho this past May.  - Contributed photo
Dennis Dahl during the Coeur d’Alene marathon in Idaho this past May.
— image credit: Contributed photo

The race was 100 kilometers up 17,000 feet into the French Alps. Runners endured rain and snow and raced throughout the night.

Dennis Dahl was among those brave and, maybe a little insane, athletes facing extreme conditions.

Dahl describes himself during the race as “mostly happy,” but at one checkpoint, where he stopped for a hot drink, he felt his temperature start to drop. He pulled his hat around his freezing ears and walked out into the rain and blowing wind. In front of him a few young people were laughing and singing. He told himself, “Come on old man.”

“Their spirits lifted me up,” he said. “That was a magical moment.”

After 23 hours and 11 minutes, Dahl finished the race, which is called the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. It was to be one of two great physical accomplishments for the year. Several months earlier, in May, he completed the Coeur d’Alene marathon in just about four hours, making him eligible, in his age bracket, for the Boston Marathon, a much sought after 26.2-mile race. But he had to wait until the end of September to find out that he had officially qualified to participate in the Boston Marathon. When he got the message, he immediately printed out the email and put it on the fridge.

“Really, it’s a big deal,” he said. “I’ve always been excited to have a chance to do it.”

Dahl estimates that he has finished four or five marathons. Last year he ran the Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon with his son and daughter.

At age 65, Dahl’s philosophy is “if you keep moving they can’t get you” and he doesn’t plan to slow down – life is too fragile.

“You get to be my age and you don’t know what could go wrong and you might not get to run anymore,” he said.

In 2009, Dahl retired after 20 years of leading the Vikings football team. At the end of 2011 he also retired from his position as the fourth through 12th grade physical education teacher.

But that hasn’t stopped his zest for physical activity. Prior to the ultra-trail race in August, Dahl spent nine months training with his friend and San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord.

A typical weekend for the two friends consisted of running four hours on Saturday, three hours on Sunday and shorter runs on the weekdays.

Sometimes they traveled to San Juan Island, the North Cascades National Park or right up to Mount Constitution.

But Dahl also spends time alone on the trail, running up to five hours.

“It’s a long time to be with yourself,” he said. “You really have to like yourself.”

It also presents a time to get a different perspective on life. During long runs, Dahl has found himself stopping to look at scenes like the light filtering through the trees.

“You kind of come along and see something and say, ‘holy smokes,’ that is really cool or beautiful,” he said.

He added that during these training sessions is when you find out about yourself and what kind of challenge you are able to face.

“The secret is to get out every day, get back soaked and say, ‘I’m in charge. I’m not going to let the weather get me down,’” he said.

All that work paid off when he completed the 100 kilometer race in France and decided that if he was going to have a chance to get a spot in the Boston Marathon he needed to act fast. So he did.

The Boston Marathon is April 15. For the next few months, Dahl will continue training and run a few shorter local races in between.

“It is a kind of a once in a lifetime thing,” he said.

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