Name: Jonathan Wendel
Age: 67
Hometown: Ames, Iowa
Occupation: Professor of Botany and Evolutionary Genomics
Time Running: 47 years
Reason for Running: Running brings balance and validation to my day, as well as joy and a sense of accomplishment to my life.


In the mid-1970s, my roommates and I at the University of Michigan got caught up in the excitement of the first running boom. Then author and runner James Fixx gave us each a roadmap for how to be runners.

I entered my first 10K race in 1976 and was transfixed by the mass of humanity all striving to move forward at whatever pace they could muster. Shortly thereafter, Kathleen, a pediatrician and my wife of 43 years, and I got very busy with careers and kids and I fell off the running wagon. But then we rediscovered running about a decade later, and together found that we were natural training partners, that we could practice this great gift of running for fun, and importantly, for both of us, to ensure that we made time for each other in our busy lives.

More From Runner's World
 
preview for HDM All Sections Playlist - Runners World US

So together Kathleen and I developed our love of running—that was over 150 marathons and ultras ago! Running together with Kathleen through the decades has been my biggest blessing.

In the pre-internet era, we relied on Runner’s World and other print publications (books by Jeff Galloway, Hal Higdon, Tim Noakes, and more) to learn what we could about the very many dimensions of what it takes to make our way up the long learning curve. Early on we did many 5K and 10K races, found half-marathons in the early 1990s, and then we discovered marathons. This was followed by running a marathon in all 50 states, which we completed in 2011, the World Majors, which we completed in 2018, and many ultramarathons.

We have run marathons with a total of seven entrants, and marathons with more than 35,000 entrants, from home-spun trail races to global majors like Boston (10 times). I have little natural talent, but I have an abundance of dedication and drive. Kathleen, on the other hand, has the full package.

However, in 2018, I had a health scare that changed my life. I went to the dermatologist with a rash on my hand, which I thought might have been eczema, but I was instantly diagnosed with the autoimmune disease called dermatomyositis. This is a rare condition, characterized by the “dermato” part (rashes), and the more worrying “myositis” part, referring to muscles. I learned quickly about the typically awful outcomes, of terrible muscle wasting, the high frequency of associated cancers, and a life of steroids and immunosuppressants.

I was mortified, imagining that I would suffer a rapid plummet from an active marathoner to a greatly shortened and suffering life. Remarkably, today I am fine. But, at over four years post-diagnosis, I am officially in remission with no sign of active disease.

Why was I one of the lucky few? How did I manage to dodge the falling pianos? We can’t know for certain, but my expert rheumatologists can’t help but believe that my active lifestyle and healthy living habits have played a large role. One of my doctors called me “her success story,” which brought tears to my eyes. Whatever the reason for my present good health, I am very grateful.

jonathan wendel how running changed me
Jonathan and his wife Kathleen after finishing the Boston Marathon in 2018.
Courtesy Jonathan Wendel

Once diagnosed, running became my touchstone that I was “still out there,” and my benchmark that I could gauge my health through action. As important as running had been in my life prior to diagnosis, it gained more importance afterwards. The only difference between before and after my diagnosis, apart from my age, is that I now have to be diligent in avoiding the sun, which activates dermatomyositis. Accordingly, I buy UPF50 clothing and sunscreen by the case!

I still run five to six days a week, usually 40 to 45 miles total a week. I still have to work hard to qualify for Boston, but I just love running (with Kathleen, of course!) and that magical race remains the focus of my year. Kathleen and I love crazy races too, like the Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc, run in costume through the vineyards of Bordeaux in France, and off the beaten path trail races.

At my advancing age, I am slowing down. But I just redefine my age group as “over 65 balding botanist,” and I have little competition! It’s all about reframing, right? I feel utterly grateful for this gift—a gift that helps me be and continue to become (always a work in progress!) a better and more thoughtful and creative person, not to mention a healthier one.


These tips have made my running journey a success:

1. Take the long view

It’s a long life, and we are always changing as runners, with shifting capabilities and goals, as life’s circumstances dictate. Understanding this, how not everything needs to happen today, helps us surmount the inevitable roadblocks that life presents. I am continually amazed by what we can achieve, if we just don’t give up and if we take the long view.

2. Practice perseverance and gratitude

These two mental habits are worth their weight in gold. Perseverance helps us in every way, from training goals to overcoming injuries, to thinking about the big picture. Gratitude makes the whole journey more enjoyable, while taking us outside of ourselves to be more supportive of everyone around us, including but of course not limited to, other runners we encounter out on the road or in races.

3. Run for yourself and others

Persitude (that’s perseverance and gratitude!) requires personal focus and persistence in both goal setting and striving to achieve those goals. But reaching out to others in the global community of runners, one person at a time as you encounter them, enriches your own life, as well as the lives of other runners.

4. Focus on small steps

As an evolutionary biologist, I have found myself coaching beginning runners to think about incremental change, explaining how if they can add only one-quarter of a mile to a Sunday run this week, and then next week, and so forth, for a whole year, one year later they will find themselves running the once-thought-impossible 13 miler! Inside of almost everyone is a runner—even if it is in hibernation and not yet recognized as being present.


Jonathan’s Must-Have Gear:

Path Projects Sykes AT 5” Shorts: These have so many zippered pockets, they’re light and airy, and are great for everything from short training runs to ultramarathons.

New Balance Fuel Cell Rebel v2 Shoes: It’s hard to believe how much shoe technology has changed in the last few years. This is an example of an amazingly light and flexible neutral trainer, with a remarkable level of responsive cushioning, ever for 67.5-year-old legs.

Patagonia Long-Sleeved Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt: This includes UPF fabric for those of us who need to avoid too much sun exposure. Plus, it’s a super-lightweight, fast-drying and odor-free shirt—just great for all workouts, even speed sessions.


We want to hear how running changed you! Send your story and submit your photos to us via this form. We’ll pick one each week to highlight on the site.

This content is imported from OpenWeb. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.