This conversation started on February 9th, 2019. Quitters never win.
Mike, how young are you?
I turned 60 in August of 2018.
What has life been like for you since you crossed the 50-year old line?
That is an interesting question. As I reflect back to where I was in life, at that time, I realize that there have been many changes in my life since turning 50, ten and a half years ago. The company I had been with for over 20 years went out of business and since then, I have had three different jobs. I went from sitting behind a desk, managing three departments of the largest home builder in Minnesota, to crawling on my knees, ripping out wet carpet from a flooded homes and office buildings.
My wife and I raised eight kids together, ranging in ages from 26 to 43. Since turning 50, we have had our fair share of ups and downs with all of them.
We have watched our youngest turn into adults and our older ones become parents and grandparents, themselves. To date, we have eighteen grandchildren and one great grandchild.
As far as my running goes—my times fell off considerably. In my 40’s, I was running 5K’s in the low 17’s and 10K’s in the mid 35’s. In my 50’s, I was happy when I got my 5K’s under 19 and my 10K’s under 40. My marathon times went up as well. From ages 40 to 49, I ran 25 marathons with 11 of them under 3 hours. I ran 29 marathons from ages 50 to 59 with only 2 under 3 hours. Of course, 5 of those marathons were in the New England Challenge where I ran 5 marathons in 5 days in 5 different states, all under 3:30. Also included in that number is the VT50—a 50 mile race in the mountains of Vermont that almost killed me. I did, however, change to a different running plan in recent years, which has revitalized my running and enabled me to run a sub 3 hour marathon as a 59 year old and my first marathon as a 60 year old.
It’s funny, when I first started thinking about this question, I was thinking what a rotten decade it had been for me but after redirecting my memories to my kids and grandkids and the fact that I was able to run 29 marathons it wasn’t so bad, after all.
My first marathon as a 60 year old was my 4th fastest ever—I’m optimistic for the future.
You mentioned the company you had been with for over 20 years went out of business and, since then, you have had three different jobs. What did you learn about yourself during this time of change and adversity?
I learned that I liked sitting behind a desk more than I liked crawling around on my hands and knees. Seriously, as much as I disliked what I was doing, I liked the fact that I was in good enough shape to work alongside guys half my age. It also reinforced my belief that nobody should look down on a person’s job.
No matter how menial a job might seem to be, anybody who is working and doing their best at making a living deserves respect.
The VT50—a 50 mile race in the mountains of Vermont that almost killed you. I have to ask why did that race almost kill you?
The short answer is: I wasn’t properly trained. I ran a few back to back 25 and 30 milers through a fairly hilly wooded trail close to my home but nothing we have in Minnesota could have prepared me for those hills and roots and hills and rocks and hills, did I mention there were a lot of hills? If we weren’t climbing a steep hill, we were running down a steep hill. Those downhills really trashed my quads. I was actually running up the hills and walking down the hills because it hurt far less to run up than down. It was just demoralizing. I like to be running. If I ever do another ultra, it will be on nice, hard, flat pavement.
What is your relationship with aging?
This is another interesting question. I have never thought about having a “relationship” with age. I, actually, looked up the definition of “relationship” and found as a 3rd definition in Merriam-Webster as “a romantic or passionate attachment” and I realized that I have always romanticized about becoming older. I have always been a bit…okay…very vain about my appearance and I have always thought about how I will look when I turn 40, 50, 60, and now 70. I have been very blessed with a body that, so far, has responded fairy quickly with exercise and I wonder how long that will continue. Over the last 10 years, I have noticed more wrinkles in my legs and my pectoral muscles beginning to sag and I wonder how the next 10 years are going to affect my body. Because my races have age group divisions, I look at growing older as moving into a new age group. Being on the young end of the 60 year old age group, I look forward to dominating my division, although, I still have enough competitive spirit to go after the best overall placement I can get, too. I try very hard to not let getting older, let me get old.
“I try very hard to not let getting older, let me get old.” I love this thought. Can you explain how you achieve that beautiful idea?
Hard work! I think it’s easy to just allow yourself to settle for less and blame it on the aging process. Yes, my times have become slower in the 5k and 10K distances—but that doesn’t mean I have to stop trying to do my best. I have been blessed with the opportunity to help coach a high school cross country team. I don’t know all the scientific mumbo-jumbo about how to race a 5K cross country race. All I can do is lead by example. I intentionally do some of my harder workouts in front of them so they can see what it takes to achieve your goals. I want them to see that running is more than a sport to compete in during their time in high school. I want them to see that running is a way of life and can be done at any age. It is very gratifying to me when I can come back to them after completing a marathon and tell them that I went under 3 hours and I’m 60 years old.
Working hard to motivate those kids is a huge motivation for me.
Can you please give us an example of one of your harder workouts that you do in front of the kids you coach?
My interval workouts are a good example. To run a sub 3 hour marathon, my training plan calls to run my “strength” workouts, or one to three mile intervals at a 6:40 pace. I like to try to do them at 6:30. Often times, it works out that the kids are doing some kind of interval training, themselves, around our course on the school grounds. After doing my warm up with the kids, I will take off and start my own workout while staying on their course. This allows me to catch and push some of them as they’re making their way around the course and it also gives some of the faster guys someone to try to catch. The thing that’s really cool about it is—we encourage each other every time we pass each other and, I don’t know about them, but it really fires me up and I end up doing some of those intervals around 6:25.
I just want to point out you are 60-years young and running 6:25 intervals. I don’t have a question just pure admiration.
What do you think the kids make of you? Have they ever said anything?
Yes, I am very fortunate to coach some pretty caring kids. They support each other every day and they have said some very nice things to me. I think the nicest thing I’ve heard though, was from one of the kids’ sister.
We had a senior on our team, last year, who had done everything we had ever asked him to do in practices. He worked his butt off and had always made it clear that he wanted to qualify for State. He’s a great kid, but is very quiet. I have run with him a few times, over the years, and have tried to engage him in conversation, but he never really participates a whole lot. I just assumed he didn’t like me very much and would just rather that I leave him alone. We were at the Conference meet, this past year, and I was standing next to his sister. This was his last chance to make it to State. I told her, if only one kid from our team could qualify for State, I would want it to be her brother.
She said, “You know, he really looks up to you. Every time we see you running down the road, he tells us that he is going to be just like you. He wants to run marathons just like you.” I’m not sure I could have gotten a better compliment.
Hard work is hard. What is your mental approach to embracing the suck?
I was not gifted with sheer talent. I know that, if I want to be able to compete, I have to work harder than everybody else. If it’s below zero and I’m scheduled to run—I run. When it’s 95° and I’m scheduled to run—I run. When I come home at the end of long hard day at work and I’m scheduled for a run—I run. I just figure that there are very few people who are willing to suffer through the tough workouts and when I do, then I have gained a competitive advantage.
When I was in 10th grade, I quit the track team. This was my first year in high school and I spent the summer and fall getting my butt kicked in football. I spent the winter getting my butt kicked in wrestling and by the time track came around, I was tired of having my butt kicked. I spent the preseason just going through the motions and the day before our first meet, I told the coach that I quit. When I went home, my mom asked me why I was home so early and I told her that I had quit track. She looked at me with the most disappointed look I had ever seen and she said,
“Quitters never win.” When I find myself in a tough workout, or in a tough race, or in any tough situation, those words ring loud and clear in my head. I have never quit anything since. Now, that my mom is in heaven, I imagine her smiling when she sees me fighting through the “suck”.
Why do you think so few are willing to suffer or embrace the suck?
To put it simply—it hurts. I can’t fault anybody for not wanting to make themselves experience pain. I, sometimes, dread going to the track to do interval work because I know I’m going to suffer but I know that’s what I have to do to accomplish my goals.
I have personally found extreme joy in, around and after the suffering and suck. What is your experience?
A perfect example of this is my marathon last November. I went through some grueling workouts as the cross country kids cheered and encouraged me on. I experienced great joy knowing that I had worked hard, while at the same time, showing the kids what it looks like to work hard. Then, after 18 weeks of giving everything I had in my training, I went out and ran my 4th best marathon ever at the age of 60. As I sat with my son, enjoying a beer, later in the day, I felt extreme satisfaction knowing that I deserved that result because of the suffering I did in training.
Success is the reward for suffering.
You mentioned you’re age related vanity through the years. Obviously you are not alone, a lot of people suffer from and have those feelings. What’s the source of them for you? Strictly internal emotions or does society exasperate those emotions for you?
I remember as a 5 and 6 year old kid always trying to impress my father. I felt that he always expected me to be big and strong and tough. He labeled my baby picture from the hospital, “Iron Mike”. He would knock me across the room by punching me in the chest. It would knock the wind out of me and I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to appear weak in front of my dad. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. I went to 12 different schools. Always being the “new kid” and being the smallest boy in my class meant that I was picked on quite a bit. My dad would have been very disappointed in me if he knew all the times I hid from, or ran away from the kids who were trying to beat me up. I used to read the Charles Atlas ads in comic books that showed a big guy picking on a smaller guy on a beach and then, after doing whatever the ad was selling, the little guy turned into a muscular guy and came back and beat up the bigger guy. I figured, if I could build up my body, then kids would stop picking on me. I started lifting weights in 9th grade and, like I said, my body responded very quickly to the workouts. I loved the attention I received from having a muscular build. I was still the shortest kid in my class, but I was no longer the smallest. Knowing that I was never going to be very tall, if I wanted to stand out, I was going to have to make the best of what I had. After the birth of my first three kids, while I still wanted to impress my dad, it was even more important for me to impress my kids. I wanted my kids to have a father they could be proud of. Now, it’s the grandkids. I don’t want my grandkids to have an out of shape, old man for a grandpa.
I’m not sure if I really answered your question. I guess I’ve just always been motivated to maintain an athletic looking body so that my family would be proud of me.
Do you feel you made your father, and your children proud?
Yeah, I think so. My dad died, last year and, two days before he died, he told me that he was proud of me. He had told me he was proud of me before, but there was a different look in his eyes, this time. I actually believed him. As far as my kids—yeah, I think they are but I’m never going to stop trying.
I’m sorry about your dad. I just want to offer my compassion.
You raised 8 children. I am a father of 2, can you please elaborate on what it was like being a father to 8 humans?
I was lucky to maintain custody of my two daughters and son after my first wife and I divorced. I feel so blessed to have those three kids. We took care of each other. I was fairly strict with them, but they knew what I expected of them and most importantly, they knew that I loved them. After about three years of being alone I was introduced to a woman who was also raising two daughters and a son—all about the same ages as mine. We hit it off and a year later we joined our families—Brady Bunch style. I have always said that I felt I was a pretty good father but I kind of stunk at being a stepfather. I expected those kids to follow my rules and there was no budging on my end. After a year or two of that style, I had to back off and let my wife be more of the parent to her kids. Anyway—after a couple years of being married, we decided to have another child and then…well…why not have another. We then became, Eight is Enough.
Back to your questions about being a father to 8 humans: I like to think that I showed them love in everything I did. I was very involved with their sports—coaching most of them in soccer, or wrestling, or basketball, or cross country. I tried attending as many of their events and activities as I could. I loved being with them and I think they knew that. Believe me—I made a ton of mistakes—but I did my best at being the best dad I could be.
I love being a dad. As much as I love being a dad, however, the biggest wakeup call I ever got was realizing that, once you are a parent—you are ALWAYS a parent. I honestly thought that, once my kids turned 18 years old—that was it—I was done. Nope—it doesn’t work that way. There is not one single day that goes by that I don’t think about each one of them. When they were all at home, I could tuck them into bed and go to sleep knowing that they were all safe. I cannot tell you the hours of sleep I have lost over the years since they’ve been “on their own” wondering how they are doing.
You said when you first started thinking about the decade of 50 to 60 that it was a rotten decade. Why was that your initial answer?
When I think about the 50 to 60 decade, I tend to focus on the negatives, I guess. I lost a good paying job; my body seemed to be deteriorating right before my eyes; I was losing my speed; it was just a lot of those thoughts that raced through my head. After really thinking about what I had accomplished and everything I had to be thankful for, I realized that it wasn’t so bad, after all. I really need to focus on the positives more.
If you don’t mind me asking, why do you think you tend to focus on the negative?
I’m not sure why I tend to focus on the negative. I wish I had the answer to that one—if I did, I would certainly change. I have so much to be thankful for and there are so many good things that have come out of negative situations that you would think, by now, I would have changed.
I guess I’m still growing as a human being.
Very fearless and vulnerable thing to say. How do you foster that growth?
I think to continue to grow as a human being, a person has to keep an open mind and keep trying to learn. As I have gotten older, it has, actually, been easier for me to admit when I don’t know something or how to do something. I have also learned to accept that everybody is not alike and that we all have different pasts that have lead us to where we are in life.
Nobody has gotten to where they are without experiencing some kind of pain.
I recognize that I can be too judgmental and not as patient with certain people as I should be, so there is plenty of room for me to grow.
You said, “I love being a dad.” Can you tell us why you love it?
When I was a kid, I would hear people say that they loved somebody with their, “Whole heart.” I used to think, “Well, if they love that person with their whole heart, then there is no more love in their heart for anybody else.” Then, I became a parent and I found out that there is no end to the amount of love you can have for each one of your kids no matter how many you have. And the thing is—there is nothing they could ever do to get me to stop loving them. They love me too, just because I’m their dad. Many times, I would be having a terrible day at work and I would stop and look at my kids’ pictures and think, “No matter how bad it gets—those kids love me,” and I would smile.
I just cannot imagine my life without each one of my kids they have given me so many great memories that I will cherish until the day I die.
You found time between working and raising 8 kids to coach your children in multiple sports. Now you are helping coach other kids on a high school cross country. You obviously love coaching, why?
I love helping kids get better and watching them get better. I love watching their excitement when they succeed at something we had been working on. I’ll never forget the first soccer team I coached—they were 8 and 9 year old kids. We had been practicing for a few weeks before our first game. One of the basic moves I taught them was how to pull the ball back with the bottom of their foot. The feeling I got when I saw one of them perform that move to keep the ball from going out of bounds right in front of me, in that very first game, is something I will never forget. I love encouraging kids and making them feel as if they are the greatest athlete who ever lived. I love teaching and showing them what hard work does for you and how so many things in athletics can carry over into the “real world”…such as, being able to work with somebody as a teammate, even though you might not necessarily like them. Believe me, I could go on and on about this one. I guess it really comes down to a personal satisfaction I get when I am able to help a young person accomplish their goals.
Okay—here is a perfect example of why I love coaching—before becoming an actual coach for the team, I would show up for the Saturday morning practices and run with the kids. The team was preparing for the conference meet and they were going through a pretty tough workout on a course with many short but fairly steep hills. I happened to latch on to one of the varsity girls and I went into “coach mode”. I was barking at her to pick it up as we struggled up the hills and I was barking at her to pick it up as we flew down the back of the hill. This went on over and over as we made several laps around the course before racing each other hard to the finish. As I was catching my breath, I looked over at this girl—she was bent over with her hands on her knees, gasping for breath. I just knew that she must be hating my guts and was hoping she would never have to ever look at me again. I walked over, patted her on the back and said, “Way to work, kid.” She looked up at me—sweat was pouring down her face, snot was running out her nose, spit was running out of the corner of her mouth, and between breaths, she said, “Thank…you…so…much!” That is why I love coaching.
I have to admit I got pretty choked up reading this last paragraph. If you could thank someone for the same reasons that girl thanked you.
Who would it be? And why?
The summer before my 9th grade year, my family moved to Minnesota from California. While I had always been athletic, I had long hair and dressed like a bum. Back then, you were either a “jock” or a “freak”. I wanted to be a jock because I loved sports but, when you’re the new kid and you look like I looked…the freaks were the ones who more welcoming. I had been going to school for a few months…hanging around with my “freak” friends, when my algebra teacher asked me if I was going to be doing any sports for the winter. When I told him I didn’t think so, he suggested that I go out for the wrestling team. I thought about it for a while and, with his persistent encouragement, I joined the team. There has not been a single year, since, that I have not been involved in some type of sport. So, I guess I would like to thank Mr. Able, my 9th grade algebra teacher.
What is your favorite time of day or night to run? And why?
I run in the evening, after work. I really don’t enjoy running early in the morning. I know a lot of people say that running in the morning invigorates them and gets them ready for the day. Running in the morning just makes me tired for the day.
Beyond the races, the competition, the times, splits and suffering what does running do for you?
Running has become my identity and I love that. Strangers come up to me and ask me how far I run every day because they say they see me running all the time. My kids will tell me how their friends talk about seeing me running all the time. Its kind of funny though, I have been told by a couple of people that they see me “every single morning running up Birch Street.” Well, Birch Street is the main road I run on, I don’t run every single day and I don’t run in the morning.
I guess that’s what running does for me—it tells people who I am.
When you run alone, what do you think about?
What I think about during a run depends on what type of run I am doing and what I am dealing with in my life. If I am doing an SOS (Something of Substance) run, I am, pretty much, focused on my running, concentrating on form, breathing, and making it through the next mile. On easy days, though, I think about a thousand different things. If I am dealing with issues at work, I will think through those things and come up with solutions.
I like to write poetry, and will sometimes get stuck with how to write the next line or what direction I want the story to go and I am able to sort through all of those things while out on my run.
I once spent a 3 hour run imagining what I would do if I won the lottery. I was completely engulfed in my new lifestyle and living those days in my mind. I remember getting home and having reality crash in on me, I was depressed the rest of the day.
I will also spend time in prayer. There are times, during a run, when I can feel God’s presence surround me, those times are very special.
What I do not like to think about, while running, is home chores. If I start thinking about some project I’m supposed to be doing at home, I automatically slow down. I’m not sure why, but I do.
You said, “I guess that’s what running does for me—it tells people who I am”
Besides you’re running, how do you want to remembered when you cross that last finish line called death?
I think the most important thing to me, is to be remembered as being a good father and I don’t care who thinks I’m a good father as long as my kids think I’m a good father.
You write poetry and run, how profound. Why do you write poetry? What does it do for you?
I shouldn’t have referred to what I write as “poetry”. I write poems, things that rhyme. I’ve written an annual Christmas letter for about 30 years, that we send out to about 400 people, my wife insists. I’ve written poems for company Christmas parties, sports banquets, birthday cards, and even a going away speech for a pastor. I’ve written a few sappy poems to my wife over our 31 years together as well. I really do like writing these poems, though. I enjoy telling a story while trying to make it entertaining through rhyming words. If I can make somebody laugh or cry with what I write, then I feel I have accomplished what I set out to do.
Are you willing to share a poem, a sentence from something you love?
I don’t really read poetry all that much so I don’t have a favorite line to share. I will attach my last Christmas Letter and the poem I wrote for our last cross country banquet.
The love from my family, a neighbor, a friend;
It’s the love in the giving—that’s the gift with no end
Can you explain or describe what it felt like to feel gods presence on a run? I myself have had some deeply spiritual moments while out in nature running. I would love to hear your experience.
I am really trying hard to describe feeling God’s presence so it sounds like some beautiful and moving experience. Don’t get me wrong—knowing that God is with me—all the time—is a very beautiful thought and very moving. I have felt God’s presence, while on a run, in a few different ways. I have gone out on runs with a very heavy heart and wondering how I would ever get through whatever it was that was bringing me down. I would intentionally ask God to be present and help me figure out how to handle the situation and we would have a “conversation.” I have never heard God’s voice, but I have asked questions and the answer would just be in my head, sometimes before I was done asking my question. I usually smile when that happens. Sometimes, the only answer I receive is, “Let Me handle it.” I cannot honestly say that I ALWAYS feel better when I’m done with one of those runs, but it has helped me more times than not. Sometimes, God’s presence is shown by the people he sends my way on my run. I don’t know how many times I have been struggling on a run when, out of the blue, somebody will drive by and say, “Hi, Mike!” or a group of cross country kids will drive by yelling, “Go Coach!” A simple little toot on the horn and a wave has made all the difference in a run for me. I see that as God letting me know that he always knows how I’m feeling and will be always present to help me get through anything. God has blessed me on so many runs with allowing me to experience his creation.
I once encountered a wall of rain. I could see the rain up ahead—it was pouring—and, yet, I was completely dry. I was, literally, able to jump back and forth—in and back out of the rain.
Another time, I was running when the humidity was so thick—it wasn’t raining but I was soaking wet. When it did, finally, start raining, the rain didn’t start from above but, instead, it was like the air around me exploded into instant rain. God has allowed me to watch rainbows appear; turkeys watching for traffic before crossing the road; hawks swooping down to catch their dinner; squirrels busily doing whatever the heck squirrels are doing; hear the echo of crunching snow on a sub zero winter morning; smell the coming and going of every season. God has created a remarkable world and has allowed me to feel the presence of him through that creation. I’ve, also, felt God just being with me in the moment. Just gliding right along side of me. That is the feeling that I wish I could describe. It’s a freedom, an uplifting moment when I am just flying along the road and I can feel the blood flowing through my body and I can feel each breath coming in and each breath going out. I can feel the beating of my heart but everything feels so effortless and I feel so grateful that God has given this all to me and that God is sharing it all with me in that very moment.
Those explanations don’t even come close to how I wish I could describe God’s presence, but they’ll have to do.
Mike Evans, Father, Coach, Runner, and Winner.