Archive for Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Marathon man

TJHS instructor taking to streets of Swedish city

June 1, 2005

For years, David Wahlgren's favorite sport was fishing.

About 11 years ago, that suddenly changed.

Wahlgren, at the straight-forward request of one of his daughters, started running. She told her father he was out of shape and needed to do something about it.

Wahlgren, who lives in Shawnee and is a seventh-grade science teacher at Tonganoxie Junior High, took his daughter's advice to heart.

But he doesn't just run an occasional few laps around the track -- Wahlgren trains for marathons. His first was in October 1998 in Wichita. His next will be Saturday in Stockholm, Sweden.

Since the Wichita marathon, Wahlgren has competed in seven others -- each one measuring the customary 26.2 miles.

The more he trains, the more Wahlgren wants to compete in marathons. Running has given him new life. Marathons aren't painless, but they keep him coming back for more.

"After the first one I was crying," Wahlgren said, recounting that his wife didn't know how to react. "She thought I was having a heart attack or something. I just told her I was incredibly happy."

Since that first marathon, Wahlgren discovered that running releases endorphins. The Columbia Encyclopedia refers to endorphins as "neurotransmitters found in the brain that have pain-relieving properties similar to morphine."

Endorphins sometimes are referred to as a runner's high. Wahlgren continues to run so he can release more of those natural highs.

"I think I was spaced out on endorphins," Wahlgren said, referring to how he felt after that first marathon. "That's why I continued to run marathons. I needed that fix every once in a while."

On the road again

After running in Wichita, Wahlgren has run near -- the 5K Library Run in Tonganoxie -- and far -- a marathon in Maui, Hawaii. He also has competed in Lincoln, Neb.; Springfield, Mo.; Storm Lake, Iowa; Lake Tahoe, Nev.; Phoenix and Goodland.

At the Tonganoxie Library Run, Wahlgren's wife, his two daughters and a granddaughter all ran with him.

"And my three sons slept in," Wahlgren said with a laugh.

His daughters continue to run, while his sons are "couch potatoes."

As for marathons, Wahlgren's biggest challenge was at Lake Tahoe, where the altitude is 7,000 feet above sea level.

"That's probably the toughest one," Wahlgren said.

Stockholm will be right at sea level. During the upcoming race, Wahlgren will run over 18 bridges because Stockholm is built on an archipelago, which is a large group of islands.

Most marathons in the U.S. start between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. because of the summer heat. The Stockholm marathon will kick off at 2 p.m. As a former student who lives in Madrid, Spain, told Wahlgren, that's because Stockholm "is almost at the North Pole."

So far, Wahlgren's largest marathon had 17,000 people competing. He planned to run in the Chicago marathon, which averages 35,000, but he was having knee surgery when a running buddy of his ran in the Windy City.

He and his friend have a goal of running in all 50 states. Wahlgren has seven down, 43 to go. Although Lake Tahoe is in Nevada, he can't check that state off his list. The entire marathon took place in nearby Califor-nia.

But Wahlgren plans to run two marathons a year. That might seem like a tall order, but he has motivation.

"I have a picture on my bulletin board at home of a guy who is 93 and he is in the process of running the London Mar-athon," Wahlgren said. "I guess you could say he is my hero and I've never met the man."

Returning to his roots

Wahlgren's trip to Sweden will be more than a marathon run. His father originally is from Skruv, located in the province of Smoland in Sweden.

While in Sweden, Wahl-gren and his wife will travel to his father's hometown.

When Wahl-gren's father and aunts immigrated to America, some family members moved instead to Ham-burg, Germany. The couple plan to travel there for a few days as well.

Wahlgren will participate in the marathon Saturday and then celebrate his 34th wedding anniversary with his wife on Sunday.

Running partner

Wahlgren became a runner while living in Hoisington, but he did not run by himself. His pastor, Gary Teske, lived in nearby Great Bend, and the two put plenty of miles on their running shoes while training together.

One night, the two ran from Hoisington to Great Bend, a 12-mile jaunt. Wahlgren's wife drove to Great Bend to pick up her husband and then join the running duo for supper so the three could eat supper.

When they returned to Hoisington, they stopped the car on the outskirts of town. The roof of a house was lying in the middle of the street.

An F-4 tornado had torn through Hoisington, destroying 480 homes and businesses.

Wahlgren remembers the disaster vividly.

"April 22, 2001, 9:15 p.m.," Wahlgren said. "It was a Saturday night."

Despite the disaster, the runners continued to train together until June 2001, when Teske moved to from Great Bend to a new church.

In July 2001, the Wahlgrens moved from Hoisington to Shawnee so they could be closer to an airport with their children scattered in cities throughout the United States.

"We now have a 30-minute drive to the airport rather than four hours," Wahlgren said.

Luckily, Teske moved to Lawrence where he is a minister at Trinity Lutheran.

"That was just pure chance," Wahlgren said. "It certainly has allowed us to continue to run together."

Teske was the friend who ran in Chicago when Wahlgren had knee surgery. But the friends have had other opportunities to run together. Wahlgren's goal is to finish in less than four hours. His best time was 3 hours, 47 minutes in Phoenix.

That also marks the only time Wahlgren has finished ahead of his friend. At that race, he finished 15 minutes ahead of Teske.

"He's got divine guidance," Wahlgren said with a chuckle. "It's an unfair advantage."

Training for a marathon

On May 21, Wahlgren ran his longest distance at 20 1/2 miles.

"I felt like at that point, I could do another five," Wahlgren said.

Marathon training, Wahlgren said, doesn't involve running the full 26.2 miles. But a runner will do various distances each week. He runs from four to six days a week. And he stressed the importance of rest days.

"If you don't do that, particularly the older you get, your body will break down," Wahlgren said. "Definitely you're more prone to injury if you don't get those days of rest."

But with each marathon Wahlgren runs, his body adapts even more.

"After the first marathon it took me about four days before I felt like a normal human being again," Wahlgren said. "It just was kind of incredible."

At some more recent marathons, Wahlgren has felt as though he could run a bit longer.

In the process of his marathon running, Wahlgren has sparked the interests of some current and former students. A former Tonganoxie Junior High student informed Wahlgren that she was going to run a half marathon next year. She said she was working on a training program.

"I was so proud of her," Wahlgren said. "I truly believe if she has her goals set to do that, she'll do that."

That, Wahlgren said, is the key to any endeavor -- setting goals.

Wahlgren's running could influence more of his students. But it's important, Wahlgren said, to not look at a marathon as one big 26-mile race.

When a student asked Wahlgren recently how he could run that far, he had a simple answer.

"One step at a time," Wahlgren said.

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