David Walters landed in London four days removed from running this year’s Chicago Marathon. A race followed by a plane ride is common for the United Airlines pilot.
Still weary and with aching legs from the marathon distance days before, the 56-year-old Walters forced himself from his hotel room and out for a four mile run. It was out of necessity as he was preparing for another marathon.
Walters has lived a life of creating challenges for himself and most of which he has met with little trouble. Along with being a pilot, Walters is an NCAA Division I All-American for the University of Illinois, a multi-time Illinois state high school champion, a world age group champion in the duathlon and a 1988 Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier.
His latest challenge was simple - to place in the top three of his age group at three separate elite level marathons - Boston, Chicago and New York - in the same calendar year.
So upon his arrival in London and after third and first place finishes in his age group in the Boston and Chicago marathons, respectively, taking the day off to rest wasn’t a choice for Walters. He needed to get back out running as his next race was less than five weeks away. That simple run proved to be the most difficult part of reaching his goal.
“That was probably the scariest moment I had when I tried my first run after Chicago,” Walters said. “I thought everything was going to come crashing down around me. But I got done with that four mile run and did an 11 mile run the next morning. It all did come together.”
It officially came together when he placed second in his age group at the New York City Marathon. Walters had met yet another challenge. Among all that he has achieved, he ranks this performance in the top five accomplishments of his competitive career.
In a running career that has spanned more than four decades, the idea for his latest challenge had been on Walters’ mind for many years.
“It is something I have been targeting the last five years or so,” Walters said of his goal of placing in the top three in each of the marathons. “I didn’t know if it could be done. When you get to be 56 years old you are thankful for each week you have to run. To be able to put a full year together and to get all three marathons in was great. I never knew if it was doable.”
Walters was not only able to complete each race, but did so by turning in respectable times. He ran 2:52:09 in Boston, 2:47:52 in Chicago and 2:52:12 in the New York City Marathon. Each time was obviously slower than his personal best of 2:19, which he ran to qualify for the 1988 Olympic Trials, but at a level that keeps him among the best in the country in his age group.
It’s a passion for competition he has had since his days competing for Lincoln-Way High School outside of Chicago. It’s just the way he has always been.
“As a high school runner he was one tough individual,” said Al Logsdon, Walters’ high school cross country and track and field coach. “That allowed him to do things most people couldn’t. To be able to accomplish that in one calendar year is just remarkable.”
And Walters has no immediate plans of slowing down. There also remains the possibility he will return to the roads in pursuit of a repeat performance.
“I might try it again next year,” Walters said. “I didn’t win every race. I placed third in Boston and I know I can improve on that. I want to pack in as much as I can while I can still run. I’m not giving myself a cutoff date. As I look around and see what other people are doing and see people competing into their 70s without a whole lot of problems, it’s great to see.”
All signs point to the finish line in Walters’ career to be years down the road, but for now he is taking things one challenge at a time.
USA Track & Field