Septuagenarian runners continue to rewrite the record books. The latest to make his mark? Paul Perry, 75, of Orland Park, Illinois, who is going after middle-distance times on the indoor oval this winter.
Perry went to the Armory in New York earlier this month thinking he had to run faster than 12:52 to set an American 75–79 age-group record in the 3,000 meters. A few days before the race, he double-checked the time, and good thing: The record had fallen last March when Doug Goodhue of Michigan ran 12:29.32.
It didn’t matter. On January 9, Perry shattered Goodhue’s time, running 12:18.49, which works out to 6:36 per mile pace.
Perry first started running as a child, and he competed through college at Georgetown University, where he ran 4:08 for the indoor mile his senior year. But after graduation, he knew he wasn’t going to make the Olympics. He stopped running, went to law school, and became a prosecutor in Chicago.
One night at a party, when Perry was 45, a friend told him about races for masters runners. “I didn’t even know they had races for old guys,” he said. Perry started training again.
When he was 54, and in the middle of one of his most serious murder cases, prosecuting a hitman, Perry ran a mile in 4:48—a single-age world record at the time. He had slowed only 40 seconds in 33 years. As for the hitman? “He got 80 years,” Perry said.
These days, Perry follows an unconventional training plan. Whenever he can, he goes to one of the tracks near his home in the Chicago suburbs and runs 6 x 600 meters with 200 meters rest between each. He’ll do it as many days in a row as his legs will allow. It’s a method he says he picked up from a book, The Perfect Mile, which details the quest of Roger Bannister, John Landy, and Wes Santee to break the four-minute mile. (Landy used daily 600-meter repeats in his training.)
Perry will sometimes run those 600s for seven or eight days in a row. If his legs are tired, he’ll do an easy run of 5 to 7 miles instead. And if he’s really exhausted, he’ll do a 2-mile shuffle. On the worst days, about once a month, he takes off completely, but he doesn’t plan it in advance. “I don’t do a day off unless I can just barely walk,” he said.
Then he goes back to the 600-meter repeats, which vary from 6:30 to 9:00 pace, depending on how many days in a row he’s done them. Before his record attempt, Perry cut all his training in half for two weeks.
The indoor season isn’t over for Perry. Assuming he stays healthy, he plans to go back to the Armory to go after Goodhue’s mile record, currently 6:18.03, which Goodhue also ran last year. Any luck and Perry will come close to the outdoor mile record, which is 5:57.2 and has stood since 1992.
He’s penciled in March 5, another of the New York Road Runners’ Night at the Races, for the attempt.
Until then, it’s lots of 600-meter repeats. “I spend way too much time at this sport, but I’m retired,” Perry said. “What am I going to do?”