This islander burns through running shoes every six weeks
Galveston resident Dave Allen makes you rethink your workout routine. He’s the kind of person who makes you suck in your gut and wonder what’s wired differently in his DNA that enables him to run incredible distances, in often extreme conditions. He also makes you realize that with the right mindset and proper training, anything is possible.
Originally from Southern California, Allen has lived in Galveston for 31 years. Serving five years in the U.S. Coast Guard, and stationed in Galveston until 1986, Allen continues to work on base at the Coast Guard Exchange. After falling in love with his wife and the island, this father of two easily calls Galveston home. At age 58, Allen is an ultra-marathoner.
“Anything over 26.2 miles is considered an ultra-marathon,” said Allen, who runs at least one 100-mile, two or three 50-mile and a few 50K ultra-marathon endurance races a year. But he considers the 50Ks to be somewhat of a teaser run.
“That’s just a little day run,” Allen said.
After completing many marathons and training with seasoned ultra-runners for four years in the 1990s, Allen ran his first ultra-marathon in 2004.
“Trail running is a totally different experience than running a marathon,” said Allen, who thinks it’s best to learn from experienced ultra-runners, rather than the internet.
“One hundred miles is nothing to take for granted,” Allen said. “A lot of newbies get stuff off the computer, and they end up dropping.”
The way ultra-runners run is different, Allen said. Although there are specific formulas, Allen goes by instinct, and follows the ultra-runner’s motto, “Walk the hills and run the flats.”
But if it’s all flat?
“You have to improvise,” Allen said. He’ll run for 20 to 30 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of walking, he said. That combination of running and walking, “forces the lactic acid out of your muscles, so you don’t get sore,” he said.
To prepare for an endurance run, Allen stays in shape all year. His exercise routine isn’t for the weak nor weary. Beginning at 4:30 a.m. each day, Allen runs 10 to 14 miles on the seawall or beach before starting his workday. At lunch break, he lifts weights for an hour. Allen believes such cross-training has enabled him to run for so many years without injury, he said. On the weekends, he runs 20 miles each day. As an ultra-marathon nears, he runs from Boddeker Drive at the east end of the island to San Luis Pass and back — about 55 miles.
“I burn through running shoes every six weeks,” he said.
Just as crucial is fine-tuning his “mojo,” he said. He starts each race listening to his theme song, “Run Like Hell” by Pink Floyd.
“You have to get your mindset right,” he said. “You can be in tiptop shape — the best shape of your life — but if you don’t have it mentally, you’ll drop.”
Thoughts like, “Oh, it’s so far,” or thinking about aches and pains must be superseded with a more meditative state, he said.
Running for Allen is a “moving meditation,” a trance-like state when time is distorted.
“It can be 2 o’clock in the morning, and next thing you know the sun’s coming up,” he said.
An ultra-marathon is like running four marathons in one day through an obstacle course, he said.
“It’s not just straight line running,” he said. “You’re constantly shifting, a lot of lateral movement. You have to watch two steps ahead … where you’re going to put your foot.”
That can be especially challenging at night, he said.
Ultra-runners often run all day, through the night — armed with a headlamp and hand-held flashlight — to well past sunrise. The pack thins out after dark, he said.
“You may not see another runner for an hour,” he said.
Although some ultra-marathons take place on roads, most are in the woods or other tricky terrains. Allen prefers to run ultra-marathons in Texas. Among several, he has run the Rocky Raccoon in Huntsville State Park 13 times. This year, he’s considering running in Bandera, Texas, on a trail he describes as brutal.
“You’re a slave to the weather,” he said. “You can’t just duck in somewhere, in the middle of nowhere. For some runners, that can be disheartening.”
But Allen thrives in torrential rain and muddy, puddled trails shared with 500 to 600 other athletes.
The cutoff time for most 100-mile ultra-marathons is 30 hours, depending on course difficulty. Allen’s longest run was 106 miles in 2004. After getting lost, and 6 miles off course, he had to sprint the last 200 yards to finish on time, with only four seconds to spare.
Running is a rush for Allen, he said.
“I do it for the adventure, the challenge and the drive,” he said. “It motivates me to stay in shape.” It also comes naturally, he said. “Because I’m an obsessive-compulsive, at least that’s what my wife says.”
Allen’s wife, Rebecca, crews for him on the runs, checking in by cellphone and meeting him at certain points to provide moral support and items such as clothes, Pepto-Bismol, tape for his feet and food.
Allen estimates he consumes at least 8,000 calories during an ultra-marathon, most of which is made available at aid stations along the trail. During one race, Allen thought he was hallucinating — which is not unheard of in ultra-marathons — at mile 70 when he saw several people in sombreros dancing and serving tacos and quesadillas.
His favorite part of ultra-running is the camaraderie, he said.
“The people are fantastic, everybody has that one goal — to finish that 100,” he said. They also take care of each other. “When you see another runner down, we don’t leave each other.”
Ultra-running is an extreme sport, he said.
“You really have to listen to your body; what it’s telling you,” he said. “I’m getting pretty good at it because I’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s a way of life.”