When Clive Davies finishes a road race, say a 15K or a marathon, he almost invariably looks out of place. If you were standing at the finish line, you'd notice that the first few runners to cross would be in their 20s or early 30s. Then you'd see a larger group of tough competitors ranging in age from their late teens to early 40s. And then, still within the fastest 25% of all the entrants, you'd see Davies, running hard, the concentration showing on his tanned, lined face. Only those lines and his thick white hair would indicate that he is from 20 to 45 years older than the runners who finished just ahead of him.
Davies, 66, a retired free-lance graphic designer from Tillamook, Ore., could, without stretching it too much, be called the world's most gifted distance runner. He now holds so many U.S. single-age records that he can't keep track of them all; in fact, he has 28 of them. Davies, who received the TAC Outstanding Masters Long-Distance Running Award (ages 65-69) in 1981, last year set standards at three distances and unofficial records in two others. And each was a record that no one else his age has approached. He did 55:16 for 15K (second best is 1:09:58), 1:21:41 in the half marathon (second best: 1:36:01) and 2:42:49 in the marathon (the closest anyone has come to that is 2:56:45). He also ran 36:06 in the 10K (the recognized record: 38:38) and 1:16:26 in the 20K (the recognized record: 1:20:53), but Davies' 10K and 20K records are unofficial, because they weren't set on certified courses.
Davies has been running for only 10 years. Before that his idea of exercise was a little recreational mountain climbing and playing golf once a week. But then he entered a six-mile masters race in Portland. "I had always been a great fan of running," says Davies. "When I was a kid I used to watch newsreels of Paavo Nurmi." To prepare for his first race, Davies went to a track the week before and ran six miles as fast as he could, which was about 42 minutes. That ill-advised workout put him in bed for the rest of the week. But he recovered in time to run the race, and he came in third. After that, he was hooked.
Davies believes that his best times—including, he hopes, a sub-2:40 marathon—are still ahead of him. A look at his performances supports this optimism. At 59, his fastest marathon was 2:52:29. Besides last year's record 2:42:49, which he ran in Eugene, Ore., he did 2:43:56 in the Boston Marathon this April, despite the 1½ or so minutes it took him to reach the starting line and the fact that he had to run on the grassy shoulder of the road to pass clusters of slower competitors who had started ahead of him in the immense pack. All told, Davies holds every marathon record for ages 59 to 66.
Between major races—he has competed throughout America and in Europe—Davies runs 20 miles every other day; when pointing toward an important event, he works out daily and includes a weekly interval session in his regimen. He averages about 70 miles of training a week. Most of it, aside from the intervals, is done at a comfortable eight-minute pace on the hilly logging roads and on the beaches near Tillamook.
"Age is no detriment," Davies says. "Not as far as the actual running is concerned. My only problem is that I don't really have any age-group competition, so I have to compete against myself and just keep trying to improve my times. The challenge is to improve, no matter what the obstacles."
A new challenge beckoning Davies is ultra-marathoning. His longest race so far was 60K (37.28 miles), which he ran last year in 4:30:28, more than an hour faster than any other American over 60 ran in 1981. Now he's considering the Western States Endurance Run, a mountain trail 100-miler over exceedingly rugged terrain. "People seem drawn to that thing," he says. "I'm not sure I could do it, but I'm thinking about giving it a try." If he does give it a try, it's a safe bet that he'll do it—and that in the process he will set a record for his age that will stand for a century or two.
So if you happen to watch one of Davies' races, you'll see, depending on your circumstances and your viewpoint, either an inspiration or an eloquent rebuke. In a culture obsessed with youth, he is living proof—running proof—that even in one of the most physical of pursuits, retirement can be the beginning rather than the end of things.