Gary Patton, 77
Rock Rapids, Iowa
Gary Patton never dreamed he would one day be an elite athlete. “I was 4 foot 11 in high school and underdeveloped. I was not athlete material at all.”
Now 5’4” at the age of 76, Gary has become a tall figure in mid distance running, finding himself on the medal stand regularly and setting records in national and international masters competition. At the National Senior Games in May, the retired engineer set the National Senior Games #1 all-time record in two 75-79 age events, besting the 800-meter record by 15 seconds and crushing the 1500 mark by almost 25 seconds.
He’s thrilled to have competed against the likes of U.S. Olympian Gary Hall, Boston Marathon champion Bill Rodgers and world masters’ record holder Nolan Shaheed. At 70 he won the USATF Masters Road Race Grand Prix for his age group, garnering 490 of a possible 500 points in 5 races. He set the 70-74 world record mark for the indoor mile in 2017, and in 2018 was named USATF Masters Men’s 70-74 Athlete of the Year.
Gary may not have considered himself an athlete, but he always enjoyed jogging and running. “Then in my 40’s I got started doing local road races and progressed into track and field, and I’ve done some half marathons and three marathons,” he says. “But I discovered I don’t enjoy long distances and the 10K is the farthest I do now. It’s been a slow progression over years and years, and I just kinda found my niche for what I excel in with running. It’s been so much fun.”
The lifelong resident of Rock Rapids, Iowa did not show his potential when he began to compete, but found that adding cross training and strength work produces better results than running alone. He continually refines his body and training schedule as he ages. “The last five years I’ve had a three day per week schedule. Five to seven miles of running every third day, some kind of strength work, and then some kind of aerobic cross training -elliptical, swimming, biking, that sort of thing.”
“The fact that I mix up my training is why I don’t get injured, which is probably my primary advantage over my competition,” Gary explained to Runners World in 2017. “I haven’t missed a masters indoor or outdoor national meet since my first one in 2008. Fifteen miles a week or so is easy on the legs.”
Gary enjoys racing as often as he can. “There aren’t that many masters track events around the country,” he notes. “I like to get out and do enough road races to satisfy my competitive nature and keep life interesting. I get bored easily and enjoy the intensity of doing a lot of races.”
Now the man to beat, Gary is ranked #2 in the world for this year’s outdoor track season in the 800 meter and the mile by Mastersrankings.com and embraces the role. “I had major ambitions for coming into the 75 age level with nine USATF records and those two National Senior Games records in mind. I’ve set 6 of the 9 records in the past year and a half. I’ve got plans for getting the last three.”
Senior Games hold a special place for Gary. “I didn’t know about masters track until I got into Senior Games, which brings so many more people into competition through the state-based system. Plus there’s stuff going on all over the place. I don’t typically go to more than my own events but I made it to some tennis games and the swimming this year. I swim for cross training and usually just do a lap and take a few breaths each time, and these people were just going back and forth and back. I couldn’t stand up to my age group in a swimming competition!”
Gary is proud of the example he is setting for others, especially his two sons. “They’re big fans and brag that “my dad is a world class runner’ with friends and coworkers. A what?” (Laughs)