On a fresh, sunny April Saturday morning in 1984, Dan Carlson, then a South Dakota State Jackrabbit senior wearing a borrowed pair of Nike Zoom Ds, won the Carleton Relays 10,000 meters in 30:10.0.
A week later, Carlson (pictured racing at this year's Human Race)would clock 29:34 for the distance at the Drake Relays and ultimately finish as the runner-up in the 25-lapper at the NCAA Division II Track and Field Championships in Cape Girardeau, Missouri later that season.
Tomorrow, 23 years to-the-day after that 1984 victory, a 45-year-old Carlson will run the Carleton Relays 10,000 again -- and be a favorite -- against guys who weren't born when he won the race. After a long post-collegiate career of success on the roads, Carlson is bringing it all back home.
"Yes, back to the track," Carlson said. "I feel I need to do this now before I become an embarrassment to myself against the collegians...can you picture a 50-year old running against 21-year olds?!"
Carlson, who broke the state single-age record for 45-year-olds for 20K with his 1:07:39 at the Dr. Steven Fetzer Memorial in Rochester last weekend, ran three indoor 5000s this winter in collegiate meets running 15:32 in the fastest one. He's aiming for sub-32:00 at Carleton.
"I appreciate the opportunity that a few college coaches offer 'old dudes' to strap on the slippers again, and I do want to check out what I have left in the tank after all the years away from indoor/outdoor tracks," the three-time all-American said. "I don't want to look back someday and wonder what might have been. I'm finding that although it's not as fast now that it is still indeed cool to run these track meets and re-live some of the same emotions I felt as a competitor half my life ago."
The 1984 Carleton Relays 10,000 propelled Carlson to a shining season -- his performance at Laird Stadium got Carlson into the Drake Relays 10,000, and things went from there.
"I'll always be thankful for that 1984 Carleton Relays race," Carlson said, "because without it I may not have had the chance to stun myself and smash the South Dakota State record the next weekend at Drake. I never before -- and few times ever again -- would I feel so comfortable running so fast in front of the folks at that historic venue in Des Moines."
Carlson's 29:34 time from that race, in fact, "lives on" in his e-mail address -- dignan2934.
"After Drake I only ran one more 10,000m before nationals on a hot windy day in Omaha that yielded a slow time," Carlson remembers. "At nationals, we ran under high 80's temps and humid about one hour before a big thunderstorm rolled in. I'm a horrible heat runner but I sucked it up in my last race as a Jackrabbit and finished 2nd to Brian Ferrari by 6.5 seconds...he would go on to place 8th at the Division I 10,000m with a 29:03."
Although his SDSU career was over after the '84 season, Carlson wasn't done running. Among more than 900 career races, Carlson is especially proud of his 2:21:47 at the 1985 Twin Cities Marathon and a 23:39 at the 1987 St. Patrick's Day 5-Miler. His then-record 1:06:31 Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon victory in 1993 and a 52:51 Ten Miler as a 41-year-old in 2003 from later in his career also stand out for him.
But tomorrow the track calls.
"The track is a pure, exacting, structured competitive environment that was once a central focus of running for me," Carlson said, "so perhaps this is one final nostalgic trip down ''good memories lane.'"
You can read my interview with Carlson in its entirety on Chad Austin's Running Minnesota blog.
(Full disclosure: I'm an assistant coach at Carleton College and I finished second in the 1984 Carleton Relays 10,000.)
Photo by Curt Lyons of Glossy Digital.