Athlinks Member Spotlight (June: Part 2) – Dave Bell : Marathon King

This is our second part of our June Athlinks’ member profile. This month we decided to look at the Athlinks’ members (female and male) who had run the most marathons. David Bell was the male Athlinks’ member with the most marathons to date.

Here’s the Q&A with Dave Bell:

How many marathons have you run? 385 marathons and 13 ultras for a total of 398 marathon or longer events.  I will run my 400th on June 7, 2015 at the Steamboat Marathon (Steamboat Springs, CO), I ran my 1st marathon there 20 years ago, on June 4, 1995.

What’s the most marathons you have done in 1 year? I ran 38 in 2007 (technically 37 marathons and my first 50K).  For the past 5-6 years I’ve averaged about 25 a year

How old are you? 52

When did you start running? Why did you start? I ran off and on in college and early years post college.  In 1992, I ran my first road race and sort of got hooked on running events.  I mostly ran to keep in shape for other sports I liked to participate in, mostly basketball and volleyball – ironically as a runner I’m always asked about my knees – for the most part no serious problems from running, but I rarely play basketball or volleyball anymore because it kills my knees!

When did you start running marathons? I ran my first in 1995

Why did you start doing them? I was inspired by a former co-worker who, after finding out I was running told of being an exchange student in South Africa and he ran the Comrades Marathon (most will know this is not really a marathon, but an ultra at almost 90K).  I was so inspired that I switched from an upcoming 10K at the Steamboat Marathon to the full with just 6 weeks to go – little did I know what running a marathon would be like or that it took a longer training period – yes, I did suffer that day but finished!

Why so many? What is your drive for doing so many and to keep running more?I basically liked the challenge of the distance and ran a few more after that first one in 1995 and then in 1998 was using traveling to marathons to visit states I’d never been to.  During this time, I saw someone wearing a shirt declaring they had completed a marathon in all 50 states and a new personal goal was created – so basically it was all so I could get that shirt!  In 2000, I was at about 15 or so states into my goal, and I had a slight health scare (turned out to be nothing), but it made me want to get it done quicker in case some real health problem arose, so I started doing them more frequently – plus I learned you didn’t have to train as much this way.  As I neared my 50 state finish in 2003, I had started duplicating some states as I had gaps in my schedule and by that time knew I wanted to shoot for 100 marathons, so why not another round of the states.  Then in 2005, I hooked up with a group called the Marathon Maniacs and just kept going from there.  Part of the drive is that I still enjoy the challenge (however, don’t ask me about this at around mile 20 of any marathon!!) and I have built a huge network of friends around the country who are like minded and it is fun to see them at the various races. Thus, the real reason I keep running more is I would miss my running friends if I weren’t traveling and running marathons.

Any major injuries after doing so many marathons? None that have kept me from running.

How many marathons haven’t you finished? Why was that? I have 4 DNFs, 2 were on the Pikes Peak Marathon one for missing the top cut off due to severe altitude sickness (I do have 3 PP finishes) and once I went in somewhat sick and knew I would miss the cutoff so turned back on my own.  I have 2 road DNFs, one for weather and the other I quit for heat related issues.  

What’s your mindset/philosphy when running 26.2 miles? The number one thing on my mind is how much longer until I’m at the finish!  My long time philosophy has been what I call my three “F”s of running marathons – to have Fun, Fellowship and Finish.  For me, it is never about running a good time, but about having a good time (I borrowed this statement from a fellow runner) – that is accomplished more by being with other runners on the course than reaching any specific time goal.  

Do you have an ultimate goal in regards to how many marathons you will run? Do you ever have time goals in these races? My only ultimate goal now is to continue my month streak as long as I’m physically and financially capable.  Currently, I am at 130 consecutive months with at least one marathon or ultra finish.  Along the way I will build on other running accomplishments such as more 50 state finishes (I’m currently a 5 time finisher of all 50 states), but at the same time this is no longer an “ultimate” goal – meaning I’m happy with the 5 finishes and it would not bother me if I was unable to finish more rounds (although I only need 6 more states for #6).  As far as time goals, I approach each race with an idea of what I hope to run that day – but never worry too much about it.  There are days where I may push a bit to finish by a certain time – other days where I say, I’ll get there when I get there.  I do use a run/walk strategy, but this is not set at any certain interval – I base it on how I feel that day and what the conditions are for the race.  Sometimes I use the timer on my watch, other days I just run for awhile and then take a walk break when I feel I need it.  Of course I would love to qualify for Boston, but have accepted the fact that genetically, this was probably not meant to be.  My one other goal is to some day complete a trail marathon or ultra in all 50 states – I’ve only got 11 of those so far (and currently there are a couple of states that don’t have trail events that qualify, so it may not be possible – but will be fun to work on).

What’s your training regimen like? Do you train with others? Solo? It varies and there are periods where I don’t train like I should – as I’m sure all runners experience, sometimes life things get in the way.  I do belong to a gym where I regularly participate in “cross-training” group classes (these are not designed as a cross training for runners – they’re just classes the gym offers for the benefit of exercise).  I’m about 50/50 on doing training runs solo or with a friend or in group runs.  Living in Denver offers some good opportunities for being involved in local group runs hosted by running stores.  I also like to mix in a lot of single track trail running during the summer months – as well as a few trail races.  

What’s one of your most memorable experiences in running a marathon? This is a tough one to nail down as I have so many great memories – often it is more about the people I’m with or meet along the way.  For individual experiences, (1) I’d have to say finishing my first circuit of the states, (2) a couple of milestone races where the race announcer knew of my milestone and made a big deal about it (like my 200th in Steamboat back in 2008 and my 3rd state finish in Tulsa) and (3) for a race day experience, almost none can beat the torrential downpour one year with about 10 miles to go at the Otter Creek Trail Marathon in Kentucky where literally the trail became like a small creek and there was lightning and the ridiculousness of running in such conditions made me just laugh the whole last 10 miles – it was like being a kid and your mom let you out to play in the rain/mud despite it being dangerous!

What’s the toughest part of training for a marathon? Discipline of getting long runs in.  That is why I like running a lot of races as I just count today’s marathon as “training” for the next one!  Some would argue that I will never get better this way, but back in the early days when I followed a training program, I always ended up having a bad race and could never get that PR.  My current PR was set in 2009 at the end of 8 straight weekends of running a marathon.  I didn’t start that 8th weekend thinking I would get a PR – I just started running and that day everything worked out for setting a new one after about 12 years.

Would you recommend running a marathon to all runners? Why or why not?Well, my mindset is that if I can do it anyone can.  But I also realize it isn’t for everyone and thus while I always encourage others they should run at least one marathon, I leave it at that.  The biggest why is because I know what a great feeling of accomplishment it is to finish – I want others to have that same feeling.

Has running so many marathons lead you to trying other endurance events? If so, which ones and how did those turn out for you?  So far I’ve completed eleven 50Ks, one 60K and I completed 41.2 miles over 10.5 hours in a 12-hour event.  Most of the 50Ks were tough mountain races during the summer and I suffered in almost all of them and swear I’ll not do another, but of course I’ve already signed up for a couple more!  I do have a goal of going for a 50 miler in the next year or two.


Athlinks Staff
Posts by the Athlinks Staff are authored by our in-house group of athletes and subject matter experts in the fields of performance sports, nutrition, race organization, and training.

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