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Age-group runner not one to laugh at

Steve Yingling

Jay Leno wanted to show Thomas Gerald Cullen off after the 1996 Boston Marathon. Why not, Cullen’s completed all 53 marathons he’s attempted and twice as many half marathons.

But as Leno perceived, Cullen is no ordinary runner. He’s 86. And there’s no telling when Cullen will decide that he’s run down.

“I don’t see any end. A lot of people ask me, ‘When are you gonna retire?’ I’m still working,” Cullen said.

That’s right. Cullen is more active than some 30-year-olds. The registered California engineer serves as a consultant for corrosion projects and along with his son, Rick, sells low-grade waterproofing and epoxy coating products.

“I think it’s a pretty good world to be able to go out and do this. I thank the Lord and my parents for good health and good knees,” said Cullen, who will work up a little sweat Sunday in the 10-kilometer run held in conjunction with the Lake Tahoe Marathon.

Cullen’s not avoiding the marathon distance Sunday, he’s using the shorter 10K run in preparation for an Oct. 19 half marathon in Humboldt County, Calif. And if the snow and rain showers linger from Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, he won’t mind.

“As long as I have something warm at the end, that’s all right,” he said.

Cullen, who was raised as a farm boy in Quebec, Canada, warmed up to running 23 years ago.

“I did one marathon, and it was like, ‘Geez, it’s a piece of cake, let’s do another,'” Cullen said. “It’s a challenge that’s there and you want to test yourself. You philosophize. I think about a lot of things when I run, going back to the early years and what I’m doing here now.

“As a rule, I always run solo. I don’t want to slow anybody down or go too fast for anybody.”

Initially, the marathons nearly swallowed his free time.

“There for a couple years I did four in a year. That’s stretching it a little bit,” he said.

Today, he still puts in 45 miles of roadwork per week.

Ask Cullen if there’s anything unusual about an 86-year-old gentleman running, and he regrettably supports the suggestion with an anecdote.

“Just a couple of weeks ago I organized an eight-man team for a relay race around Lake Tahoe. I wanted to get a team of people over 80. I didn’t think that it was going to be that much of a problem, but I couldn’t find anybody. Then I came down into the 70s and we got a couple of guys close to that and a few others in their 50s,” he said.

When Cullen, then 85, completed the 1996 Boston Marathon for the first time, he wasn’t ready for the media circus that engulfed him.

“The Boston Globe was there and Leno called and wantedme on his show the day of the race. I couldn’t do that. He contacted me when I got back, but publicity was something new to me. I didn’t know how to handle it. I just go out and do it and want to be left alone,” Cullen said.

Cullen advises others approaching the golden years to run or walk to the finish line.

“You don’t have to run a marathon but just keep the old ‘bod’ moving. Don’t be a couch potato,” he suggested.


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