Rich Larsen of Shelburne Falls setting 5K records at age 70

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 03-07-2022 5:06 PM

Richard Larsen wasn’t even running 5-kilometer races until a year ago. 

The 70-year-old Shelburne Falls resident has been running competitively for over three decades, but in recent years has done more mountain running as it’s better on his body. After a trip out to Colorado for a race, Larsen came back to the area, was in great shape and decided to give a 5K a try. He finished it right at the 20-minute mark, and after some research, he realized none of the national runners in his age group were breaking 20 minutes. 

He began training for it and on Saturday, Feb. 26, the 70-year-old traveled down to Atlanta for the USA Track and Field 5K, where he took first in the 70-74 age bracket with a time of 19:31. 

The run made him the 5K national champion in the 70-74 age bracket. 

“It got tempting,” Larsen said of signing up for the Atlanta race. “I was reluctant to make this big effort and travel and do these sort of things. I did some local racing in the fall, I broke 19 minutes in a 5K on Thanksgiving which was a shock to me. I knew if I could break 20 minutes I’d be able to win the 5K. I decided I owed it to myself to go down there and sign up for nationals.” 

Larsen got back into running when he was 38 after his back started giving him problems while playing other sports. He’s run in national events before the Atlanta race, but typically sticks to mountain races recently as it’s better on his body. 

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His favorite race that he does yearly up in Mt. Washington, and with it not taking place until June, it lined up well to allow him to train for the 5K without sacrificing his training for the race he cares most about. 

All that hill training paid off down in Atlanta. The final mile of the 5K was all uphill, an area he excels in. 

“I had a conservative approach to the race,” Larsen said. “The last mile up the hill is really cool for a 5K. I cruised through that. Being a hill runner, I felt good on that last mile.”

While the race ended in glory, it was a rocky start down in Atlanta for Larsen. The day before the race he went out to survey the course, but in the large city of Atlanta, got lost and ended up walking for eight miles trying to find his way back. 

He was able to dust off the tough start to the trip and put together the superb performance once the race began. 

“I kept my spirit together,” Larsen said. “The race started at 7:30 in the morning so I had to be ready to go. It’s not hard, it’s exciting doing these national events. You have all the best runners over 40 in the country vying for these five year ago groups so it’s very easy to get excited going into it.” 

Luckily for Larsen, the weather was comparable to what it would be in Franklin County this time of year. It was 38 degrees the morning of the race, just where he wanted it. 

“I don’t mind racing in the cold,” Larsen said. “I was happy this was in February. If it was in April, I wouldn’t have done it. I do have trouble running in the heat.”

Larsen was able to defeat Gene Dykes, a legendary runner who had been the previous national champ in the 5K in the 70-74 age group. Dykes, who is 74, had suffered some injuries so Larsen knew he’d have a great shot at beating him in Atlanta. Dykes ended up taking second at the race. 

“I was confident I could beat him with all the injuries he’s had,” Larsen said. “He had done a previous event in December and I was pacing faster than him. I was happy he was going to be there. I got to meet him and that was cool. He’s an icon.” 

At national races like the one in Atlanta, they do an age-graded percentage hat determines who the fastest person would be if everyone was the same age. Of the 250 people who raced, Larsen had the fifth fastest time on the scale. 

So what’s his secret to keeping is body in such great shape at 70 to put out those impressive performances? 

“The science and training attract me,” Larsen said. “You need recovery. You run hard, you run easy, whatever it is you get banged up. A lot of guys make the mistake of making their everyday runs hard. They’re looking for short-term gains. The way to really improve is to let your body recover after a hard workout.”

Another things that keeps him going is the team element he has in his running community. He’s been in the same running group for 32 years and it continues to push him to new heights. 

“There’s a lot of camaraderie there,” Larsen said. “Some have gotten injured over the years but there’s been an influx of younger runners and it’s a great way to meet people. You see them, you drink beer with them and the younger guys help push me to really be faster.” 

So what do you do after winning a national championship? For Larsen, it’s to continue raising the bar as he has his eyes set on other records he hopes to accomplish. 

“I’m thinking about other national events now because I could do well in them,” Larsen said. “I’m playing with the idea of doing a competitive mile. I did a couple competitive miles when I was 40 but I never really trained for it. I have a small window here now where I want to keep competing because every year you slow down. The guy I beat, he was renowned but now he’s four years older and has slowed down. That’s what’s down the road for me.”

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