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81-year-old makes the cutoff at 1,000K race in South Africa

Don Winkley of Corpus Christi, Texas has held two age-group world records in ultrarunning

While some of us were pondering our New Year’s running resolutions for 2020, one 81-year-old American ultrarunner was in the midst of completing a 1,000-kilometre race many thousands of miles from home. On December 30, Don Winkley of Corpus Christi, Texas finished the 1,000-kilometre distance at the Running Festival Wychwood near Johannesburg, South Africa in a little over 18 days. Winkley is 81.

The race, which started on December 12 and is run on a 500m track beside a public school (the running direction changes every eight hours), bills itself as the longest continuous circuit race in the southern hemisphere. There are multiple race options from 10K to 20 days or 1,000 miles.

Winkley is one of a diminishing number of ultrarunners who ran back in the heyday of multi-day races, which are seeing something of a resurgence. Laz Lake’s 500K Last Annual Vol State race is hugely popular, Dave Proctor now has his own backyard ultra in Alberta (modelled after Laz’s Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra), Desert Solstice had a female winner and scores of runners are still on the course at Across the Years. On his Facebook page, Winkley reminisces fondly about running with multiple world record-holders Yiannis Kouros and Jean-Gilles Boussiquet.

He reckons he has raced 28,000 miles in his lifetime. That’s like running from Halifax to Mexico City and back, four times.

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Winkley’s running CV is impressive. He only started running at age 38, back in 1976, racing various distances up to the marathon. He once broke three hours (in 1985), 10 years before he ever ran a 6-day race. His first ultra was a 67K race at the Swissalpine Marathon in Davos in 1991, when he was in his early 50s.

At his second 6-day race, Winkley set an American M55 age group record, which stood for many years, at 450 miles/725K. In 1998, he briefly held the M60 age group world record in 48-hours (200.5 miles/323K), and his U.S. record was broken only recently.

In 1995, Winkley completed the 4,700K TransAmerica Footrace. He has 10 Trans-Gaule finishes (an 18-day stage race across France).

Last year he set the M80 world record for 48-hours at EMU, a 6-day race in Hungary, as well as breaking the M80 age group record for 6-day racing at Across The Years, with 326 miles (524K).

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