He’s up before the sun and most of us, with nowhere he has to be.
Wayne Lambert, 70, dresses, laces up his shoes and leaves his home in Alcoa’s Andover subdivision to greet the day. His 5 a.m. destination is a facility in Knoxville where he and a group of much younger runners stretch and perform drills before logging the miles for the day.
The group is appropriately named Knoxville Endurance. Lambert has been a familiar sight there every Tuesday and Thursday for years. He loves a challenge.
That was most evident when he turned 65. Lambert decided to mark the occasion by running 65 miles in the week leading up to his milestone birthday. And it was mission accomplished.
“I said when I turn 70, I will do something like that again,” Lambert said. Wife Susan suggested he might try running a half-marathon, which is 13.1 miles, each month for 12 months leading up to Nov. 20, 2019 — the day he turned 70. The challenge was on at that point.
Ironically Lambert already had run two half-marathons before Susan devised the plan, in September and October 2018. He had a head start.
In addition to meeting the goal of 14 half-marathons in 14 months, Lambert also had decided he wanted to run 70 miles in seven days to usher in his 71st year on Earth. He met that goal, too.
One step at a time
On Saturday, Nov. 16, he ran strongly to the finish line with cheers sounding loudly. His family had built the celebratory finish line at the pavilion on the greenway behind the Blount County Courthouse. He had run so much the previous days of the week, he only needed 4 miles to complete his 70-mile challenge.
The 14 half-marathons he ran in 14 months equals 183.4 miles.
A typical week will have Lambert on the trail or track five of seven days. He’ll go 35 to 40 miles just because he wants to. It’s built into his DNA, he explained.
Susan had made up T-shirts. Son Eric and his wife Buffie made the balloon arch at the finish line, where Lambert met up with the people who matter most — his family, friends and fellow runners. Some of them ran with him on those last miles Nov. 16.
“As an adult, I started running when I was in my early 30s,” Lambert said. “I was in the Air National Guard and I was going into officer training at the base. For eight weeks, we had to run 10 miles per week, so I started training myself. I pretty much had the bug from that point on. That was 37 years ago.”
He grew up in North Knoxville and lived briefly in New Mexico and Nashville, but calls Blount County home. For years, he’s run with various groups in each locale he’s gone. Knoxville Endurance is his Tuesday and Thursday appointment; he’s got others and conveniently lives at the mouth of the Alcoa part of the county’s greenway system.
“It’s like being a golfer and living on a golf course,” Lambert said. “I go right out my front door and onto the trail.”
He also knows distances like the back of his hand. If he chooses to do 4 miles, he knows a route; if 20 miles is on his calendar, he can tell you precisely the route needed. Many of them are logged on the Maryville-Alcoa greenway system.
“I have run every inch of it many times,” Lambert explained. He said it is one of the best greenway systems around.
Cool weather is preferred over hot; it can be raining as long as it’s not storming, Lambert said. Viewing gorgeous sunrises makes for some of the best mornings he’s had on a trail.
Counting up the miles
Half-marathons are his preferred distance, although he ran full marathons — 26.2 miles — for years. And if there is a 10K or 5K nearby, chances are he’s signing up. He has coached lots of runners for their first marathons and couch potatoes whose goal has been a 5K. That’s 3.1 miles.
The Smoky Mountain Half last September and the Columbus, Ohio Half last October kicked off this latest challenge. Those were followed by a half-marathon in Tucson, Arizona. In the full-on heat of summer, he elected to go to Columbia, South Carolina and Chattanooga. The run in Chattanooga was called “Burn Your Half Off,” Lambert said.
“It was pretty true,” Susan added.
Susan likewise is into fitness and used to run, but said she prefers walking now. In addition, she teaches tai chi and also a yoga class at Blount Memorial’s Wellness Center at Springbrook. She and Wayne even walked one of his 14 half-marathons together.
But when he’s running, he wants to be among the top finishers for his age group, and that has happened many times. Sometimes there are only three runners his age, he admitted. In some, there have been more than 80.
Lambert’s fastest half-marathon was the one he did 11 years ago in Oak Ridge. He said his secret goal was to beat that time for one of these 14. He trained his best; he finished only 3 minutes off that pace.
“My very best time was an hour and 52 minutes,” he said. He came in at 1:55, still a satisfying accomplishment.
The wear and tear
Five or six pairs of shoes bite the dust every year, succumbing to the miles they must travel. Fortunately, the same thing hasn’t happened to his knees or hips. They are original. His worst injuries were to his hamstring years ago and when he fractured a toe.
“Everyone has aches and pains,” this runner said. “Thankfully, I haven’t had the real serious injuries.”
He credits a good coach with seeing to that.
Now that Lambert has reached his goals of 70 miles in seven days and 14 half-marathons in 14 months, he can slow down, a bit. Out his front door the adventure awaits and he has no intention of redirecting his energies. There are no lazy days in fluffy recliners for now.
As he explains, “I would much rather wear out than rust out.”