McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Sure, there were presents, cake and plenty of family and friends. But there were also cowbells, stopwatches and 50 trips around an oval rubber surface measuring 400 meters in length. This was no ordinary birthday party.
For Greg Mitchell, this was one 40th birthday that will literally go down in the record books. The Linfield alumnus and associate cross country coach toed the line at the Maxwell Field track the night of Friday, Sept. 13 and stepped off the rubber surface 1 hour, 4 minutes, 47.16 seconds later as the American masters record holder in the 20,000 meters.
“It didn’t cross my mind until a couple of months ago that I would ever be an American record holder,” said Mitchell, a two-time Northwest Conference champion in the 10,000 meters as a Wildcat. “I didn’t even think about the fact that these (obscure) records were even out there.”
When the 1995 Linfield graduate and accomplished runner came across the standards – which range from 15,000 meters to the farthest distance run in 144 hours – he discovered a perfect opportunity to use his passion to celebrate an age milestone that most individuals dread.
“What can I do to make it a special event, beyond just sitting around with black balloons and everyone making fun of me?” Mitchell thought, referencing the decor and gags associated with traditional “Over the Hill” birthday parties. While brainstorming the possibilities, he “pretty quickly went down the running path – pun intended.”
Months later, with nearly 200 friends and family members in attendance, including his wife and daughter, former coaches and teammates and current Wildcats, Mitchell realized his goal.
He bested the previous track record, set by 42-year-old John Metzgar in April of 2005, by more than three minutes. Metzgar had completed the 50-lap race in Jacksonville, Flo., in 1:08.21.5.
“The 20K was fairly soft in my eyes,” Mitchell said on how he decided on the specific race. “I thought there was a very good chance I would get it, and that way if I invited my friends and family to come they wouldn’t see me trying to get the record, they’d see me get the record.”
But this was about more than fame and glory. The event brought together people from the many facets of Mitchell’s life, including family, friends, fellow runners, the Linfield and McMinnville communities and the Upward Bound program. Much of his excitement about the event revolved around witnessing his various “life groups” interact with each other, and also for the opportunity to promote running as a sport.
Coordinating the record-breaking performance was easier said than done, of course. To formally apply for the record, Mitchell needed to comply with USA Track & Field standards. This included recruiting enough runners to field a team of five, at least three of which needed to finish the race; sanctioning the event through USA Track & Field, which amounted to paperwork and a $75 fee; organizing the presence of three certified officials; and setting up automated timing and photo finish systems.
To satisfy the requirements, Mitchell called upon Linfield cross country alumni Chris McIsaac ’10 and Cameron Chester ’13, along with two other running buddies from Colorado and New Mexico, as pacers and fellow competitors. He also enlisted the help of Linfield head cross country and track & field coach Travis Olson to handle some of the logistical elements.
“In essence, it was probably about as much as putting on a full-size track and field meet,” Mitchell said. “But my thinking on that was, if I’m going to do this, to run 50 laps on the track and try to get this record, I want it to stick.”
The record does not officially belong to Mitchell yet; that status is contingent upon a vote by the USA Track & Field staff at a scheduled meeting later this year. While he waits on the final word, Mitchell expects to keep plenty busy. In addition to assisting with the Linfield cross country program, as he has done for the past seven years, he is deep into training for the USA Masters Marathon Championships, contested Oct. 6 in Minneapolis & St. Paul, Minn.
“This was a neat experience,” Mitchell said of the record-setting performance, which ranks high among his long list of running achievements, including a top-35 effort at the 2010 Boston Marathon, two NWC championships and two runner-up finishes in the 10,000 meters and five national championship meet appearances. “It wasn’t just about me having a good time. I think people enjoyed watching, were excited about the record, and had a good time hanging out.”
Reactions from the Linfield running community
“Greg is one of my all-time favorite runners that I have coached. He is tough as nails! I think he is such a great role model for our current runners on the team, as well as anyone who aspires to run until they simply can't run anymore.”
-Dr. Garry Killgore, former Linfield cross country/track & field head coach, current HHPA department chair and 2013 Linfield Athletics Hall of Fame inductee
"It was amazing to see how many people Greg has inspired through his running. The atmosphere was full of so much excitement and support from family, friends, teammates, and athletes. Greg has always motivated his athletes to truly love and appreciate the sport. He encourages each of us to keep pursuing running, even after college, and he lives such a wonderful example of the persistance and passion that it takes. He is such a role model in the way he promotes a healthy, positive life as not only a coach and an athlete, but as a father and a teacher. It's always a treat to watch how he competes fully on race day."
-Marci (Klimek) Gage '10, NCAA cross country All-American, NWC cross country champion and current member of the Oiselle professional racing team
"Greg is someone I look up to, both in terms of the commitment he's shown to our program and the work he puts in to pursue his own running goals. Not too many other teams get to be coached by an American record holder!"
-Joe Gladow (Sr., Shoreline, Wash.) '14, two-time all-region performer and current member of the Linfield cross country/track & field programs
"It was an awesome event for Greg, and I am really happy for him. I am continually impressed at what he can or has accomplished. As soon as I start to think that he may be losing a step because of his age, he goes out and breaks a masters American record. I know running is such a big part of his life and has been since he was 17, and that is something that is so valuable to our team because of how they can relate to him. He shows his passion for running and I know that our team really looks up to him. I am truly thankful for everything that he does for our program."
-Travis Olson '98, Linfield cross country/track & field head coach, six-time NAIA All-American and 2012 Linfield Athletes Hall of Fame inductee
"We were excited not only to support him, but to celebrate the large community he helped build. Overall, this speaks to the authentic leader, mentor, and friend that Greg is to the community...Consistent with all that is Greg, the record itself is not a surprise. It was definitely amazing, and painful, to watch, but he is authentically modest and believes people can achieve huge accomplishments, just like him. He demonstrates daily how simple and consistent steps can lead to achieving unthinkable goals, through dedicated practice or taking a chance and filling out an application for college. Greg is simply a wonderful person, one of a kind."
-Joni (Claypool) Tonn '06, three-time NCAA All-American, two-time NWC champion and former Linfield Upward Bound staff member
Greg Mitchell (center)
Two-time NWC track champion as a Wildcat
Director of Sports Information
McMinnville, OR 97128