Ron Wells was curious. What if he retired from teaching after 36 years, let others lead biology, physics and chemistry lectures, and what if Wells focused on Wells, seeing just how fit and fast he could become?
"I wanted to see what a 60-year-old could really do," Wells said.
Incredible feats, it turns out.
Wells retired in June, started a fanatical training program in August and come December, at the USA Track & Field National Club Cross Country Championships in San Francisco, he placed third overall across 10 kilometers in 38 minutes, 36 seconds.
He would later run 17:44 for five kilometers, a 5:42 per-mile pace.
Ron Wells' wheelbarrow workout could become the latest training fad.
REVVED - Ron Wells' wheelbarrow workout could become the latest training fad. CNS Photo by John Gibbins.
"I'm doing this because I wanted to be reborn," Wells said. "I've never felt better than I do now. I feel like I'm 20 years old."
Wells was hardly a sloven couch potato when he embarked on his August metamorphosis. He rode dirt bikes and motorcycles. He ran 25 miles a week. At 5 foot 11, 142 pounds, he stayed muscularly fit chopping trees and hauling dirt on his one-acre property in Alpine, Calif.
But come August, Wells ramped up his exercise program with some unusual workouts. Two and three times a week he loaded 70-100 pounds of dirt in a wheelbarrow at the bottom of his driveway, pushed it 100 feet up the sharp incline, then lugged it back down. Wells would do 10 repetitions.
"Coming down takes as much strength as going up," said Wells, who now weighs 131 pounds. "And I've lost a few loads. It winds me more than running five miles."
Wells would go on 13-mile runs in Alpine's hilly backcountry. He'd do a dozen 350-yard hill repeats in Balboa Park. At Grossmont College, he'd run four one-mile repeats all out, aimed at a 5:35 pace.
Of Wells' unorthodoxed training, Hal Goforth, a professor of kinesiology at Point Loma Nazarene University and a 31-time Boston Marathon finisher, said, "What's that saying? That that doesn't kill me makes me stronger? He's not broken and it's made him stronger."
Wells' commitment to fitness stretches back 25 years. He was in his mid-30s, riding a dirt bike up a sand dune outside Borrego when 10 feet from the crest he stepped off the bike and with the engine running, tried pushing it up the hill.
"I was pushing and pushing and pushing and all of a sudden I didn't have any more. I collapsed right there," Wells said. "I almost passed out. I started seeing stars and said, 'Man, I've gotta change this.'"
Within five years, Wells was one of San Diego's top masters runners, participating on a team that placed second in a national cross country championship.
Then, with a newborn son, he backed off racing, entering maybe one event a year until last season.
Through the years Wells has been so cognizant of rest and recovery that he often didn't run during the summer.
As for his diet, Wells calls himself a grazer. He'll eat five, six times a day. "I eat when I get hungry, but I don't eat much," he said.
He'll pick tangerines, oranges, grapefruit, tangelos, kumquats and macadamia nuts off his trees. He tries to divide his diet equally between protein, carbs and fats, but he's hardly fanatical. He likes a good steak and satisfies his sweet tooth.
"Life's too short," he said.
Wells exercises his mind playing video games, spending 3-4 hours on the Xbox. "You got to keep the neurons firing in the brain if you want to stay sharp mentally," he said.
He starts the day with a 30-minute hot-water bathtub soaking.
"Everything fades away and I'm able to focus on what I want to do," he said.
His 2007 goals: win his age group at the Carlsbad 5000; break the 60-64 national 5K record on the track (17:19, set in 1980). Then he plans to shift his emphasis to the business world. He'd like to become a personal trainer or coach.
Slowing down obviously isn't in Wells' plans.
Said his wife of 35 years, Linda, "He goes like crazy from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., then he dies. He just goes 'til he's out of gas."