There are plenty of people in Thurston County that can talk your ear off about running. Solicited or unsolicited, they can offer advice on shoes, races, form and workouts. They can toot their own horns about PR’s and high mileage weeks. But how many people do you know that will LISTEN – really just listen to you – about your goals, where you’re at, what you want from running. If you’re looking for that person that always has an open ear (or two), look no further than Craig Dickson. He’s not only a fabulous listener, but a runner with a resume that’s astounding, advice that’s sports based and individual, and a demeanor that makes you feel right at home. So settle in, and get to know Olympia’s Craig Dickson a little more. This time he’s talking and we get to listen.
First you must know this – Craig is a first class runner through and through. His list of running accolades spans over 20 years. The hard-core numbers look like this: 29:06 in the 10K, 14:08 in the 5K, 3:47 in the 1,500 meters, 1:05 in the ½ Marathon, and a Marathon Olympic Trials Qualifying time of 2:20:21. Add to that list two trips to the World Cross Country Championships, NAIA National Cross Country Champion, US Team Member in the World ½ Marathon Championships, and 8 NAIA All American Awards. If you are not a running geek and that all sounds like mumbo-jumbo it just means he’s wicked fast, in various distances.
Craig grew up in Evergreen, Colorado as an active kid, living in the mountains, riding his bike, and running to the fishing hole and friends’ houses. Running was his mode of transportation. He participated in team sports and was a good team player because of his hustle and passing but was never the team star. His sister encouraged him to try out for track in the 9th grade. Although he had the natural ability, he was untrained at this point and showed up to the track time trial with no real practice under his belt. It was a painful experience, but by the end of that year he had improved his time by over two minutes. He later made the varsity team and running became the sport that took him to state level competition. Running felt natural. It was something that he could do for himself and by himself. His high school coaches were low pressure and provided good solid workouts. His confidence and independence grew in stride. His senior year he made it to state, but his regular coach was on sabbatical. “The other coach gave me workouts and I trained on my own. The night before state was prom night. I stayed up till 3AM, set the alarm, woke up the next morning, drove myself to the meet, warmed up and ran, placing 3rd in the two mile.” This was the race that taught him HE could do it. Running and the goals he achieved boosted his self confidence and opened the next door of his running career — college.
Running planted the idea of college. Craig knew he wanted to continue running and college provided that outlet. He was recruited by colleges in Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming and decided on Adams State, in Colorado. The coach at Adams State, Joe Vigil, is one of the most influential running coaches in American history. (In addition to coaching at Adams State for 30 years, he coached Olympic Marathoner Deena Kastor.) That first season Craig walked onto the team, but earned an athletic scholarship by his second year. Craig thrived under his legendary coach, weathering the changes in mileage (it’s BIG), team size and injuries. At one point in his collegiate career he developed a stress fracture. Craig came back a more focused and motivated runner.
Craig left college with a spot on the US Team and a shoe contract. Post-collegiate athletes will tell you it’s hard out there, making it on your own. Craig supported himself in a multitude of jobs, none all that glamorous (except for the keg bottling one), to support his running. He tried training on his own and with coaches, but always connected with other world class runners, whether living in Alamosa, Boulder or Olympia.
He moved to Olympia in 1995 and trained with fellow Olympia runners Karen Steen, Linda Huyck, Phil Jasperson, and Rich Brown, to name a few. That group of 5 would all go to the Olympic Trials in 2000. Craig ran his qualifying race in Pittsburgh, PA the same course that the trials would take place on. In a 1999 article by Greg Skinner, you can hear the passion in Craig’s voice.”I’m gonna train hard and be healthy. Place is more important (than PR or time) and I’m gonna give it a shot.” The reality is, he had a rough go at it. The weather was hot and humid and “I had a do or die mentality.” By mile 19 he had his singlet off and started walking. “I was waiting for the ‘loser cruiser bus’ (the sweep car).” Then he saw Phil Jasperson come by and Phil told him to join him. He put that singlet back on and started to run with Phil. But he was done. After awhile “I just called it.” He gave it everything he had. He was physically ready and trained to put him in the top 20. Top 3 for that race make it onto the Olympic Team. He went for it. No doubt about that. It was tough after that and Craig found himself really unmotivated. He ran the Lakefair 10k, but his legs were still tapped out from the marathon. Many Thurston County residents may remember him during these years while he was working at South Sound Running. Craig truly made SSR a place where runners and non-runners alike could go for helpful advice.
His ability to listen and knowledge of running and training made it natural fit for him to coach. He’s had coaching gigs at St. Martins and The Evergreen State College. Having been a student of great high school coaches and a legendary college coach has influenced Craig’s coaching style. He understands the dynamics of coaching larger groups and the attention and detail you can give to an individual or smaller group. One of Craig’s obvious strengths is his listening. He asks runners “what do you want to get out of this? Is it a specific race or maybe a certain time? They have to have an idea of why they are doing it for themselves.”
Craig’s other strength? Doing things just a little different, mixing it up. Since Craig has paired up with Rachael Jamison, they’ve given us Guerilla Running and we’ve seen some of the coolest things to hit the running community since…..dry fit! “We just started running together and talking about all these crazy ideas.” The 3 Tower Race was their first foray into running events and a hit was born. Send runners out with one objective – reach each of the 3 water towers in Olympia and Tumwater and make it back to the start. No route. This year will be the fourth year of the 3 Tower Race and it’s free. This is your year to join the “Quirkiest Race in the Northwest.”
Ideas turned into workshops, camps, and events. “We just started doing our own stuff, circuit work and PT workouts.” These workout became blueprints for the modern day Guerilla boot camps and speed workouts. Word spread of these crazy fun events and running groups. You can now find Guerilla Runners with training opportunities in yoga, strength, speed, etc – 7 days a week! Why, because it’s FUN. It’s FRIENDLY! It’s almost like a running co-operative. Members contribute, share stories, and help motivate each other.
So how did this grassroots running idea group turn into one of the most inspiring and active running communities in Thurston County? Guerilla Running has the solid belief that runners do better running together. New runners need that sense of community – no one wants to feel like an outsider – so inclusion into a group is paramount. Running together builds confidence and camaraderie. One of the things Craig has really tried to change is getting the guys to run together more. He loves having new guys start running, and fall in love with the sport and the challenge.
Now Craig Dickson, the elite runner, the coach, the running buddy has added one more notch into his running belt – race director! He and Rachael put on numerous runs every year and they are growing in size and popularity. As a participant, we may not acknowledge the amount of sweat and tears that goes into putting on a safe, supported, and smooth running event! “It is always cool when it’s done. As a runner I had taken advantage of all the good work that goes on behind the scenes of an event.” Remember runners to thank those volunteers!
If you have yet to experience a Guerilla Running event there are two coming up. The Hillbilly Half Marathon and Mountain Marathon – which is part of the La Sportiva series this year, is March 3rd. Get ready for a mudfest – these races take place in Capital Forest. Or you can join the gang for the Cupcake Classic Backwards Mile on April 14th. Yep, just like it’s named, you run backwards for 1 mile.
At this point, I am one happy runner that Craig did not pursue his childhood dreams of becoming a professional ski racer or stuntman! Thurston County is one lucky place to have him running with us, coaching us, directing races, and of course – just listening to us.
Thanks again to Denny Brooks at ontherunevents.com for the pictures!