ST. GEORGE — Doug Wells doesn’t consider himself old.
He turns 82 in November, but isn’t even retired from work. In fact, he’s taken time off from his day job as a real estate broker to prepare for an event one might not expect an octogenarian to take part in: a strenuous triathlon designed to test the mettle of some of the fittest athletes in world.
The Ironman 70.3 course in St. George, specifically, is recognized as one of the toughest in the company’s catalogue. Yet, on May 1, Wells will be right there in a wetsuit at the starting line at Sand Hollow State Park.
Wells has been here before and finished before. He’s run in 40 St. George Marathons. He’s done seven previous Ironman iterations in St. George, finishing six. He doesn’t describe himself as a competitive runner but thrives off the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing intense endurance events like triathlons and marathons for the simple reason of maintaining his health and enjoying fitness.
“I’ve never been a competitive athlete per se in my life other than in running,” Wells told St. George News. “Just completing these endurance events and even the shorter ones, it all kind of connects to being fit. I’ve been more dedicated to that than other endeavors, than making money.”
Wells has been running for nearly half a century. He started jogging in his early 30s just to be fit before a friend introduced him to distance running, a concept Wells said he didn’t enjoy at first.
He went a mile and didn’t like it. Then, next time, he went a little farther and it was “a little better.” Gradually, he developed the symptoms of the colloquial “runner’s high.” He got hooked on the positive feelings running introduce, the difference it made in his health and the feeling of accomplishment after completing long runs. He credits his fitness with boosting his immune system and helping him beat cancer twice.
“You begin to get in that groove and that you get the endorphins starting to kick in and then it become satisfying, a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling like you’re doing good for your body,” Wells said.
The few miles turned into 5ks. Then 10ks. Then marathons. Living in Salt Lake City at the time, the Las Vegas native would trek to St. George to run often to be nearer to the desert. Eventually, distance running was part of the lull that pulled him down to the area permanently.
Wells participated in the second St. George Marathon in 1978. He’s participated in nearly every one since. He had done some marathons and even a few triathlons, but said he didn’t really have much interest in those.
It wasn’t until he and his wife were having dinner in Kona, Hawaii, during an Ironman event that the race came onto Wells’ radar. Even then, he told his wife he probably wouldn’t do anything like that. Fast forward to the announcement that St. George would be hosting an event, which was the moment things changed for him.
“It’s in my backyard,” Wells said. “I am familiar with the terrain and the beauty. It just was one of those things, it just grabbed me. Had to do it.”
So he did it. Then he did it again. And again. He even qualified for the world championship back in Kona in 2017, finishing the event there.
In 2020, he was thinking about calling it quits before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped the event out. When it was announced that it was returning this year, Wells once again felt the grab of the race, pulling him back in. The fact that the championships will be held in Southern Utah helped, too.
Wells wasn’t even sure he would officially be the oldest participant until he was contacted by St. George News, though he already has been several times in the past few years. While he feels accomplished that he’s still able to take part in strenuous endurance races, he was nonchalant about the significance of it.
“Being 80, to me, doesn’t seem like real old,” Wells said. “But to most people, ‘Gee, 80, that’s real old.'”
Wells did say he wanted to complete a marathon at 80 and takes pride in the ability to race, it’s more about the process and staying healthy. He called the actual race a “reward” for the training to get there.
He accepts there’s a possibility of timing out, as he did in 2016, but still has expectations for the race.
“I want to run right by here on May 1st before the time limit,” Wells said, gesturing to the stretch of Main Street where the finish line will be. “That’s what I plan on doing.”
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