Dean Runs 100 Mile Races in Free Time

Dean Runs 100 Mile Races in Free Time

By: Erika Hobbs, Patch 

As dean of discipline at Bremen High School, David Curtin works day after day with the toughest of teens, the kind who sometimes make him smack his own head and think "Oh my God, kid? Are you kidding me? Are you doing this again?" And day after day, he's there, just as he has been for the past 13 years, coaching each one to do just a little bit better.

When Curtin goes home, he burns that frustration away, miles away, on a track, or sometimes in a field or maybe on a trail, always for hours. Running.

Curtin, 45, is an ultramarathoner who just completed the Cruel Jewel in Georgia on May 17. Ultramarathoners run in footraces that are longer than the traditional 26.2-mile marathon, and in the Cruel Jewel's case, it's 106 mile-run through the Appalachian Mountains. Because of the altitude, heat and terrain, it's considered one of the toughest ultramarathon races. He ran it in 33 hours, placing 26th out of 220 runners.

Curtin, never one to shy away from a challenge, has completed five 100 mile or longer races, seven marathons, 34 ultra-marathons, and one triathlon in the two decades he's been running.

He didn't start out running. Curtin played football at Bremen in high school and was a fullback at Ball State University in Indiana. But when he was about 25, a doctor told him his cholesterol was "through the roof," Curtin said, and that he needed to make some changes.

"I was a football player and kept eating and lifting like a football player," he said, "and when you stop doing things like you're supposed to be doing ... I kept getting bigger and bigger."

To get healthier, he tried running. But could take it for 20 minutes. Tops.

"If you would have asked me if I would ever run 100 miles then I definitely would have laughed in your face," he said. "Now I can't live without running."

At the time, he was teaching history at Bremen, and Curtin and a group of teachers ran together for support. Each set of 20-minute jogs added up, and soon they were urging him to run his first race, a 10K. From there, he moved to marathons — he ran Boston's twice — but grew too addicted to beating his own records. He needed a different challenge, he said. And then he saw his first trail. He was hooked. Curtin, the ultramarathoner, was born.

"Racing is kind of and end game because there's goal," he said. "The training part — I enjoy that sometimes even more."

His sweet spot are the mountains. Some people relax on the beach, but whether it's the Appalachian or Sierra mountains or Lake Tahoe, "the mountains are my peace," he said.

It can be a challenge for the resident of the flatlands of Munster, Ind., to train for them. But every school day, he slides his Hoka One One Challenger ATRs on at 4 a.m. and runs for six or eight miles. On weekends, he heads to the trails or Swallow Cliff in Palos, or creates treadmill hills and runs for three or four hours. That time is his and his alone to let go and to be free.

Neither his wife nor his two teenaged daughters run with him — although he tried to persuade the teens to run, he said. The girls chose volleyball instead. Running, however, become a family affair anyway, an unexpected gift Curtin cherishes. His wife and daughters travel the country with him and wait for him at aid stations to cheer him on. His brothers have accompanied him on trips like the one to Tahoe.

"We have had the time of our lives," Curtin said.

Others in his orbit, too, including Paige Galvin, Bremen's long distance coach — a position Curtin once held — have become part of his running life. Galvin ran a pacer, or a kind of personal coach, alongside Curtin during one of his ultramarathons.

"I consider myself lucky to be able to do this," he said.

Running changed Curtin, and not just physically, although Curtin shed 75 pounds after he began, and his cholesterol and other heart-healthy indicators are now just fine. The ups and downs of training on tough terrain have taught him resilience. Patience. Grit. Curtin has learned the art of maintenance so things just don't fall apart. And when they do, he learned, you can get right back up and start again.

"Running," he said, "Made me a better person."

He tries to share some of those lessons with his colleagues and students because like ultramarathon running, education be a grind.

At a recent staff training, he shared his trials and tribulations with training to try to urge his colleagues to take care of themselves and manage the stress they as educators endure while teaching kids who, too, weather their own traumas and stressors.

"You know, sometimes you're on top of the world and sometimes you're down in the dumps. No one has a perfect life," he said.

With the students, it's the same, even on the days when he shakes his head in disbelief at one of them. Some of the kids take much longer to change their behavior and need a few extra trips to his office. But it's a lot like running: One more 4 a.m. wake up. One more 20 minute-jog. One more hill to climb. Curtin said he just keeps pushing them.

The highlight, he said, is graduation, and shaking hands with the kids he worked so hard with over four years.

The finish line was always there. Curtin and his kids were just in it for the long haul.

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