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English professor still runs marathons at 72

by Colin Poitras - October 6, 2008


When he’s not grading papers or teaching undergraduates the finer points of grammar, longtime English professor David Sonstroem is usually out running.

The 72-year-old Sonstroem has been taking daily runs for more than 30 years. In 2006, he was named the second fastest over-70 marathoner in the United States and 12th fastest marathoner in his age group in the world. Last year, New England Runner magazine named Sonstroem Connecticut’s top male runner in the 70-79 age category.

On Oct. 11, Sonstroem will put his skills to the test once again, when he joins thousands of other runners in his sixth appearance in the ING Hartford Marathon.

Sonstroem trains with his longtime UConn running buddies: Harry Johnson and George Scott, professors emeriti of business, and Thomas “Tim” Weinland, an emeritus professor of education.

For many years, they were joined by J.A. Cameron, a professor emeritus of molecular and cell biology who died in 1999. John Johnson, a local insurance representative and another running partner, also makes trips to the track when his schedule allows.

They’re a rowdy bunch. With a 10-mile run taking a little under two hours, there’s plenty of time for some good-natured razzing, in between discussions of world events, national politics, University news, and updates on people’s personal lives.

Sonstroem, a Harvard-educated expert on Victorian literature, usually brings a ‘daily word’ to share. Recently, it was ‘elevenses,’ a British expression for a light refreshment or snack taken mid-morning.

“It’s fun to move and to be outside with good people,” Sonstroem says. “We are constantly ribbing each other as we go along. But it’s all in good fun. It’s really the camaraderie of running together every day that I enjoy most.”

English professor David Sonstroem trains on the track at the Sherman Family Sports Complex. He will run in the Hartford Marathon on Oct. 11.
English professor David Sonstroem trains on the track at the Sherman Family Sports Complex. He will run in the Hartford Marathon on Oct. 11. Photo by Jessica Tommaselli

Sonstroem started at UConn as an assistant English professor in 1965.

After a dismal start trying to play tennis with his colleagues, he put down his racquet and hit the track.

He is well known for his brisk pace. It’s one his running mates have come to expect from such a dedicated athlete.

“David the runner is tireless – 10 miles a day,” Weinland says. “He’s always experimenting with his stride, while the rest of us are still trying to move forward at a pace faster than a brisk walk!”

Sonstroem and his buddies figure they’ve logged roughly 305,000 miles together over the years, enough distance to take them from Earth to the Moon.

Now they are, so to speak, on their way back. Sonstroem figures at their current pace they should return to Earth when each of them is approximately 120 years old.

The 73-year-old Harry Johnson, who started running before Sonstroem and has three Boston Marathons and four Bay State marathons under his belt, is a little more cautious in his assessment.

“I can only hope gravity pulls us in,” Johnson says. “I’m not so sure our wheelchairs will make it.”

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