Cross Country assistant finds new goals in running
When Dan Kuhlman was nearing the often unwelcome milestone of his 50th birthday he found himself thinking about what he needed to do for himself when the day arrived.
"I was going to turn 50," Kuhlman, now 52, said. "I just thought I really wanted to be in the best possible shape I could be in."
After coming to that conclusion, Kuhlman, now Eudora High School assistant cross country coach, decided to do something about it.
That conclusion has taken him from the trails of Clinton Lake to the Black Hills of South Dakota over the past four years as he has found himself immersed in the world of competitive running.
"He started doing this about four years ago and he's really taken off," Eudora coach Paul Boone said. "He's really been great with our kids out there. To be honest, I think he's one of the best area distance runners in his age group."
As Kuhlman competes in races ranging in distance from five kilometers to a marathon's 26 miles, he has come to another personal conclusion about what it is he's doing out there.
Winning isn't ultimately what's most important to him.
"I just try and set some realistic goals for myself," Kuhlman said. "It's about finishing a little faster than before, running at a certain pace and things like that. To me, that is what makes competing more satisfying, completing those goals and pushing myself a little bit further the next time around."
One of those goals was met earlier in the year as Kuhlman finished the Olathe marathon in a time of 3 hours, 29 minutes -- one minute under his goal of three-and-a-half hours. The finish also qualified him for next year's Boston Marathon, a landmark for distance runners.
"I'll probably go on and compete in that," Kuhlman said. "That's a pretty big deal and it takes a lot of preparation and discipline. I think I'll be ready to go see what I can do."
It all seems pretty foreign compared to what Kuhlman used to do. He joined the cross country team as an assistant coach four years ago, but coached football before that.
He said there's a big difference between football, which he coached for 25 years, and the quite tranquility a runner can find on a dimly lit forested path.
"Competitive running is a very poetic sport in its simplicity," Kuhlman said. "You're alone out there and so it's so minimalistic in nature. Football is so fast-paced and has so many intricate details going on. It's very different."
But as different as the two sports are, there is one thing both have in common, an element which is there in all sports.
"As different as the two sports are, the level of competition is definitely the same," Kuhlman said. "It's very intense when you're out there. There's no one else out there with you. There are no teammates to blame. You're the only one who has control of how you do out there."
It's a challenge Kuhlman said he's seen managed brilliantly in the runners he's worked with in Eudora.
He's helped coach many of the area's best, including three boys that qualified for state last fall, a girls team that placed fourth at state and Class 4A cross country champion Brittney Graff.
"They've inspired me," Kuhlman said. "Sometimes we all go out and do some hard workouts and these kids are more than ready to go out and do it. They don't complain about it or anything. They then go out and compete at a high level every time. It's quite motivating."
That motivation and the support of the tight-knit community of competitive runners has helped Kuhlman keep setting goals for himself as he strives to maintain what he calls the "best shape of his life."
But even he knows there will always be other elements at work as time passes.
"I'll keep running as long as my body holds out," Kuhlman said. "I'm not very flexible and my knees hurt, but I'll go on as long as I can."