SALT LAKE CITY — If you were to see Lloyd Hansen run, you may assume he is a seasoned runner, that he has run all of his life.
Seeing Hansen sprinting to the finish line, beating runners half his age, you would not think that 12 years earlier he was overweight, hospitalized and battling heart disease.
On Aug. 16, Hansen, 66, crossed the finish line of the Hobble Creek half Marathon with a time of 1:22.25, with a 6:17 per mile average. This time would would earn him 38th place overall in one of the premier races in Utah, as well as the fastest half marathon that has ever been run in the United States in his age division on a certified course. So far this year, he has won four USA Track and Field National Championships in his age division.
Just like many young husbands and fathers, Hansen focused most of his early years on earning an education and providing for his family.
“My early focus was on education and career,” Hansen said. Earning both a bachelors degree in economics from BYU and an MBA from Northwestern University, Hansen completed in four years what would take most people six. He then went on to have a successful 33-year career in the automotive industry, eventually becoming a vice president and company officer of the Ford Motor Company.
While he enjoyed his success, the 70-hour workweeks came with a high level of stress, and Hansen saw very quickly that his health was suffering.
“Unfortunately, for many years, it was my fitness that really suffered, Hansen said. “I was hospitalized three times in my 30’s and 40’s for issues related to my heart and was eventually diagnosed with early stages of heart disease.”
When he was 54, Hansen’s doctor recommended he lose weight and start a serious exercise program, and decided to start running.
“It was tough … It took me weeks to just run a 12-minute mile.”
Hansen persevered, losing 35 pounds and increasing his mileage to 25 miles a week by the end of the first year. And at age 56, he ran his very first 5K with his daughter, Laura, running a nine-minute per mile pace.
But it wasn’t until 2005 — when he and his wife, Jan were called on an LDS Mission to coordinate the Perpetual Education Fund in South Africa — that he was introduced to competitive running.
“While living in Johannesburg, we were looking for an opportunity to become part of the community during our non-office hours and discovered a remarkable running culture. We were surrounded by more than a hundred running clubs,” he said.
He began running six to eight miles every morning at 5:15 a.m. with a local running club called the Rockies. He raced on Saturdays and holidays, and he eventually earned an award for racing 1,000 kilometers in a year, equaling a half marathon a week.
“We met some wonderful friends running in South Africa,” Hansen said. “I was especially impressed how running had helped bring together the various cultures in a country that had suffered racial and social prejudice for decades. I greatly enjoyed the morning runs, where we had a very diverse group who loved to share their many experiences and challenges during our runs. Just before returning, my wife and I ran the famous Two Oceans Ultra Marathon on one of the most beautiful courses in the world in Cape Town.”
Hansen said that when he returned to Utah, he rediscovered what Utah's outdoors has to offer a runner.
"Even though I had grown up in Utah, I had forgotten what a wonderful place this is for outdoor activities. It provided a perfect training environment to get more seriously involved in running.”
Hansen now runs with a group of friends in Salt Lake City who call themselves the Runagades. Adding to his growing number of supportive running groups, he is also part of the Ann Arbor Track Club, which supports master-level athletes.
Since his affiliation with the AATC, Hansen was invited to run on their national 60’s team, which has won several national team championships. He has also had the opportunity to compete with the best master runners in the US through the USATF national circuit races, meeting many life-long friends in the process.
“I have been pleasantly surprised at how fast progress comes if you stick to a consistent program, Hansen said. “Age is not as big a factor as you would think. After five years of training, including my time in Africa, I was competing at a national level," Hansen said. "In 2009, I won my first National Championship in the Half Marathon. Each year, I have continued to improve.
"Surprisingly, in the last 10 years, I have had a (personal record) every year, including PR’s this year in the 5k (18:08), 8k (31:02), and half marathon (1:22:25). It feels great to still be setting PR's at 66. Importantly, my heart issues have largely disappeared. I no longer need statin drugs, and I have cut my blood pressure medication by more than 75 percent. This is a great sport. My only regret was not discovering it earlier in life.”