Profiles in Running: Dan “Otter” Otto

I first met Otter back before the Derby mini. (He was one of the two Chicago guys who didn’t kill me at a pre-race meeting.) He ended up getting a PR in that race. Otter strikes me as that guy that everybody likes to be around because he’s always up for some fun. Add in the fact that he’s a tremendous runner, and he becomes an instant feature on this blog. He’s also a Michigan State alum, but I won’t hold that against him.

Otter laughs in the faces of all those slowpokes behind him.

How long have you been running?
My running “career” can be broken into 2 phases, really. Phase 1 took place when I was young and swift, which lasted from 8th grade through the exact moment when I had my first sip of alcohol in college. The discovery of beer and college girls was too much for me, and this led to a rather abrupt end of Phase 1. What I’m referring to as Phase 2 is my adult running career, which really only began in earnest on February 21st, 2011 (more on that in a minute). So I’ve been running “seriously” for about a year and a half.

You call yourself a “former rugger, reluctant runner.” What does that mean?
I started playing club rugby after I college as something to do to get in shape, and I actually turned into a pretty decent flanker. At the time, I didn’t like running; in fact, I hated it, since running laps is only something we would do as conditioning or punishment. My rugby-playing days ended for good when I suffered a 3rd herniated disc during a practice drill, though, and with limited contact sporting options available to a guy with the lower back of a 60-year-old man, I turned to running. Had I not injured myself, and had I not met an obnoxiously good influence in the form of my friend Dan Solera along the way, I would never be running distance races

Otter posing after finishing The BTN B1G 10K (his first of THREE races in one day).

You used to run a blog about finishing 28 races in the year leading up to your 28th birthday. What made you decide to do that?
On February 20th, 2011, I ran the most mortifying race of my life, when I bonked embarrassingly early in the Austin LIVESTRONG. Once my flight landed back in Chicago, I immediately signed up for a “redemption” half-marathon in Wisconsin, which was to take place 6 weeks later. Then a friend convinced me to do another half, and soon I realized I somehow had 4 races in 5 weekends. I was fat and slow and decided I needed a challenge, and this was all right before my 27th birthday….so I said the hell with it, I wanted to arbitrarily run 28 races before my 28th birthday. The distance or speed didn’t necessarily matter; I was just out to collect bibs. I got faster along the way, and I ended up running of 32 races in 10 states over the course of a year, with the last one being a full marathon. The ONLY race that I missed was Race #33, THE LAST RACE ON MY CALENDAR….two days before my 28th birthday.

And now you’re writing about a new goal. Tell us a little about that.
I’m proudly running a mile and drinking a beer every day for a year. A new year demanded a new goal, and while I first contemplated a simple running streak on its own, I wanted to do something that was a little more accurate reflection of who I am. I’ve always had a fond appreciation of the sauce, so this was a natural way to combine 2 of my favorite pastimes (well, it seemed natural to me, anyway). Most days, it’s more than one mile and one beer. I’ve had some close calls, but my running/drinking streaks stands at 140+ days right now.

As someone who can barely drink water and run at the same time, I can attest that what Otter is doing here takes some skill.

You’re out on a long training run, and you come upon a solitary zombie. He’s missing a leg and he’s in pretty bad shape. Nearby, you see a crowbar. Do you take him out or run the other way?
I like this question. To answer, I take him out IMMEDIATELY. Since this question makes no reference to an existing zombie apocalypse, the way I see it, this solitary zombie is an indication that our planet is in the midst of one of two scenarios:

SCENARIO 1.) This is the first and only zombie in the world, a Patient Zero of zombies. If I take him out, then I have single-handedly prevented a zombie outbreak. The world may never know the story of my heroism, but if I run the other way and leave him along instead, then there’s a chance that zombie might.

No, I can’t be the one to turn my back on the chance to save humanity. I take no chances, and this zombie’s getting smoked.

SCENARIO 2.) This zombie is just one of many zombies roaming the earth, a wounded soldier that’s part of a larger undead army. The only way that the human race will survive is if more people kill zombies than are infected by them, and so assuming there are still more humans than zombies out there, the human race needs to average at least 1.00000000001 zombie-kills-per-person in order to stay ahead of the game. Able-bodied citizens like myself probably need to carry a little more of the zombie-killing burden than most, to make up for the sick, the elderly, and the lethargic Deep South, so I need to kill as many zombies as possible to out-perform my quota. In that sense, this weak zombie in front of me is just a statistic.

Either way, he’s going down.

[Editor’s Note: This is, without a doubt, the best answer I have ever received for a zombie-related question. Future profiles, the gauntlet has been thrown down.]

Posing by a cannon before the 2012 Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon. I don’t recall the race starting with cannon fire, and I don’t know why there would be a cannon sitting on Main Street downtown. Did you bring this with you, Otter?

You’ve run a bunch of fun races. What’s been your favorite?
I can’t pick just one, but I can limit it to a big race, a small race, and a few honorable mentions. My favorite big-city race is the Chicago Marathon, which is unparalleled in its accessibility and organization. My favorite small-town race so far has been the Oak Barrel half-marathon in Lynchburg, TN (the home of Jack Daniels) [Otter’s recap], which did a fantastic job combining the feel of big-race logistics with authentic small-town charm and affability.

Honorable mentions go to the Flying Pig in Cincinnati (half or full marathon), the long-standing Cross Country Challenge 8K in Gilberts, IL (a rugged cross-country race through a horse farm, which has existed long before Warrior Dashes and Tough Mudders were en vogue), and the Run For the Zoo 5K (which runs through Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo) [Otter’s recap].

At the finish line of this year’s Derby Festival mini, Otter still had legs to run like this.

And your least favorite?
The 2011 Santa Hustle 5K in Chicago featured 3,600+ finishers on a course that is typically too narrow to handle more than a few hundred runners when other local 5Ks are held on the same path. The organizers promoted a free post-race hot buffet to be hosted at several bars in the Lakeview area, and upon entering one of those bars, we were told via the bar’s P.A. system that the free buffet wasn’t guaranteed for everyone, but we could purchase food from the kitchen if we were hungry. Yeah, I won’t be running that one again.

Judging by your upcoming fall schedule, you’ve got a ton of races on your plate. Any of them stand out?
I’ll admit that I got overly (read: stupidly) aggressive when registering for fall races, but since I don’t know how many more years of running I’ll get out of my back, I’m on a condensed timetable to run the races I want to run. Anyway, there are 3 that I’m especially excited for. First off, in less than 2 weeks I’ll be running my first trail marathon, the Grand Teton Marathon up near Alta, Wyoming. That race’s FAQ section included this gem: “…it is unlikely that you will encounter a bear or lion, but please be prepared if you do. We do strongly advise every competitor to carry bear spray and/or run with a bear bell while on the course.” Online shopping for bear spray was a new pre-race experience, to be sure.

One month later, I’ll be running the Chicago Marathon, which is the first marathon for which I’ve ever followed a structured 18-week training program. Last year I ran Chicago as an afterthought, but this year I *should* be relatively well-prepared. Then after two more marathons (including NYC), I’ll be rounding out my fall distance race season with the Disney Wine and Dine half-marathon in November, which starts at 10pm and finishes with an after-party at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival that runs until 3am.  The chance to recapture my childlike wonder (while drinking!!?!) seems like a pretty good way to bookend the year.

Otter, covered in mud, after the Warrior Dash in Channahon, Illineezy.

*All photos courtesy of Dan Otto.

Profiles in Running is an effort to showcase other runners on this blog, regardless of his/her skill level or experience. Know someone who should be featured? Drop me a line.

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5 responses to “Profiles in Running: Dan “Otter” Otto

  1. Strange that he didn’t spend the entire interview talking about the Blueberry Stomp 15k, which he loves so much you’d think it’s the only race out there. But besides that glaring omission, I think Otter summed himself up quite well.

  2. Pingback: 2012: What I learned in a year of running | See Glenn Run·

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