ROTTERDAM — Twenty years ago, two runners from Harvard University were right behind Tom Dalton.
Not long after the finish of the open competition 5k race on the indoor track at Boston University, they were right in front of him.
“I was standing up looking at the times on the board, and evidently these two Harvard guys are now standing in front of me looking at it. And this kid looks up and says “Holy —-, that guy that beat us is 42!'” Dalton recalled with a laugh on Thursday.
By age, Dalton, a long-time Rotterdam resident, was in the masters category that day, finishing second overall against much younger runners in 14:42.
By career resume, the 62-year-old Dalton is now in the USA Track & Field Masters Hall of Fame. He was a first-ballot inductee in the Cross Country Legends Category, although he built that resume across all of the cross country, road racing and track platforms.
This honor joined two other Hall of Fame inductions for Dalton, the Siena College Athletics Hall of Fame and as part of the second class of the Greater Capital Region Track, Field and Cross Country Hall of Fame last year. The USATF Masters Hall of Fame has been inducting athletes since 1996.
“It’s very humbling, you know?” Dalton said on Thursday. “I’m now 62 years old. To be honored for basically a lifetime of running, I started when I was 14 years old as a freshman in high school. I’ve been very fortunate to be healthy for most of my career.
“You could make the case that I had some great races when I was in college, but the masters running I did from 40 to 46, 47, I had a streak where, if you did age-graded calculations on it, it comes out to some of the best running I did in my career.”
Among his accomplishments after reaching the age of 40 was nine age group national championships, bolstered by seven victories in overall masters national championship races at distances from 5k to 10k.
He was the USATF Masters Harrier of the Year, which specifically recognizes cross country achievement, five years in a row, from 2000-04. Since 2000, only one other runner has earned that award three years in a row.
Before Dalton turned 40, he enjoyed a long stretch as the best male road racer in the Capital Region, and he was able to win some of those races, including the Gazette Stockade-athon 15k and the Albany Corporate Challenge, as a master.
He remains the only 40-and-over male runner to have won the Stockade-athon, which was first run in 1976, doing so in 2004 at the age of 46 in a time of 48:59.
“Hey, any of those that I won at that age was just incredible,” Dalton said. “It never, ever gets old. People would say that to me, ‘Does it get old crossing the finish line first?’ No. Never. Ever.
“There was a race at Franklin Park in Boston, when I was 42. I won the 10k that day by almost a minute. It was the USATF masters championship, and my time would’ve finished, I believe, in the top 20 in the open race. I think people thought maybe I cut the course or something.
“That was like six days after winning the 5k championship down at Holmdel Park in New Jersey, which at the time was the fourth-fastest on the course. It’s a storied course just like Saratoga is. Those were really pretty cool things.”
Before his masters career, Dalton reached the NCAA Division I cross country national championship race as an individual three times while at Siena.
His 1980 Troy Turkey Trot 10k time of 29:43 still stands as a record.
He never lost stride in his second act as a masters runner.
“There was a six- or seven-year block there that I ran just unbelievable, was never hurt and just ran tremendous races in cross country and track and was part of some championship relay teams, world-record and national-record teams in track.
“The other thing, as I reflect back on it is the tremendous lifelong friendships you get from this sport. It’s incredible. I still text and talk to all my Siena cross country runners, I play golf with them. A lot of them don’t run anymore, but I ride with them or something. We have a core group of them who go out to dinner every March, and we’ve been doing it for 30-something years.
Dalton still keeps running among his mix of workout routines and served as a pacesetter for a group of women who ran a virtual race this fall.
He is working through a little bit of an ankle issue, but has been remarkably healthy for decades and plans to compete once the racing landscape takes better shape at the other end of the pandemic.
“Sure, I wish I was running like I used to, but I realize my body can’t do that,” he said. “There’s a whole host of races I typically like to run in, mostly area stuff. If I can get back to a high level, I’ll go compete in national races again. I don’t travel like I used to for racing, but certainly would do the Northeast, Boston and New York races, Syracuse Festival of races, things like that that I really enjoy.”