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At Age 72, Bill Skinner runs the Boston Marathon - fueled by Potatoes

At the age of 72, Bill Skinner runs the Boston Marathon fueled by Potatoes

Potato Grower Bill Skinner heads to Massachusetts this weekend to compete in his second Boston Marathon – at the age of 72 (Courtesy: Potatoes USA)

April 13, 2018
Potato Grower Bill Skinner heads to Massachusetts this weekend to compete in his second Boston Marathon – at the age of 72.

“Boston” as it’s known in the running community is an electric, 26.2 mile course through the heart of one of America’s oldest cities where the locals stream out to cheer on some the fastest, most dedicated and talented runners in the world.

It’s also one of the only marathons in the world you have to qualify for – either by making the qualifying time at the year’s previous Boston or in another race the same year.

Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon - one of the most prominent Marathon races worldwide - is held annually on Patriots Day, the third Monday in April. This year, Marathon Day is on April 16, 2018
Tom Foreman, ultra-marathoner, journalist and author of “My Year of Running Dangerously”:

“If you’re not an elite runner, Boston is the closest you will ever come to the Olympics.”

“When you see a runner anywhere who has raced at Boston, you tip your hat.”
That’s because only 10 to 15 percent of all runners in any age group will be able to compete in the world-renowned race. Making Skinner’s achievement more impressive? He hopes to finish in the top 10 to 15 percent of his age group – the 70-74 year olds. He says his friends would call him competitive.

But he wasn’t always a runner. Skinner first started into the sport when he was 59 years-young. At the time he says he was sluggish, tired and overweight.

Bill Skinner:

“I was thinking… of retiring, so I thought maybe I’ll try running, so I started running and I enjoyed it.”

“Some people don’t enjoy running, but I did, so I started running 5km and 10km and had some success and then went to a half marathon and then a marathon.”
Running gave him energy, he says.

Bill Skinner running a race

Bill Skinner:

“If I don’t run for a few months or I start to feel down, and then I start running again.”

“Then the minute I start running, I just feel more alive.”
It’s given him the energy to do what needs to get done in a day – and for Skinner, that includes growing potatoes on his farm in Toston, Montana.

So what is giving Skinner the energy to run these days? None other than potatoes, the fruits – er, or vegetables of his 45-year farming career.

Bill Skinner:

“Because I’m a potato grower… I have a bias toward potatoes.”

“So… when I ran the previous Boston… I started using them as my energy and so I’ve found that it really kind of works. I usually make them up into little chunks and eat them before I run and then I carry them in a little baggie, I can’t carry a whole lot in a whole baggie.”
Usually, Skinner roasts them with olive oil and herbs for the races, but when he doesn’t have good ole Montana potatoes available to him, he will opt for fast food French fries.

Bill Skinner:

“I just ran in red rock canyon out in Las Vegas, the half marathon.”

“And I didn’t have a chance to bake or roast or boil up any potatoes so I went down to Wendy’s and bought a bag of French fries and they were salted and really it turned out pretty good, they were yummy.”
And there is science to back this all up. According to Jenna Gorham, a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist, potatoes make perfect sense for runners.

Jenna Gorham, a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist:

“That makes total sense to me.”

“Potatoes are a good source of potassium, better than bananas, which runners need to replenish throughout the race.”
Skinner also pointed out that potatoes are a great source of potassium, as well as of vitamin C – higher than the fruit standard bearer, oranges.

They are also a great source of complex carbohydrates, Gorham said.

Jenna Gorham:

“A small potato has 30g of carbohydrates. In an hour, [runners] need 30-90 grams of carbs to fuel their performance [so a potato will work well].”
And that’s one of the reasons Skinner enjoys them.

Related:

Potatoes USA highlights the power of potato for athletic performance
With recipe suggestions for athletes!
Bill Skinner:

“I think the potatoes actually give you more of a slower boost because they’re a slower or more complex carbohydrate.”
Not only is Skinner 72-years-old and competing in one of the most competitive amateur races in the world, but he’s also doing it as a sponsored athlete.

When Potatoes USA, the marketing organization for commercial potato growers across the United States heard that he was using the carbohydrate machine to fuel his way over hill and over dale, they offered to sponsor his trip to Boston this year.

Bill Skinner:

“I had no intention of doing interviews for potatoes.”

“I want to support the potato industry and [running Boston is] a good way to do it.”
The way Skinner prepares his running fuel also helps, Gorham says.

Jenna Gorham:

“Oil is going to provide a good source of fat, which will release more energy slowly as well.”
The only thing she would add? Salt, since runners need to continuously replenish electrolytes over the course of the multi-hour endeavor.

In fact, this is a trick that Foreman says ultra-marathoners use, but they eat the potatoes raw, with salt sprinkled on top.

Tom Foreman:

“Every time I see it in a race, I think no thank you.”

“It doesn’t surprise me …[eating potatoes for fuel is] still not well known outside the ultra-running community.”

“If potatoes worked for me, I’d do it.”

“People carry all sorts of crazy things when they run.”
That’s because running nutrition can be very personal, and every runner has to determine what works best for their body when it is under stress like a marathon or an ultra-marathon.

Tom Foreman:

“It’s tricky because your body starts shutting down all but the most vital parts it needs.”

“You’re looking at something that can get into your body and give you energy.”

“The potato eaters are still a unique breed.”
Regardless of what they use to fuel, both Foreman and Skinner say that running has brought them immense joy in their lives. Foreman will also compete in Boston this year.

Bill Skinner:

“I just thank God that I’m healthy enough to run at my age and feel good and even today, after running, I just feel good!”
Companies in this Article
Potatoes USA - until recently named the United States Potato Board (USPB) - is the nation’s potato marketing organization. Potatoes USA is the central organizing force in implementing programs that will increase demand for potatoes.