Dorrell Henderson had a decision to make. How could he best celebrate his 60th birthday?

Golf? Fish? Sleep in?

Nah, he chose to put himself through hours of misery consisting of physical and mental torture.

He chose to run. And run and run and run.

Henderson ran 60 miles on his 60th birthday.

He ran for 16 hours up and down mountains and across barren valleys, half of it on paved road, half on dirt trails, with members of his LocoMotion Running Club and family taking turns running with him. Along the way, Henderson encountered hardships such as a leaky water bottle, dehydration, stomachaches and getting lost on a mountain trail for a half-hour.

Happy birthday to him.

"If I hadn't had my LocoMotion family with me, I probably would have given up half way through," he says. "They distracted me with talk."

That Henderson, a retired firefighter, was even attempting such a feat would have been difficult to imagine years earlier when he was a sedentary, pudgy middle-aged man, but here he was completing the equivalent of two and 2/3 marathons to kick off the seventh decade of his life.

Inspired by his hero, Jack LaLanne, the 93-year-old exercise guru who performs feats of strength and endurance to celebrate his birthdays, Henderson decided to come up with a birthday feat of his own.

He chose to start his run where his life began, in Panguitch, his childhood hometown. More specifically, he placed the starting line by the school board building that once served as the Panguitch Hospital, where he was born.

He drove from his home in Salt Lake Valley to Panguitch, and, at 4 a.m. on May 31 — three days before his 60th birthday — he ran off into the dark night, with his son, Chris, driving the support vehicle and his wife, Mary, running by his side, lending more symbolism to the occasion. She would run 30 of the 60 miles.

He followed Highway 89 out of town with the Milky Way sprayed across the sky overhead, establishing a prudent routine of walking every fifth mile. His little birthday party, with its ever-changing cast of running partners, turned onto Highway 12 and reached Red Canyon just as dawn was breaking. They ran through Red Canyon into Bryce National Park and past Ruby's Inn before meeting his family at the Fairyland trail head for breakfast. His children and their families had camped out on the route to support him.

From the Fairyland Loop Trail he ran to the Queens Garden Trail, then onto the Navajo Loop Trail

and Bryce Point and Swampy Canyon Trail and the Whitman Trail and so on until he reached the other side of Bryce. At about 8 p.m., just as dusk was settling in, he arrived at the tiny town of Tropic, finally concluding his run on a plot of land where once stood the house he lived in during the first year of his life.

"The house is gone," he says. "It's been replaced by one of those prefabs."

Tired and sore, Henderson and friends reconvened at a local restaurant, where they hashed over the day's events over dinner and cake.

The journey was a testament to how far Henderson has come on many levels, not the least of which was his physical condition. In some ways, he is younger now than he was 20 years ago. The 6-foot Henderson once tipped the scales at 200 pounds. He had never exercised in his life. Never played school sports. Never had an interest in anything active.

Then Mary began running regularly with a neighborhood friend, and Henderson decided that if she could do it, then he could, too. He began running at the age of 43, and he's been running and reaping the benefits ever since.

"My cholesterol and weight are good, and I work and play and do what I want," says Henderson, who weighs about 170 pounds — his teenage weight.

For his 50th birthday, Henderson biked and ran 50 miles around the Salt Lake Valley. For his mid-50s birthdays, he completed the Squaw Peak 50-mile mountain run.

But his 60 for his 60th was the best. Despite all the hardships, it was a joyous and social occasion, supported as he was by friends and family. "You have given me the best birthday present," he told them. "I will cherish it for the rest of my life."

Maybe the hospital of his birth and the house of his infancy are gone, but he's still here, alive and running.


Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. Please e-mail [email protected]