IN 2015, WHILE ON summer vacation in Neenah, Wisconsin, Steve Worth awoke on a postcard day and decided to run three miles. The Lake Forest resident and tech company executive completed the jog.
“Barely,” recalls Worth, now 50. “That was the year of my half-hearted attempts to get healthier and in better shape. That was an eye-opener, struggling to make it to three miles. It was a real catalyst for me. I knew, from that day forward, I had to get serious about training on a regular basis.”
Worth got spooked around that time too when friends of his began to develop serious health issues in their mid-40s. Too young, he thought. Friends suffered heart attacks. Scary, he thought.
Reality opened his eyes even wider. He conjured up the faint memories of what it felt like to run quickly with ease 20 years earlier.
Fast forward to 2020. As of October, Worth had competed in four sprint duathlons (2.5-kilometer run, 20K cycling leg, 5K run) in the prior two years, and finished first overall in three of them for a robust ‘batting average’ of .750. Mixed in with duathlon were a variety of other events such as 5k’s, 10k’s, half marathon, and more. 2020 was also the year of “Breaking 5 at 50.” In August, in a timed mile held at his nephew’s high school in Wisconsin, Worth zipped to a time of 4 minutes, 53 seconds—an elite clocking for a man his age.
“I basically spent the first half of the last five years working on strength, general fitness, and rebuilding my endurance base, then I was able to introduce racing and ambitious goals. I took the weekend warrior sports approach to the next level, adopting a ‘light’ version of a professional plan and learning along the way,” Worth, also a competitive cross-country skier, says of his self-designed regimen since that choppy, highly demanding run in Neenah. “I started gradually, training about 300 hours in that first year and increasing that time by 15 percent each year since. Now I also work with a professional coach. Certain levels of physical ability and training are commonly known prerequisites in endurance sports, but what people don’t see or may not realize is that there are large doses of planning, strategy, focused execution, attention to detail, and consistency.”
Worth’s main competitors in duathlon races, remarkably, are men between the ages of 20 and 34. He’s not “gramps” to them yet; he is their swift and age-defying “uncle.” Worth—known as “Camo Man” in some circles because his bicycle frame sports a camouflage motif, as his clothes often do—shows up at starting lines and now induces more than a few “uh-ohs” from his daunted foes.
He has broken the one-hour barrier and finished several races minutes faster than the runner-up’s time.
“You can estimate the times of repeat competitors based on past races,” says Worth, who has dabbled in obstacle course racing with a top 10 finish in 2019. “If I’m going up against, say, a 28-year-old in a duathlon, and I know he’s potentially a faster runner than I am, I’m calculating while riding my bike in the race, how much faster I have to ride to create a lead and put myself in a favorable position for the second running leg.
“As much as I love the outdoors, I’m not just looking at flowers while riding along! You can do that another day.” Worth, born in Milwaukee, had to look for a replacement sport for basketball in high school after realizing his career in hoops was “slowly and steadily declining.” He found cross country skiing, thrived atop snow, and continued his ascent in the grueling sport while at Cornell University. Worth admits he was a very mediocre skier by NCAA standards but was enamored with the sport and the outdoor time it required. The chance to ski race again, not the other sports, was actually the initial motivation. He plans to turn more ski-capped heads at the American Birkebeiner ski race in the north woods of Wisconsin in February. This will be his fourth year back to the largest nordic ski race in North America. The “Birkie” draws thousands of skiers and Worth has been concentrating on the 18-mile classic technique event where he has placed in the top 20 overall the last two years and first skier across the line over 35 years old. Maybe the top 10 this year?
Following his years at Cornell, Worth earned his law degree and MBA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He met his future wife, Sheridan Road Editor-in-Chief Dustin O’Regan, in law school, and they have lived in Lake Forest since 1998. They have a 16-year-old daughter, Redding, who attends The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.
“Redding is the star of the family,” insists Worth, who, along with his wife, have been heavily involved in charitable organizations over the years. Worth focuses on outdoor conservation groups and efforts supporting Veterans’ causes. The latter is something he shares with Redding who has had a passion for thanking Veterans from an early age. She has been a driver of their involvement with the Lake County Honor Flight where she has taken multiple flights as a Guardian.
So does Worth have the endurance to keep racking up impressive results in his 50’s and beyond? Look for those to continue for years.
“I hope to inspire people to become more active, to keep moving,” says Worth, who sets yearly athletic goals and wants to melt time off that 4:53 mile. “Get outside; we have wonderful forest preserves around here. Committing to getting in shape and racing at a high level has changed my life for the better. I’m training regularly and eating well. I’m stronger mentally, too, and that has also been helpful in this pandemic. I’m making more productive use of my free time, not spending hours watching TV and eating chips like in the past.”
“Training is a process and a journey. You need to embrace that for the long term to achieve sustainable results over decades. But people are interested in the latest race results and often look puzzled at the concept of driving six hours to subject yourself to a tough event. However, the allure of racing is much deeper.” He concludes, “Racing is a great test of strategy, execution, and grit, but more importantly it is a celebration of all your training.”