Ten Minutes With Jeff Phillips // Adventure Runner and Dentist

By Jim Whiting

Jeff Phillips is, in fact, a dentist. But simply calling the 66-year-old islander a “dentist” is somewhat akin to calling Michelangelo an “interior decorator.” He’s run marathons, hiked the Himalayas, summitted Mt. Rainier. Plus, he maintains a five-acre farm and has headed the Silverdale Dental Center for 38 years. This spring, he’ll be in Nepal for four weeks providing volunteer dentistry.

How did your adventure running get started?

In 2002, after a failed marriage, I joined Bainbridge Runners. The following year I hiked the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska. And in 2004, I ran the Victoria Marathon even though years before I had given myself permission to never have to run a marathon. When I finished, I had an enormous sense of accomplishment.

How do you keep motivated?

In September 2007 I started a routine of running one organized half marathon (or more) a month. This was a fun personal challenge in that I combined my running with love of travel. I visited three other continents, several world capitals, and participated in an eight-day, four-country, 172-mile stage run in the Alps with 50,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. The streak finally ended last October because of hip problems. Now I get up at 5 a.m. and take spin classes at Island Fitness.

Did you do mega-hours of pavement pounding?

Not really. My highest weekly average mileage was about 20.

What was your most memorable experience?

My favorite half, though limping, was last June’s Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll with my daughter Jenny. Among the longer runs, a 36-mile trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp and participating in a marathon from there, 26-plus miles back down. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the best trip of my life. I fell in love with Nepal’s beauty and gentle culture.

How did that experience lead to your going back there this spring?

Susan Marshall, a running friend, started an orphanage and school for children and adult women a dozen years ago. My son Sam and I have sponsored kids for the last several years through her organization, Nepal Education Fund. Last spring, Susan posted pictures from a dental camp held in partnership with Rotary in villages near Pokhara, Nepal’s second-largest city. Hardly anyone there has ever seen a dentist. That prompted me to call Susan and offer to assess the possibilities of setting up a facility.

What gear will you take?

A 38-pound portable dental chair with backpack straps, solar-powered drills, a marine engine oil extractor I’m converting into an aspirating vacuum. The drugs I’ll need are readily available in Nepal.

What lies ahead?

A couple of years ago I identified this past January 21 as my two-thirds-to-100th birthday. I’ve cast off a lot of burdens and I don’t need to work every day. I have more and more free time to do joyful things. It feels like a nice long lease on future adventures and the opportunity to share life’s goodness.

Can you sum up your life in a sentence?

I am a lucky boy.

Ten Minutes With Jeff Phillips // Adventure Runner and Dentist