Craig Wheaton: Marathon Days are the Norm
Behind the suit and tie, the budget reports and the tidy corner office, Craig Wheaton is a kid at heart – a kid who really likes to play outside.
Wheaton is by day the deputy superintendent of administrative services for the Tulare County Office of Education. But any chance he gets, Wheaton is moving — flying down a ski slope, biking along a mountain trail, scrambling across granite boulders in Yosemite or running through the pre-dawn streets of Visalia.
No matter his schedule, Wheaton said he makes time each day for exercise, often at the expense of sleep. This trait earned him the moniker “Everyday Craig” from some of his colleagues.
As an educator for more than 40 years, Wheaton is no stranger to encouraging students and co-workers to set academic goals and make plans to achieve them. Keeping in shape is no different, he says. It is simply part of everyday life.
“I get to my office at 7:30 or 8 in the morning and tell my staff I’ve already had a full day,” he said. “I’ve had my morning run, showered, had coffee, talked to 20 people and now I’m at work.”
That dizzying pace has been a life-long trait for Wheaton, who credits his rural upbringing on a chicken farm in the Sierra Nevada foothills, family discipline, a love of learning from his teacher-mother and the Boy Scout program for molding him into the man he is today. He earned his Eagle rank at age 14.
“My father literally worked seven days a week,” he said. “But I was able to find that mentorship in Boy Scouts. It changed my life in that it set my interests in the outdoors.
“There is that saying, ‘Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout,’” Wheaton said. To this day, he continues to sit on local Eagle Scout Boards of Review.
Finding work outdoors
Upon graduating from high school, Wheaton enrolled at American River College and began working as a lifeguard and firefighter in the Lake Tahoe area. In his free time, he would lace up his running shoes and take off on a trail, blazing past backpackers. After a quick swim in the lake, he would turn around and head for home. He later enrolled at Sacramento State to earn his bachelor’s degree and then earned a master’s from San Francisco State. He ran the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco and his first marathon in 1979.
He moved to the Valley to take a position in Corcoran as a high school counselor and continuation high school teacher. Later, as an assistant principal, he applied for the principal’s position but didn’t get the job.
“Failures change your life,” he said, and sometimes those failures open new doors. A year later, he was offered a principal’s job in Corcoran, but at an elementary school. Accustomed to working with teens, Wheaton was unsure if he would be a good fit for the position, but he grew to love the work and stayed for 11 years. The day of this interview, he tapped into those skills by serving as a judge for the annual “Poetry and Prose” competition, which featured all kindergartners.
Rising career, fitness levels
After 24 years in Corcoran, Wheaton moved to Visalia Unified, where he began overseeing and implementing the No Child Left Behind Act. He wrapped up his tenure as superintendent and then joined the Tulare County Office of Education in 2015.
All the while, Wheaton was running marathons, completing triathlons and even ran a Half-Ironman. A patchwork of runner’s bibs in a frame graces the wall of his office, evidence of his nationwide endeavors. Also on the wall is his doctoral degree, earned at Pepperdine University in 2001.
His fastest time was clocked at 2 hours, 54 minutes at the California International Marathon in Sacramento in 1983, and he is proud that he ran in the 20th and 25th anniversary marathons with times separated by just two seconds — 3:07.25 and 3:07.27, respectively. That translates to losing just half a minute off each mile over the course of 25 years.
In 2003, the Visalia Runners named Wheaton as runner-up in the Senior Male of the Year category.
Wheaton said adulthood proved to be the best motivator for gaining discipline, as well as a desire to stave off the inevitable aging process. While his days of running marathons are behind him, Wheaton prefers strenuous hikes with others in the Central Valley Hikers meet-up group who share his fitness and recreation goals. Together, this group scaled 15 peaks last year, including Mt. Whitney.
Wheaton enjoys sharing his fitness endeavors with the public. For a few years in the early 2000s, he wrote a regular column for the Visalia Times-Delta. Today, he talks about his weekend trail hikes with friends, family and colleagues, who sometimes shake their heads when he explains a 15-mile, trail-breaking day that started well before sunup and ended after sundown. Family insisted on a GPS tracking device for their own peace of mind, he said.
This additional time in rugged wilderness encouraged Wheaton to beef up his first aid knowledge from his Boy Scout and lifeguarding days. Last year, he finished an 11-week Outdoor Emergency Care class and admits now to carrying much more in his first aid kit.
Yet long days in the office or outdoors don’t slow Wheaton down. His advice to those seeking to add more to their lives, whether fitness- or career-oriented? The runner’s mantra: Set a goal and pace yourself.
“I know my endurance; I know my physical and mental limitations,” he said. “You’ve just got to set a goal and adjust what you have to give to reach that goal.”