Running Obsession

December 10, 1978: From this day forward may you be fleet of foot, strong of body, oblivious to pain, and victorious in the pursuit of your goals and objectives. Those were the words on a telegram I received from a friend before I ran the Joe Steele, Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, Alabama, my first marathon in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

From 1974 until my hip surgery in 2008, my mania for record keeping revealed that my preoccupation with running undoubtedly qualified as an obsession. My logs kept during those years show that my mornings started at 5:00 AM, with daily runs of six or ten miles and weekend runs of twenty miles. Fifty or more weekly miles were recorded yearly during those years. Nineteen eighty-three had the most miles; 2,810.5. A friend commented, “I don’t put that many miles on my car each year”. In the 1980s I realized I had run more miles than the circumference of the earth. So, how far is it to the moon?

I used a stopwatch on every run and was spending eight to ten hours a week, four hundred hours a year, on the run. One wonders if I had devoted that amount of time to a musical instrument, a foreign language, or any other field of concentration, what I might have achieved.

Road races were the carrot that motivated much of my training. Improvements in racing performance prompted me to train harder and smarter. I devoured books and magazines on training methods and techniques. Terms such as “farlek” (Swedish for ‘speed play’), “intervals”, and “LSD” (long slow distance) became part of my vocabulary. I tried any foods or beverages rumored to have racing benefits. I had shoes for training and shoes for racing, each designed for specific distances. My collection of timing devices and medical remedies to treat overuse aches and pains made our bathroom look like a MASH field hospital.

So, how did I do? Was I fleet of foot? Did I qualify for the Olympics? Hardly. I didn’t become obsessed with the sport until I was over forty years old. Race winners were much younger college age guys or athletes in their twenties. However, age-group finishes, such as first, second, or third in the forty to forty-five age group won awards, and I found I generally placed in the top 10 percent of my age group. I collected a fair share of ribbons and trophies. Becoming a year older and moving into the next age group was reason for celebration because now I was one of the younger guys in that age group.

Almost every weekend, somewhere in the state someone was holding a race. Because I had an airplane, I would frequently take a running friend or one of my sons and we would fly to that city for the race.

Plymouth, Indiana, held an annual Blueberry Stomp each fall during its Blueberry Festival. Blueberries were spread across the roadway for the first quarter mile of that 15K race for runners to stomp. Cincinnati held frequent 10K races around its Lunken Airport. Muncie, IN, had races on the Ball State campus and became a favorite fly-away destination.

Boston Marathon 1979

Whenever I traveled for business, I always researched road races being held in that city. While attending a convention in Atlanta, I saw Georgia Tech was holding a three-mile race on its campus. Being an engineering school, rather than call it a 5K race, the called it a Pi Mile Race (Π), 3.141159 miles long.

My runs throughout the community soon became a familiar sight and brought me a certain amount of celebrity. The Columbus Area Chamber held a gala dinner in recognition of its 75th anniversary. Entertainment and skits were performed as part of the evening’s festivities. One group sang a song it had written based on the tune, “Dearie, Do You Remember.” Their lyrics included the words “Columbus High was only one, Before Jim Stark had even began to run.”

Because of my running reputation, for several years I was asked to organize fitness runs for various events in town. The CFO of Arvin Industries asked me to organize a morning fitness jog for Senator Richard Lugar who was spending the night in their home before giving a speech the next day. Word got out about the planned run and 100 people showed up that morning to join in the run. I had T-shirts printed that read, “I ran around Coumbus, Indiana with Dick Lugar.

When my son Chris and I ran 164-miles across Florida in spring, 1985, the resulting publicity led to several speaking opportunities about our experience. Indianapolis hosted the Pan American Games in 1987. A torch carrying relay was staged starting twenty miles south of Indy for a lighting ceremony at the Indianapolis 500 Speedway. An athlete carried the torch a mile or so before handing it off to the next runner. Because of the publicity about our Florida run, Chris and I were asked to run the entire 20-miles in support of the different runners. What fun.

My running came to an end after my hip surgery in 2008. Was running the reason for the surgery? I doubt it. Even if it contributed to the wear and tear, I had thirty-four years of incredibly good health, great friendships, blushing recognition, and memorable experiences. Two of my sons ran track in high school and college. My oldest son, Eric, didn’t take it up, as I did, until his 40s, but now is running marathons. I can honestly say, “Athletes run in my family.”

One thought on “Running Obsession

  1. Jim,
    Well run / done !
    What was your best finish in Boston or New York ?
    I see you’re into biking now ! I see this athletic -looking gentleman pedaling by occasionally.

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