Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 2 Jan 1999 09:53:35 -0500

Looking Forward

If I felt old celebrating my 40th running anniversary last spring, a visit to Around the Bay cured me of that. This 30-K race in Hamilton, Ontario, started 104 years earlier. Two runners I met there reminded me that I still have a ways to go before reaching elder-statesman status.

Before my talk in Hamilton, a fit-looking gentleman with white hair and lively blue eyes introduced himself as Gordon Dickson. He attended my old school, Drake University, and graduated five years before I arrived.

Gordon was a Canadian Olympic marathoner in the 1960s. He now coaches and is nearing his own 50th year as a runner.

My speech was all about age -- about the venerable Bay race, about my anniversary the next week, but mostly about the older runners I've always looked to for instruction and inspiration. "We can never get younger," I said, "but surely we can age better."

I told of the old guys who made me want to grow up and be like them:

* Hal Higdon, chief among the Chicagoans who showed me in the summer of 1960 that running didn't have to stop at 18 or 21. Hal was a gray-beard of 28, but still one of the oldest runners I'd ever met.

* Johnny Kelley, who was 59 the year I met him on the Boston Marathon course. He was a two-time Boston winner (and umpteen-time runnerup) but now was no faster than I. He led me to write later, "It isn't what you once did that counts, but what you keep doing."

* Walt Stack, a blue-collar San Franciscan, let me see that growing older and slower could be fun. He coined phrases such as, "Start slow... then taper off."

* Paul Reese, at 73 the oldest person to run across the United States -- and at 80 the only one of any age to cross all 50 states. He said, "The key to aging well is always to have an agenda." That is: a goal, a purpose, a reason to go on.

* George Sheehan, my all-time running/writing/speaking hero. His definitions of winning go into all my talks: "Winning is doing the best you can with what you're given," and, "Winning is never having to say I quit."

* Paul Spangler, who died while running -- at age 95. I'd love to have it said about me at some distant age, "See, I told you that all that running would get him in the end."

Whitey Sheridan is working on a Higdon-through-Spangler plan. He grew up in the Hamilton area and worked for 40 years in a steel mill.

He was once, and for a long time, one of Canada's top runners. Now, at 82, he takes the better part of an hour to go 5-K.

But he's still out there -- participating, encouraging, organizing a race of his own. Now into his 70th year of running, he makes my count seem puny.

Whitey came up after my talk and handed me a hat labeled "Whitey's 15-K." It was fluorescent orange, much brighter than I'd usually wear.

I told him, "I'll be honored to wear it tomorrow." I was, and did, and left Hamilton thinking I'd like to grow up to be like Whitey Sheridan.

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