This Marathoner Started Running 40 Years Ago to Avoid Happy Hours

Now the sport is a major part of his life and a top source of freedom and happiness.

I started running to avoid happy hour—it’s true!—but it became so much more to me than that.

I played lacrosse in high school and college, so I ran as part of my training for the game. But in 1983, I started running after work to stay in shape and as a balance to the stress of starting a new career. To be totally honest, as an insurance broker in Chicago, there were too many opportunities to drink! Lunch, happy hour, and then we went out after dinner. So running afforded me the opportunity to say “I can’t drink at lunch because I’m running after work,” which also meant I’d miss the happy hour! In the beginning I had no real idea as to how to run, but I did read. I loved the books by George Sheehan and I read Runner’s World cover to cover! Runner’s World was one of my major sources for training plans back in the day. There were no apps in 1983, and I still don’t use training apps, although I love Strava. Eventually, I found races and then running clubs for a more collaborative experience. 

Racing changed everything because it focused my running into competition and I then became engaged in improvement. I ran my first race in 1983 just a few months into my training. It was called the Fell 10K, and it was held in Winnetka, Illinois. My 10Ks eventually lead to marathons. 

Running was a great way to meet people and to find more running groups, but the bug bit hard after my fifth marathon. I was living in Los Angeles in the 80s and became involved with a premier track club, and ran as part of the LA Celebrity Team in the Los Angeles Marathon in 1990. That allowed me to meet more runners and triathletes. 

Eventually I would go on to run the Boston Marathon, New York City Marathon, Chicago Marathon, London Marathon, and the Berlin Marathon. Then in honor of my 60th birthday in 2019, I made it my goal to run 60 marathons, and my 60th marathon was the Boston Marathon. 

My “why” hasn’t changed much, if at all over the years. I am a runner. It’s in my DNA. Of course, I am prepared for the day I might not be able to run but honestly I don’t think it will ever happen. It makes me feel alive—the feel of the wind on my face, the sound of my feet hitting the pavement, the smell of nature, and of course, there is no better time to think than when you are running. It’s very freeing for your brain because your body is occupied and fulfilled by the movement. One thing that made a huge impact on my running in my 60s was stretching more. I hated stretching, and in the first 37 years of my running life I only stretched when I was a member of a track club in Los Angeles. However, in 2020, luckily I found StretchLab and it changed my life—not just my running life, but everything, from getting into and out of the car to getting off the floor. My times also improved as my increased mobility translated to a much smoother form and fewer injuries. 

I also work out at Orangetheory Fitness, play hockey, and continue to run half marathons with friends. I plan to run my fourth Boston in 2028 for my 70th birthday, but otherwise my marathon days are behind me.

For me there is no life without running—any runner would understand that. Although my mileage has decreased in recent years, it’s simply a part of my life like eating, or traveling, or working. 

My first 10 years as a runner I watched my race time’s drop and my finishes improve. Those were heady days and I loved the competition. But a time will come when you have to face the fact you are getting slower. And when that happens, you will need to decide whether you can just run for the pure joy of it without a PR or whether you will let your ego sabotage something you love. I am completely at peace with running slower for the rest of my life in exchange for not running at all. In fact, I am grateful just to be able to do it at all.

These three tips have made my running journey a success:

1. Stretch more often

You have to be flexible. Two horrendous things occur when you are not mobile: First, you will get slower and second, you will get injured. Need I say more?

2. Cross train

Cross training provides the ability to run faster and further as you take the stress off your legs. Also, the training can help you have fewer injuries.

3. Listen to your body

To my fellow runners I want to emphasize taking care of yourself. I followed a simple rule. If it hurts to walk, I don’t run. If I have a chest cold or lung infection I don’t run. Rest is remarkable. Once you get over the fear of missing training you will enjoy the thrill of regaining your fitness level over and over. I won’t lie to you: I hate rest days but I’ve learned they help me to extend my ability to run injury free and that’s priceless.

John’s Must-Have Gear

→ Garmin Fenix 6: Is there anything more important than measuring your time and distance? This also measures heart rate while you are running, and it even tracks your sleep.

→ Asics Gel Kayano Running Shoes: I enjoy all their products and have trained for most of my 60 marathons (and countless other races) in their shoes. The engineering is second to none. 

→ GymBoss Timing Device: I have been running the Jim Galloway style (that’s the walk/run method) for 17 years, and this little device makes it so easy.

posted Sunday August 13th
by Runner’s World