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

Tue, 24 Jul 2001 09:06:05 -0400

Happy Birthday, Hal


Hal Higdon celebrated his latest birthday on Father's Day. That seems fitting to me because he not only is a devoted father of three, but in many ways he's also the "dad" of my running and writing.

At just 12 years my senior, Hal isn't old enough to be my real father. But when I met him he seemed from another generation, showing me what I'd like to become someday.

We met at the University of Chicago track in 1960. I thought at the time, Imagine someone that old still running!

He was one of the oldest runners I'd yet seen. He was 29, and he let me know that adults could be runners too.

Hal never lacked confidence in his abilities, either as a runner (who would one day be the first American finisher in the Boston Marathon) or as a writer (whose work would appear in the first issue of the magazine that would become Runner's World).

In the early 1960s Hal worked in a non-sports magazine's office, editing other people's stories. He soon decided, I can write as well as they do, and he set out on his own. He succeeded in the perilous field of free-lance writing, and he showed me early that this could be an exciting -- if risky -- way to make a living.

Hal turned 70 on June 17th. He's now the senior voice of the sport, but he no longer is the oldest runner I know. Lots of men and women his age and above now run.

Hal's longtime mission has been to show aging athletes what is possible. In his 40s he wrote the book Fitness After Forty (World Publications, 1977).

He marked his 60th birthday by running six marathons in six weeks. He writes on his website ( that "doing 6-6-60 a decade ago had proved almost too great a challenge. Running one a month now seems more doable."

Which is why and how he embarked on a 7-7-70 quest. That's seven marathons in seven months, starting with Grandma's Marathon the day before his 70th birthday. The other races are to be World Veterans, Heart of America, Chicago, Dublin, Honolulu and Disney.

The plan includes even more sevens. The big one is his goal of helping to raise $700,000 for seven charities, a different one at each marathon.

Hal also pinned down a seven for his pace: "Averaging seven-minute miles for a finishing time near three hours would be unrealistic at this age, but a goal time of seven hours seemed too slow. I finally decided that I would try to run each marathon at better than seven-minute pace per kilometer. You do the arithmetic."

I did. It's a reasonable 4:55 marathon, which he didn't quite manage at Grandma's. But he says, "The slow time for the first marathon will make it easier to achieve my goal of running each one slightly faster than the one before."

The race closest to his... well, heart will be Heart of America (which he won in 1968). His effort will benefit -- what else? -- the American Heart Association.

Hal has a heart problem of his own, which he described in a 1999 Runner's World article (reprinted on his website). We talked this spring after he'd been tested at Dr. Kenneth Cooper's clinic in Dallas. Dr. Cooper prescribed two treadmill tests on two successive days and cleared him to continue.

Recently Hal told me, "I'm a bit nervous about the start of this quest. I just haven't gotten in the volume of training. I'm hoping to run a very slow race to finish without doing too much damage, then seeing if I can use the marathons to get in shape as I go along."

Hal's birthday celebration is underway. It will last through January, and the gifts he gathers at the seven marathons will keep giving long after his running ends.

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