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UjENA FIT Club Running Interviews and articles with 100 Interesting People

Best Road Races and the UjENA FIT Club is speaking with 100 people who we feel have a lot to say about running, racing and fitness  We will give you background information as will as their insights into the future.  Be sure to post your feedback and comments.

Read All UjENA FIT Club Running Interviews

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Sharon Vos: Three in a Row
Posted Sunday, March 23rd, 2014
Aging ever so gracefully at age 59 and forging a career record that becomes ever more impressive, Sharon Vos is... Read Interview
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Julius Koskei: All In the Family
Posted Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
 By David Prokop Editor Best Road RacesJulius Koskei (pronounced Kos-kay), who set the current world record in the Double Road... Read Interview
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2013 Ujena Fit Club Male Runner of the Year
Posted Monday, March 17th, 2014
The Chris Jones story is a running saga of epic proportions.  Don't try this at home! (Photo - Leadville 100... Read Interview
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Daniel Tapia
Posted Friday, September 20th, 2013
To ace marathoner Daniel Tapia, who grew up just down the road from San Juan Bautista in Salinas and now... Read Interview

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Hal Higdon - Interview No. 8
Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
I Just Run Because I Like Too!
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Hal Higdon is an accomplished writer of books and magazine articles.  He has been a top class runner.  He is currently providing training ideas to thousands.  Hal Higdon has contributed to Runner's World since 1966.  I wrote Hal in early 1966 and asked him if he would be interested in contributing to my magazine.  I was just an 18 year old kid with a dream.  He was already writing articles for Sports Illustrated.  He wrote back and sent along an article that would appear in the second issue of Distance Running News (name changed to Runner's World in 1970).  I will never forget this. He made my day.   

Author of 36 books, including a novel, Marathon, and the best-selling Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, now in its 4th edition, Hal also has written books on many subjects and for different age groups. His children's book, The Horse That Played Center Field, was made into an animated feature by ABC-TV.

He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. One of the founders of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), Higdon also was a finalist in NASA's Journalist-in-Space program to ride the space shuttle. He has served as training consultant for the Chicago Marathon and Chicago Area Runners Association and also answers questions on his Virtual Training Bulletin Board. 

At the American Society of Journalist and Author's annual meeting in 2003, the Society gave Hal its Career Achievement Award, the highest honor given to writer members. An art major at Carleton College, he sells and exhibits his paintings in a Pop Art style. Hal Higdon's wife, Rose, hikes, bikes, skis and supports him in his running and writing. They have three children and nine grandchildren. (Interview by Bob Anderson - founder Runner's World 1966)

1. When and how did you become addicted to running?
I never became addicted to running. The idea that running could be an "Addiction" probably was invented by Runner's World in the 1970s in the wake of the popular book Positive Addiction. (Authors?) I just ran because I liked to and because I was good and never felt obsessed by the act.    

2. Did you love racing right from the start?
That's a question better asked of people who come into running in their 20s and 30s and beyond. I went out for track in high school. It wasn't an act of love. I wanted to earn a letter. The word "love" never entered my mind.

Photo: Hal (103) hanging right behind the leader.

3. What was the running scene like prior to 1960?
Only a small percentage of runners continued beyond high school or college. Road races counted their participants in the dozens not the tens of thousands. Only 150 entered the Boston Marathon the first year I ran it in 1959, and that was considered a huge number. The sport was more Blue Collar back then. Our demographics would have attracted few advertisers. And there was probably a higher percentage of American blacks running marathons back then, pioneers like Ted Corbitt, Oscar Moore and Harold Harris. They were treated as equals in long distance running, one of the few areas of the US where that claim could be made.

4. You ran in the 1952 Olympic Trials, what are your memories of that race?
(I described the 10,000 Meter Trials in my book On the Run From Dogs and People.) There were probably 30-35 entrants, and only 15 were allowed to finish. Once you got lapped you had to get off the track. I ran within a few seconds of my 2-mile PR en route to avoid getting lapped and when the three who eventually made the US team came past me, I was in 15th place so was allowed to continue.

5. In 1964 you placed fifth at the Boston Marathon.  What was it like  running Boston at that time?
Winning Boston was one of my major goals. In 1964, I focused on that goal more than making the Olympic team. The weather was horrible: snow that turned to rain, a headwind. I ran the race of my life and grabbed the lead going into the Newton hills. I felt strong and thought I had the race won, then the photo truck trailed closely by the eventual winner, Aurele Vandendriessche of Belgium, came cruising by me. I hung on to finish 5th, first American, but it was a bittersweet moment.

6. When did you start writing? What was your major break as a writer?
I actually began my career as an artist selling gag cartoons, helping to pay my way through college and continuing that profession after graduation and two years in the US Army. My goal was to some day do a comic strip like Peanuts or Beetle Bailey. But I could see my cartooning career was going nowhere, so I went to work for The Kiwanis Magazine in 1957 as an assistant editor, and that led me away from art and into writing.

7. When did you publish your first book? How did it do? Is it still in print?
My first book in 1964 was The Union vs. Dr. Mudd about the doctor who set John Wilkes Booth's broken leg after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. It sold a few thousand copies, but it is still in print, a reprint edition published recently by Florida University Press. I hope to have an e-version available on Kindle soon.

8. You were one of the founders of the Road Runner's Club of America? Tell us about that?
Olympian Browning Ross was the founder of Long Distance Log, the predecessor to Distance Running News, which in turn was predecessor to Runner's World. The key difference was that Browning published results not how to train. In the 1950s, long distance running was largely an East Coast phenomenon, mostly New England, with very few opportunities for runners elsewhere in the country. Browning was aware of the Road Runners Club in Great Britain, so he felt that it could serve as a model for the colonials.

He suggested a meeting in Manhattan at the Paramount Hotel the afternoon of the National AAU Indoor Track & Field Championships, because he figured that would be a draw to get people to attend. I was running the 3-mile, so attended at least part of the meeting alternating with Olympian Phil Coleman, a teammate running the mile. Afterwards, we helped spread the word to the Midwest, organizing several races that summer, and other runners scattered around the country began doing the same. This allowed the spread of the sport to west of the Hudson River. Ironically, the leaders of the Amateur Athletic Union opposed our efforts. They wanted total control over the sport, which they defined as track & field, and didn't want a bunch of youngsters going off in different directions.

9. How did you learn about Distance Running News? How did you get involved  with the magazine?
You contacted me, probably by letter or post card, because that's what people used before text-messaging. I assume you were familiar with my writing both in Sports Illustrated and Track & Field News. You suggested that I write for your magazine, which was little more than a newsletter. I was a professional journalist, making my living from my writing, so I wasn't about to spend much time for an upstart publication run by some high school kid, but I had an article written about Ted Corbitt running the London to Brighton Race, which had been assigned by Sports Illustrated but never published. I sent you a copy of the article, which appeared in the second issue, and I've been bragging ever since about being Runner's World's longest living writer.

10. Tell us about your early years of running.
I was a late bloomer, running only sporadically in high school, not even breaking 5:00 for the mile, and then I went to a small college (Carleton) where the competition was far from intense. One article I wrote for Sports Illustrated, which later became a chapter in On the Run from Dogs and People was titled "A Time of Wonder, Joy and Glory for Losers." It described a cross-country trip a la Kerouac that two teammates and I took to the NCAA and AAU meets in California where we finished well behind the athletes who made the Olympic team in 1952.

Nobody knew how to train back then, and I graduated from Carleton knowing I had barely begun to tap my potential. My big aha moment was learning from the other runners I met at both meets that they ran 12 months out of the year, where I always took a couple of months off between cross country and track seasons. I continued running in graduate school and in the US Army improving greatly. Though what might be described as a national-caliber athlete, it took me a long time to figure out the training, because there was no Hal Higdon writing in Runner's World telling me how to train. I had to figure everything out myself. I didn't reach my competitive peak until I reached my master years.

11. What races before turning a Master are you most proud of?
The 1960 Olympic Trials in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. I had trained most of the year for the marathon, but failed in the Trials. Running the 'Chase at the Nationals was mostly an afterthought, but I qualified for the Olympic Trials at Stanford University by placing in the AAU meet the previous weekend. There had to be 50,000 in the stands, the event being televised live. I ran in 2nd place off the shoulder of my teammate Phil Coleman until the water jump with a lap and a half to go, then three runners went by me and I faded to 5th. Still, it was a memorable race for me and the high point of my impossible dream to make the Olympic team.

12. What kind of training were you doing then?
My training in college was inconsequential, low mileage and as stated above I didn't even run year-round, taking several months off. In 1952,  I was the dominant distance runner in the Midwest Conference my senior year, but definitely a big fish in a small pond. I ran a year in graduate school at the University of Chicago, then I got drafted and the US Army sent me to Europe where I trained with several top German runners and learned about interval training.

Within a year I cut my 5,000 time by a minute, but I made the mistake when I came home of training almost entirely by running fast reps on the track. It took me several years after that to realize that an exclusive diet of interval training did not fully prepare me for the marathon. Today's marathon runners achieve success by avoiding the training errors I made.

13. Did you do any weight training?
I was somewhat of a pioneer in that respect. In 1958, I placed 3rd at the National AAU 30-K Championships in York, PA, a race won by Browning Ross. Bob Hoffman of the York Barbell Company sponsored the race, and my prize was a set of barbells. Fortunately, I traveled by train not by air, so was able to haul the barbells home. And I began using them and also began doing some training in the weight room at the University of Chicago, while running for the University of Chicago Track Club. But I didn't know what I was doing, and I doubt if the strength training did much to improve me as a runner. I feel somewhat the same even today, although I strongly recommend pumping iron for what might be called Total Fitness and increasing longevity.

14. How did you get involved in the Steeplechase?
I had played around with the hurdles in high school, even competing in a hurdle relay event one year at the Loyola Relays. So I knew how to hurdle. In 1952 when considering what I might run in that Olympic year, I thought the 3,000 meter steeplechase might be a good match for my talents. Unfortunately we didn't have any right-size hurdles at Carleton and certainly no water pit.

The first water jump I ever took was at the NCAA meet, and my two-footed landing brought me to a stop. But practically everyone else in the race was doing the same, because there were very few 'Chases in track meets back then. None of the coaches wanted to build barriers or dig pits. Gradually over the years, I learned the event and mastered the technique, but I had to chase all over the place to find races. Today's steeplechasers are better served competitively.

15. Why do you thinking running became so popular in the 1970's?
Look in the mirror. I'm not sure there's an answer to the question of which came first, Runner's World (chicken) or the running boom (egg). The same could be said about Jim Fixx's best-seller, The Complete Book of Running. Did Jim create the boom or merely benefit from it? Frank Shorter gets a lot of credit for providing the spark by winning the gold medal, and deservedly so, but the seeds were planted in the 1960s. Entries at Boston practically doubled the year after Sports Illustrated published my article about the marathon, titled On the Run from Dogs and People.

A lot of people have forgotten that Oregon coach Bill Bowerman wrote a book with the simple title Jogging that sold 300,000 copies about the same time. Dr. Ken Cooper's 1968 book Aerobics sold millions of copies. An unsung hero was David H. R. Pain, who started a track & field meet for runners over 40 in San Diego in 1966.

His unique idea was to divide everybody into age groups so that we could compete against our age peers in 10-year and later 5-year divisions. One of the great attractions as the running boom developed in the 1970s was that you could finish 10 or 20 minutes behind Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers and still win your age group. And let's not forget Frank and Bill for inspiring us with their victories. For a period of about a dozen years between 1972 and 1984, Americans were the best marathoners in the world, and we certainly had the best marathon races, which inspired race organizers in other countries.

Comments and Feedback
run Hal has helped so many people be better runners and have more fun doing it. I have know Hal for nearly 46 years. He sent me articles for my magazine when I was like 18 years old and he was already writing for Sports Illustrated. How nice was that? Thanks Hal for doing this interview. Lots of good reading!
Bob Anderson 1/19/12 9:07 am
,,,,,

16. What role did Runner's World play in this? Right place at the right time?
Browning's Long Distance Log provided results only, how fast the few hundred long distance runners in the country did in the Boston Marathon and the few other road races available in the 1950s and 1960s. Distance Running News (which became Runner's World) told us how to train to get those results. That plus motivational articles and features on the heroes of our sport and (perhaps equally important) the ordinary people who changed their lives by the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. Let's not overlook the writing of Joe Henderson and Dr. George Sheehan and Dr. Joan Ullyot and myself whose work was featured in the magazine.

17. Tell us about your running in the 70's.  Did you change your training  after turning 40?
My training evolved over the years. I prospered with interval training, but it also led me into a cul de sac until rescued around 1962 by Fred Wilt, a member of the 1948 and 1952 Olympic teams. At that time, Fred was working with Buddy Edelen who was living and training in England, exchanging diary sheets by mail. Buddy would record his workouts, even what he ate and how much he slept, and mail them to Fred, who would return the sheets marked with a red pen.

I had been coaching myself until that point, having finally learned what it took to maximize my potential. But it's said that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, so I asked Fred in 1963 to supervise my training. He agreed and was responsible for my breakthrough at Boston the following year. But by then I was in my 30s and younger runners were coming up behind me. I continued running but without the intense focus on winning races.

18. Do you think you have a lot of natural running talent?
I had talent, but not what I would describe as "a lot of talent." My fastest time in the mile at age 26 was 4:13.6 was good, but the best runners of the era were 10-15 seconds faster. Knowing what I know now about the sport and if I had started to train seriously in 6th grade, I probably could have run even with Emil Zatopek, except none of the other more talented runners from my era knew how to train properly either and few had jobs (or the lack of jobs) that would have allowed them to maximize their ability.

19. What was your race strategy? Did it change over the years?
My race strategy early in my career was to go out fast with the leaders and try to hang on for as many laps as I could. That allowed me to pick up a lot of 5th and 6ths at national championships. The main reason I finished 5th at the 1960 Olympic Trials was that as slow as I ran the final lap, everybody behind me ran it slower because they gave up when they knew they weren't going to be in the top three.

But this strategy didn't work in the marathon, as I discovered when I shifted to that event. I failed to finish my first three marathons, because I tried to run with the leaders--the Japanese, the Finns at Boston--and that left me sitting on the curb at 22 miles. As a master runner, I became more patient and became the runner passing everyone else in the last few laps or the last few miles.

20. You have run over 100 marathons? Was this by plan or did it just happen?
It just happened. I didn't run my first marathon until age 28 and over one period of 4-5 years I failed to run a single marathon because I was more focused on masters track meets. But over the years marathons simply accumulated. Numbers never meant much to me. I ran my 111th marathon while doing 7 marathons in 7 months to celebrate my 70th birthday. That seemed like a nice number on which to stop. A decade has passed after number 111, although it's always possible that I would do number 112.

21. Running has taken you all over the world.  Any trips really stand out  in your mind?
The 1990 Berlin Marathon was the first one in which the course went from West Germany into East Germany. And between the time when I entered and race day, the Wall came down. Coincidentally, the celebration of the reunification of the two Germanys occurred only a few days after the marathon, and I was able to see the fireworks over the Brandenburg Gate, a memorable moment, particularly because I had spent a year and a half in Germany while in the US Army and had raced in Berlin several times.

22. How many running books have you written? Is there any one that you are most proud of?
Thirty-six books, about a third of them on running.  The one I'm most proud of is Falconara: A Family Odyssey, the book I wrote with my wife Rose, tracing her family history from the south side of Chicago back through the mountain village in Italy where her parents were born to Albania in the 15th century. When the Ottoman Empire conquered Albania in 1476, her ancestors fled to Italy and founded a village called Falconara. The villagers have continued to speak an Albanian dialect called "Arberesh" until today.

In fact, that was her parents' first language, one that Rose grew up speaking along with English. (I can speak better Italian than she can.) We spent 10 years researching the book, our work delayed because Americans were unable to travel into Albania until after the collapse of communism in 1991. Falconara: A Family Odyssey sold a few thousand copies, but I am more proud of it than any of my better selling books. Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide has now sold a quarter-million copies in four editions.

23. Tell us about your running in the 80's.  Did you change anything after  turning 50? What successes did you have?
I won the M45 marathon at the World Masters Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, five months before I would move into the next age group and theoretically faced slower runners. That challenge motivated me and resulted in a 2:29:27 performance, my second-fastest ever. Following that victory I took two months off from running and spent a decade running without any particular purpose. I competed in some cross-country ski races and triathlons at this time and even qualified for Ironman.

I turned 60 just before the 1991 World Masters Championships in Turku, Finland, so I got somewhat more serious about my running and trained hard enough to win the 2,000 meter steeplechase, my fourth world title. I started slow and passed three runners in the final 500 meters, so I finally had learned something about both training and competition.

24. Tell us about your running in the 90's.  Did you loose any interested  in pushing your body to the limits after 60?
I had no more worlds to conquer. I also became more involved in coaching other runners--mostly back-of-the-pack runners hoping to finish their first marathons. Most of this coaching was done over the Internet, designing training programs for all distances between the 5-K and the marathon, but it absorbed some of the psychic energy that I might have used for myself.

25. What writing have you done outside of the running world?
My entire journalism career was outside the running world, writing articles on politics for The New York Times Magazine, on business for Playboy, on science for National Geographic, on Hollywood for Good Housekeeping. Most of my writing on running was pro bono until I learned how much money you were making from Runner's World, as circulation soared through the 1970s to near 500,000. After learning how much money you were making, I strong-armed you into putting me on a retainer, doing the same for George Hirsch when I ungraciously joined him on The Runner.  But even then writing about running provided a relatively small percentage of my income at least until the 1990s when I got involved with the Internet and a website, halhigdon.com, with its focus on training programs. 

26. How long did it take you to write "Leopold and Loeb, The Crime of the  Century"?  Was it a tough book to write?
Writing has always come easy for me. I enjoy the research, whether digging into old articles and books in the library or interviewing people in person. Once I knew as much as I could know about a subject, I would organize everything into an outline. With that done, the mere act of putting words onto a page (or now into a Word file) was the simplest thing in the world. But I inherited The Crime of the Century from another writer, a crime reporter who suffered classic writer's block. Some writers can handle a 1,000-word newspaper article, but not a 100,000-word book.

Walter Minton, who was Norman Mailer's editor at G. P. Putnam's, asked me to finish the book. I inherited the reporter's research, but also did a lot of additional research myself. All the writing was mine. Interestingly, Leopold and Loeb were 19 when they committed the crime in 1924. They were dead when I started work on the project in 1975, but a lot of their peers still lived, and I interviewed as many as I could.

The crime occurred in Kenwood, the neighborhood just north of the University of Chicago where Barack Obama had his home before becoming president. I had attended U-High and graduate school at the University, so intimately knew the neighborhood. I even had a typewriter similar to the one the killers used to write the ransom note then threw into the harbor from a bridge that was on my 20-miler running route. Writing the book was a breeze. It took me maybe a year, but I wasn't counting. The University of Illinois Press brought out a reprint edition on the crime's 75th anniversary in 1999, and The Crime of the Century still sells surprisingly well as an e-book on Kindle. I don't know how crime buffs learn about the book, but they do.

27. When you were really tied up on a project with deadlines, how did you  work in your running? 
I am supremely well organized. You don't survive as a freelance writer unless you possess organizational skills. I guess the same is true in running. I've known a number of individuals with writing talent who could not manage the pressure of deadlines. I rarely missed a deadline. And the same was true with my running. I went out the door each morning to run for an hour and did the same in the evening, sometimes hitting 100 miles a week. The advantage I had as a freelance writer was that I dictated my own schedule. Also, I didn't waste several hours each day commuting from home to work.

28. What changed when you turned 70? When and why did you decide that time  was not as important as it once was?
It was a gradual evolution. My focus shifted from winning (or even running) races to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. As a result, I have broadened my interests. I continue to run, but probably spend more time biking with my wife to various coffee shops. We spend winters now in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL and belong to a fitness center only a few minutes walk across a bridge over a marsh inhabited by birds, turtles, and alligators. I pump iron with no particular purpose. I swim and run in the water. That plus healthy eating habits which I have maintained all my life.

29. How closely do you follow and what do you think of the current running scene?
Not as closely as I should. Earlier, I used to devour Track & Field News, reading it cover to cover, absorbing every word, every statistic. I haven't subscribed to the magazine for several decades, and I admit that with embarrassment. My focus is more on the middle and back of the pack now, helping those runners achieve their personal goals. Front of the race? Sometimes I attend a race and only discover who won when I see it on the Internet the next day. Having said that, I was excited to watch the Olympic Marathon Trials telecast from Houston and feel that this is the best group of marathoners the US has sent to the Olympic Games. I can't wait to see how that group does in London this summer.

Running gets better and better.  Today's road races are superbly organized, because the race directors all talk to each other and learn from each other. I remember that the Boston Marathon didn't get around to offering water on the course until the 1978 race and only after the previous year's winner, Jerome Drayton, complained about that fact. We've come a long time since then.

30. Why do you think the average times are getting slower? Is this an issue?
The average times may be slower because we're attracting more average athletes. I say that not as a put-down, but to indicate that our sport is open to people of all abilities. I ran my first race at Boston in 1959 when there were no qualifying standards, but each one of the 150 entrants probably could have met the standards of today. When Dr. Cooper ran the Boston Marathon in 1961 while a graduate student at Harvard Medical School, his wife Millie had to talk the officials to stick around long enough to record his finish. Ken finished in 99th place faster than 4 hours. Today's first-time marathoners are motivated to finish the race, not to finish it fast. Time is of secondary importance to them.

31. How important to you think Prize Money is for running?
I feel that we need to assist our top athletes in making a living. Prize money and shoe contracts are part of that, something that was unavailable to me as what is now called an elite runner. Fast times attract sponsors and media coverage.    

32. What has changed over the years in running that you don't think is good?
Entry fees have skyrocketed. The New York City Marathon recently increased its entry fee to $255 for Americans, something like $350 for foreign runners. Of course, it costs more than that to play 18 holes of golf on The Players Championships course near where we winter.

33. What has changed that you think is good?
Would it be too conceited for me to suggest my training programs. I can take someone who has not run a step in their life and 18 weeks later they're crossing the finish line in a marathon, and most importantly they're crossing with a huge smile on their face and their arms raised in triumph--even if it takes them 5-6 hours.

34. What is your running life like since turning 80?
I run when I feel like running, but that might be only two or three times a week. As stated above, my exercise interests are much more varied.

Photo: My wife Rose and daughter Laura Sandall

35. Do you feel old?  
I would be kidding you if I said I bounced out of bed each morning feeling as frisky as I did when I was in my 20s. But I move a lot better than most my age. Often when people learn my age, they are surprised, thinking me much younger.

36. Do any of your kids or grandkids run?
At Disney World this January, three of my grandkids ran the half marathon. One of them will run the Austin Marathon this February. At one time my son Kevin and I had the fastest combined father-son marathon time in the world, I with a PR of 2:21, he with a PR of 2:18. I'm sure some father-son combo has bettered that, so maybe we can get the father-son-grandson record, and if one doesn't exist we'll create one.

37. Besides running and writing what else do you love to do?
My wife and I are movie buffs. We love Netflix and back home in the Midwest there is an Indy movie house (Vickers Theatre in Three Oaks, MI) that specializes in foreign movies. When we're home during the summer, we never miss a show.

38. Are you ever planning on not running or writing?
That is somewhat out of my control.

 
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