When I first got into running, people kept talking about this “Howard” fellow. Runners from all over the city knew of Howard, and I started to think he was a mythological, a bit of folklore. I was half right – he is a character. Howard is one of the “officers” of the Not Quite Ready for Prime Time Running group, and on our first run together, he chided me as I cursed a hill we were climbing. “Hills are our friends,” he said in a sage-like tone. I thought to myself, “This guy is crazy.” He must’ve been onto something, though, because this past November, Howard finished the Richmond Marathon – his tenth overall – on his 70th birthday.
How did you get into running, and why did you stick with it?
I used to do step aerobics a couple of days a week, but started looking for something new for exercise. My youngest daughter had just completed her first marathon and when I picked her up from the airport, I noticed as she came walking toward me totally crippled and just barely able to walk, I thought “that looks like fun.” So I started running a few times a week, nothing serious but just to keep active. I was 55 at the time and as January rolled around, she started talking about the Derby Mini Marathon and suggested that I train with her. Not having any idea about how long it took, I thought, OK, if I can complete it in less than four hours (while the finish line was still up with the timer running and the roads closed) I’d do it. So I started running and building up my endurance and thought I could do it so I was ready. Crossing that finish line was what really hooked me though with the crowds cheering and the feeling of accomplishment that I really had run 13.1 miles was like a drug that says, “keep running,” and so I have.
You were a firefighter in your previous life. Have you always been so physically fit?
I think I’ve always been reasonably healthy and fit but not until I started running did I realize how “unfit” I actually was. And now it’s just a way of life for me, not to mention it’s great social aspect.
You have a penchant for wearing some, uh, flamboyant outfits on your runs. Any particular reason you like to let your fashion sense shine?
Everything in nature has the male of the species as the colorful one. So why do we as an intelligent representative allow ourselves to be so dull in blacks and blues and dark greys? Besides, I can get more camera attention by standing out and my competition is intimidated by my outfits. They think if he is confident enough to wear THAT OUTFIT, he must really be fast!
Alright, Howard. You’re on a long run with the group, but you decide to take one of your “shortcuts” and head off into the park alone. When you get there, you see a horde of zombies lumbering through the woods. Do you head for safety, or do you run back to the group to alert them? Why?
I would head back to warn everyone, then try to figure a way to get around them so we could continue running, because I don’t think you can kill them, can you? Besides, having the zombies chasing me would count as speed work for the day. (Editor’s note: That’s hilarious.)
Who’s your inspiration for running?
My youngest daughter was my original inspiration for running, and she still is, but I also get inspired by those that keep on running for years after their speed has slowed down, but they keep out there running. Gives me hope, since my speed has also slowed down from when I first started. The important thing is just keep on running and enjoying life.
What’s been your favorite race and why?
That’s a difficult question but I guess I can list a few that rank right up there near the top. The Alien Chase 10k out in Roswell, New Mexico, is a favorite because of the theme. (Aliens crash-landed near Roswell back in 1947.) The Big Sur International Marathon out in California, although probably the most difficult of my marathons, is also the most beautiful. A definite recommendation for anyone doing marathons. I also really enjoy the Marine Corps Marathon (done it twice) in Washington, DC, due to the scenery plus the extremely well-organized race. Although it wasn’t a race, in 2011, several of us NQRFPTR’s went to the Grand Canyon for the Rim to Rim to Rim run done in less than 24 hours. That truly was an adventure of a lifetime for me and I know everyone else enjoyed it as well. The scenery is beyond description and the experience is exhilarating. And finally, I have to throw in the Richmond Marathon that I did last year on my 70th birthday. Several close friends and my daughter (she also is included as a close friend!) went with me to run the race and to celebrate another milestone in my life with me. Most out of town (destination) races end up being fun primarily due to the friends that go with us. It seems as if we always have some adventure or new tale to bring back to add to the storybook! Unfortunately, I could go on for several pages because as I think of one favorite race, I think of two more that should also be on the list. I guess it all boils down to having some good running buddies to keep you going when things get bad. Although the races above are still among my top memories.
And your least favorite?
I’m not sure that I have a “least favorite.” If I have to pick one though, I guess it would be San Antonio Rock and Roll Marathon. The course was pretty boring (other than the half mile we did as we ran around the Alamo) and there were very few bands on the course (which of course is what “Rock and Roll” is all about). That pretty much sums up my running experiences, although I could go on and on about more running stories, (i.e. porn star story, circulator bus). Fortunately the list is long so it gives me something to talk about when the new runners join our little band of running people.
*All photos courtesy of Howard Whitman.