Runner's World

Use It Or Lose It

Source: Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon, near his home in Mystic, Connecticut.

Back in 1963 when I began running as a high-school junior, it seemed a risky business. So many people warned that I would end up a wreck. My heart would grow weak with fatigue. The disks in my back would be ground to dust. My knees, if they moved at all, would creak and groan.

I even detected hints that my brain would turn to mush. “What do you think about when you’re running?” I was asked with clear disdain. “It’s so boring.”

In fact, my running pals and I, all under 30, knew only one runner who had reached the advanced age of 55: “Old John” A. Kelley, two-time winner of the Boston Marathon. I figured the other runners from Kelley’s generation must have died from heart disease. Or were confined to wheelchairs. Or mental wards.

We kept running, but we were spooked. We felt like explorers in a new and perilous land. I remember being particularly concerned about wear-and-tear mechanics. My toothbrush lasted only a month or two,

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