Friday, October 23, 2009

Hal Higdon- Runnings' Renaissance Man

Most runners know Hal Higdon from
his training schedules.
Artist Hal Higdon Michael Bupp a marathoner and professional photographer said Higdon's training programs (from 5k to marathon) "
are perfect-- they include training for all levels and help to put things into perspective. Higdon’s 18-week program took me from 10-15 miles per week to weekly runs totaling 40 and several times more than 50. Following them I shed 20 pounds and feel healthier than ever. "

But Higdon, a member of the Road Runners Club Hall of Fame, has also been a nationally ranked runner, a best selling author and was also one of the founding members of the Road Runners Club of America in 1958 along with Browning Ross and Tom Osler.
Osler calls him "one of the nicest guys in the sport."
Higdon's Boston Marathon finishes go back to 1959 and his writing and publication of best selling books go to-- well the fall of 2009. His most recent book is a novel called Marathon which arrived in time for runners to read in the fall marathon season. We recently talked to the eclectic Higdon who is also an artist, and once won an award for a story he wrote on natural child birth about his storied running past and his current views on the sport in which he has been involved in every aspect.

Where do you live now?
Hal: Long Beach, Indiana (with wife Rose), but we also spend winters now in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL.

What year did you start running, how did you get your start?
Hal: In 1947. I went out for track my sophomore year in high school, mainly to win a varsity letter.

Have you ever had any serious running injuries in your 62 years of running?
Hal: Mostly the minor stuff. I had a knee problem back around 1969 that put me on crutches for a week or two, but recovery was complete. A stress fracture while doing the Trans-Indiana Run around 1985: 350 miles, the length of Indiana in 10 days. I’ve stayed pretty healthy.

What do you think is the best way to prevent running injuries?
Hal: Consistency in training.

Can you tell us some of your many personal running accomplishments?
Hal: I placed 5th at Boston, first American, in 1964, but probably achieved the greatest success as a masters runner, winning four world titles and setting two masters records in the 3000 Higdonmeter steeplechase (M40 in 1975 and M45 in 1977) that somehow are still on the books.

Any estimate of the number of races you have run?
Hal: I have no idea, but I have run 111 marathons.
Number of miles you have run? I couldn’t even make an educated guess.

What is your favorite race to run?
Hal: I previously liked running the steeplechase, because I was good at it, (Note: Higdon set a world age group record for 45 and over in the Steeple in 1977) but I always have liked the 15-K as a race distance.

What year did you first run Boston?
1959 when only about 150 ran.

What are some of your favorite running anecdotes?
Hal: I filled one of my books (On the Run from Dogs and People) with anecdotes.

When did you write your first running book? Hal Higdon
Hal: I wrote a book for young adults in the mid 1960s titled Heroes of the Olympics.

Which of your books was the biggest seller?
Hal: Ironically, it wasn’t a running book. Pro Football USA sold 300,000 as a reprint in its paperback edition after a decent hard-cover sale. Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide continues in print and has sold 175,000 copies. I have high hopes for my latest book, a novel on the 72 hours leading up to a major marathon. Titled simply "Marathon", it will be out this fall.

When did you start coaching?
Hal: Coaching never has been my main profession, but I have helped teams out on several occasions. I was an assistant coach in cross-country and track at Mount Carmel HS in Chicago, where I went to school, then also coached at Elston High School in Michigan City for four years when they couldn’t find anyone else to take the team. But it was part-time as a volunteer.

How many runners do you estimate you have coached?
Hal: Given the number of runners who have bought my books or used my training programs online, probably a half million—and that estimate could be conservative.

What is the most common mistake that high school runners make in their training?
Hal: Not running 12 months of the year.

What was your favorite workout when you were at your peak?
Hal: Fartlek and also tempo runs as I define them: starting easy, building to a peak around halfway through the workout, holding it, then coasting in.

What is one workout that would give most runners the most "bang for the buck"? Hal: Interval training on the track.

Do you have any suggestions for what can make track more popular in the US?
Hal: Capture the attention of all those people running marathons, who don’t even realize the World Championships have been on this week—but I have no idea how to do that.

When did you first become an artist?
Hal: I started as an artist in elementary school, drawing comic books and sold gag cartoons during and immediately after college to help pay my way through school. I majored in studio art at Carleton College, but I often find it hard to fit art back in my busy schedule. During the several years when I was working on my novel, that absorbed almost all of my creative energy.

Are you still writing regularly for any newspapers or magazines?

Hal: My career as a magazine writer is past. I can’t even remember the last article I wrote for Runner’s World. I made a career shift onto the Internet about a decade ago and considering the health of the publishing industry, it was a very smart choice. Having just finished my novel, Marathon, most of my time over the next several months is going to be focused on selling it. I have several ideas for a “second novel,” but the first novel needs to succeed for me to pursue those ideas.

What is your philosophy of running?
Hal: I love it!

And finally, is there one coach or book that has been a big influence on you?
Hal: Olympian Fred Wilt coached me to my greatest successes as a younger runner. University of Chicago track coach Ted Haydon was a mentor at that same time. As for running books, there were none available when I was trying to figure out how to train. I had to write that book for those who followed.
Higdons latest book Marathon
What have you been up to lately?
Hal: I am totally focused on bringing my just-completed novel to the public. We expect to have copies in hand in time for the fall marathons, beginning with Twin Cities.

Hal, we have almost all of your other books and consider them essential for runners. We look forward to reading Marathon.

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