Around the world in 40 years
Published: Friday, September 13, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 11:24 a.m.
Running west to east and starting in Petaluma in an attempt to run around the world, Petaluman John Fitzgerald should be approaching Hawaii.
It takes a healthy body, determination, dedication and a passion for running to log the 24,901 miles Fitzgerald needs to accomplish his mission. Of course, the Petaluman isn't actually trying to physically circumvent the globe, but he is planning to run far enough to spiritually reach that goal. He might not quite make it in 40 years, but he will be close.
He credits his engineering profession for his meticulous record keeping that has allowed him to keep track of his running miles for the last 39 years or so, and the total is impressive. His wife presents him with a glass of champagne each time he clicks off another 1,000 miles. In July, she gave him a whole bottle when he passed the 22,000-mile mark on his 70th birthday. He admits he slowed down his running for a few days to get the timing right.
Although he has run in many parts of the world (“I always travel with my running shoes, shorts and shirt,” he says.), today he mostly confines his jaunts to in and around Petaluma in areas like Shollenberger Park, out Old Adobe Road and near where he lives in the Sunny Slope area. “I have about 20 different loops that vary in mileage,” he says.
But, wherever he goes, he adds to his total. He has run in Spain, Vienna and Ireland just to mention a few of his international excursions. He once ran up the steps of the Eiffel Tower.
“The majority of the 22,000 miles have been on the streets of Petaluma,” he says. “I know every pothole. My average run is four to six miles. It used to be eight to 10. I guess I'm slowing down a little.”
Fitzgerald enjoys running with a group or with a partner, but he has literally out run his partners, watching them drop off because of injuries, relocation or for other reasons. “For the last 10 years, I have pretty much run solo,” he says.
His enthusiasm for running started in the late 1960s when he ran on his junior high school track team. For awhile, he got busy growing up, going to college and starting his engineering career, and didn't really become an enthusiast again until 1974. He really began racking up the miles after he and his wife moved to Petaluma in 1975.
Although the engineer in him had him keeping records of his miles, he says it wasn't until he reached 18,000 miles that he really began thinking of running around the world..
Fitzgerald has run several races from 10 Ks to half marathons and even a few marathons. He has run Marin County's famous and demanding Dipsea nine times. “It's on my bucket list to run another Dipsea,” he says.
But competition is low on his running priority list. “I don't run to be competitive,” he explains. “For me, it is a way of balancing out my day. It helps me sort things out. When I was running my own company, it was a way of keeping my sanity.”
For the last 20 years or so, he has also become a bicycle enthusiast, riding his bike on trails and around town as a change of space from his running and also because it is fun. But, the forever active Petaluman doesn't confine his activities to running and bicycling. He and is wife also kayak on the Petaluma River and he enjoys hiking and other outdoor activities. At one time, he was an active rock climber, although time has pretty much curtailed that sport.
Although running has some detractors who maintain it puts extraordinary strain on the feet and legs, Fitzgerald says he has never been hurt. “I've never had a doctor tell me it is bad for me,” he says. “I think running is actually good for the joints. It isn't like tennis or basketball where there is a lot of stopping, starting and cutting.” He says that in all his years of running he has fallen just three times — twice in Petaluma and once in the Dipsea Run — and that he has never been injured running, although he did have a serious injury while bicycling that curtailed his running for a period while he recovered.
Not that running is without its hazards.
The No. 1 danger, Fitzgerald says without hesitation, is dogs. He has only been seriously bitten once, but he is constantly aware of the potential danger. “On my regular routes
I know where the dogs are and try to avoid them,” he says.
Traffic hasn't been much of a problem, although he cautions, “You have to be careful at intersections.”
There is one other minor problem he has encountered — police officers. He was once stopped for running a red light. “There was no traffic coming and I just ran through it like I've done hundreds of times,” he admits. This time, a motorcycle officer took notice. “He let me off with a warning,” he says.
Fitzgerald believes that running is making a comeback not only in Petaluma, but all over the country. “I'm seeing lots of runners and I know a many runners in Petaluma,” he says.
His advice to beginning runners is to take your time and enjoy the journey.
“It is not so much the mileage as it is the experience of being able to run in different places,” he says. “Like riding a bike or walking, a side benefit of running is staying healthy. You body is designed and built to be active. Running is a cheap way to keep medical costs down.”
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