Beer and running with a legend

Tonight I ran with someone who has been running every day for longer than I’ve been alive. And beer is partially responsible for his streak.

Living the High Life: 30 Pack for 30 years of run streaking

John Chandler lives across town from me and has been running daily since August 9th, 1981. That’s 30 years exactly. It’s the 52nd longest ongoing running streak in the nation.

To celebrate three decades, he did 30 laps — one for each year — around our local high school track. He invited anyone who wanted to join him, as long as they could keep up with his steady sub-8 minute pace.

I’ve never met John before, but have read about his incredible streak over the years with awe. Tonight, I finally got to run and have a beer with him.

Fellow beer runner Reggie and about 15 or so runners followed him, along with a local television reporter and camera man, newspaper photographer and a cheering section who flipped one year on a giant chart for every lap completed.

The first thing you realize when you meet John is that he’s an incredibly nice and good natured guy. Always smiling and chatting with people. You’d have no idea this night was a huge milestone, he was just casually low key and friendly.

Without any fanfare, we started methodically running around the track. As you’d imagine from someone who has lasted 30 years, John had a pace like a metronome and a fluid stride that looks like it wastes no energy. He clipped off 1:58 quarters for 7:52 miles lap after lap (see Reggie’s report).

He’s a well-oiled machine.

Truthfully, I was a little starstruck and intimidated to talk with him, despite the fact that he carried on friendly (and seemingly effortless) conversations with those around him. He talked about what the Brewers were doing in 1981, and later I heard him explaining that he sometimes run after midnight to get it done for the day, occasionally after beer.

I finally worked my way over in the group to talk with him, despite my irrational fears that I might clip and knock him over and suddenly end his streak.

I’m glad I got to talk with him. I congratulated him, then explained that I too had started a running streak 310 days ago on this very track.

He told me to keep it up, and that the first few years are actually the hardest. He said it’s like second nature now, though there are still days when it’s cold, dark and windy out that he’d rather he didn’t have to run. But it’s just a matter of going out and getting it done.

He told me he runs at lunch most days to maximize family time, which is what I try to do. Turns out his usual route starts in downtown Milwaukee about a mile away from where I work. He graciously invited me to join them. I plan on it.

Then he told the story of how his streak almost ended — but beer saved him.

It happened years ago when his family was moving into a new house. It was a long day that started at 4 am, included a 3-hour closing and ended with his family going to his in-laws for dinner.

After dinner, his father in law offered him a beer. It was a reward he was extremely happy to accept, given his long day of moving, closing and run– and that’s when he realized he hadn’t run yet. So he went back home, found his running clothes and got it done in time.

Beer saved his streak. At least that’s how I interpret it.

As we approached the finish line, John told the pack to spread out so everyone could finish at the same time. Such a humble guy.

After we finished, everyone hung out for tons of beer and pizza. There was a plaque from the city of Milwaukee Common Council congratulating John on his accomplishment. Someone presented John with a 30 pack of Miller High Life to commemorate 30 years of run streaking. That’s living the High Life.

It was an honor to share the track and beer with someone whose dedication inspires me. I can only hope that in 29 years and two months, I can be just like that.

Posted on Tuesday, August 9th, 2011