Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Interview With Amby Burfoot

Amby Burfoot is an American marathoner who won the Boston Marathon in 1968. He also ran the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan and ran a personal best of 2:14:28, which was only one second away from the American marathon record at that time. He has retired from competition and is now editor-at-large at Runner's World magazine and also writes the Peak Performance column. He runs the Boston Marathon on every fifth anniversary of his 1968 win. He has also finished The Manchester (CT) Thanksgiving five miler fifty one times in a row, he has won nine times there. He is a member of the Running Hall of Fame.

Do you remember the moment you felt like a runner?

It was a long time ago, but probably happened when we were running through apple orchards near my high school on a sunny fall day, and the movement through the trees, the smells, the crisp air, and the camaraderie with my teammates all conspired to make me feel a runner--a very, very happy one.

You were roommates with both Jeff Galloway and Bill Rodgers, how have they influenced you? 

Jeff influenced me more than Bill because he was older than me and a stronger, more experienced runner than me when I arrived for my freshman year at Wesleyan University. I did some long interval workouts with him--40 x400--on a grassy quadrangle that I never would have been able to do without him. Also, he was so dedicated to the sport, and such a sincere, helpful individual, that I tried to model myself on his traits.

Bill was younger, more a raw talent in college. He didn’t have the same discipline and consistency at the time that Jeff and I had. But he had a wonderful relaxed movement and personality. He was always fun to run with. He made it look easy, which made him a great training partner.

Do you have any rituals or superstitions? 

Not so much any longer. I had a few when I was younger. For a time, I used to eat ice cream for dinner the night before races because I always won them the next day. This was before carbo loading, and I probably won because I was very fit, not because of the ice cream. I have always liked wearing a painter’s cap or visor because it focuses down my field of vision, and I feel like a thoroughbred race horse seeing just the race track ahead. I like being intensely focused.

Do you have a philosophy on diet and nutrition? 

I was an ovo lacto vegetarian for many years, then began eating some fish when fish got all the healthy research studies about omega 3 fatty acids. But I’m still 98 percent ovo-lacto-vegetarian (meaning he doesn't eat the flesh of any animal, but but eats dairy and eggs). I love oatmeal, raisins, nuts in my morning oatmeal and huge salads with lots of veggies, fruits, and nuts in them at dinner. I also am addicted to peanut butter, and like dairy products like yogurt. I eat far fewer carbs now than I once did, since my mileage is down to 20 to 30 a week.

What was your most epic race? Tell me about it. 

Well, it has to be my Boston Marathon win in 1968. That remains sharply etched. I particularly recall the sunny day which threw shadows in front of us as we ran (eastward) up the Newton Hills and I could see the shadow of the guy on my heels. We knew each other, and both knew he would win at the end, because he was a much faster miler. So I tried desperately to drop him on the hills, but his shadow followed me like a ghostly presence. The shadow was still there on the top of Heartbreak Hill, and I was completely depressed about it. I thought about quitting, I was so exhausted. But I staggered along and he cramped up on the downhills. The last 4 miles I felt that I was running so slowly that many would catch me, and the crowds were so thick I practically had to push my way through them. Somehow I kept going until I reached the Prudential Center and collapsed in Jock Semple’s arms. I’ve never been so completely spent.

Running is becoming more popular in the older crowd (50 and older), what is your advice to them? 

Adjust. Run slower. Take more days off. But keep running. I do run-walk when I run the Boston Marathon these days--4 minutes running, 1 minute walking. It’s a great way to train for longer distances and then to race them. You have “control” over your pace with the run walk intervals.

You didn’t finish with Boston Marathon in 2013 because of the tragic bombings, did you go back in 2014? Tell us about that race.

I was only a half mile away in 2013, and would have finished. I considered myself a finisher. The next year I got very very sick with a gut infection, and gave up thinking about Boston. But then my body rallied in January, and I started training, knowing it would be my slowest Boston ever. But also knowing it would be the greatest Boston ever with the huge emotional support following 2013. We runners all wanted to return in 2014, and the crowds were just immense, and so excited to welcome us back. It was easily the loudest Boston ever. I passed out cards as I ran. They said, “Thanks for all your years of support for all us Boston Marathoners.” I finished with my brother and friends in about 4:40. The day got quite warm, but it was unbelievably wonderful to be part of the event. I feel so grateful I could run it again.

Your weekly mileage used to be 100-140 miles per week, what is your mileage now?

I run 20 to 30 now, and also log 5-6 hours of indoor exercise bicycling. I only race 5-6 times a year, but I thoroughly enjoy my personal fitness routine. It’s a big part of my day.

Tell us about what you do at Runner’s World. 

I’m retired from fulltime, moved back to Mystic CT where my brother, sister, and daughter live, and am an “editor at large” for RW. That means basically a freelance writer. I contribute health articles to the Newswire section of daily news, and also write occasional features for the magazine. I also attend races to either report on  them or to be part of the Runner’s World Challenge, where the editors support runners who come to our events.

Have you ever had a serious injury that preventing you from running? How did you handle it? 

Of course I’ve been injured. Everyone gets injured. But most of us come back because the soft tissue injuries heal up in a week or two. I’ve run about 105,000 lifetime miles and have had a metatarsal stress fracture and a meniscus repair. But my body is very healthy orthopedically, and I’m thankful for that.

Have you been to New Hampshire? If, so, what did you like about it? 

I love New Hampshire, mainly the beaches and the White Mountains. I’ve run Mt Washington Race twice way back when, and would like to do it again. I have also run Pikes Peak in Colo.


Race: Manchester Road Race, Thanksgiving Day. I have run 51 years in a row.

Running shoe: Mizuno

Running store: Kelley’s Pace, Mystic CT
Way to relax: Relax? I don’t do much of that. Hanging out with family members, going to the beach, reading on my Kindle before falling asleep

Athlete: John J. Kelley, my high school coach and mentor, 1957 Boston winner and much more

Recovery meal: Oatmeal with lots of good stuff in it, inc light cream and honey

TV show: Currently hooked by Scandal and Shark Tank

Movie: Searching for Bobby Fischer. Sappy. Gets me every time. Reminds me of my son, who is a very bright math guy, not so much chess, and very gentle.

Book: Latest best was Boys in the Boat

Singer/Band: Nah, not a music person sad to say. My wife has led me to admire Bruce Springsteen.

Mantra: “It’s never too late to start, and it’s always too soon to stop.”

Guilty pleasure: Ice cream

City: Portland OR

Country: Spain

Racing Memory: Winning Boston Marathon

Amby has written many books which can be purchased at Amazon or at his website (autographed book, anyone?).

You can follow him on Twitter

Thanks again for Amby taking time to do this interview. I was thrilled when he agreed to do it because I'm such a big fan!


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