Saturday, June 23, 2018
Outdoors

This guy has run at least 3 miles a day — since March 19, 1975

TRINITY — Some of the spiral journals on Jim and Pam Behr's breakfast table are showing their age. Pages have become jaundiced, covers frayed.

Most of their wedded life is chronicled in them. Births and deaths, marriages and moves — all are documented. No day has been skipped over. Jim Behr, a Vietnam veteran who owns two master's degrees and a doctorate, is a stickler for routine.

"My parents and his mom all passed away in those books," Pam says. "I mean, they've been written in there. … A lot of times I'll say, 'You know what, when was my brother here last?' He'll find it in the book."

If the pages could talk, they'd no doubt elicit the same thick Queens accent shared by Jim and Pam. And what a life story they could tell, from world travel to world conflicts to world-famous classmates. Their only common denominator — whether flipping through the disco era or dawn of the new millennium — is running.

Jim Behr, 68-year-old creature of cardiovascular habit, has run at least 3 miles every day since March 19, 1975. Every. Single. Day.

According to the U.S. Running Streak Association, which employs the honor system to chronicle such longevity, it's the nation's eighth-longest active streak.

Actually, the streak's longer, but Behr settled on March 19 — the birthday shared by his brother and Pam's sister — to begin documenting his running because that was an easy date to remember.

"I just enjoy it. And now it's become like, just a normal part of the day," said Behr, whose trim frame (5-foot-10, 135 pounds) testifies to his routine as much as the collection of lightweight running shoes camped near the foyer of his Heritage Springs home.

"The running and all that's involved, you get up, you have your clothes laid out, you put 'em on. It's just a regular, normal course of the day."

He has maintained that "normality" amid thunderstorms and snowstorms, funerals and flu bugs. For the streak's first 30 years, he ran at least 5 miles a day.

By the most conservative estimates, Behr has run about 70,000 miles — enough to circle Earth almost three times.

These days, it begins at 8:30 a.m. with a 12-minute walk with Pam, who also does yoga with him a couple of times a week. He then takes off for a 3-mile run through his neighborhood, cools down another 12 minutes, then has a breakfast of oatmeal, a banana, dried cranberries and coffee.

"I think it's a blend of wanting to stay healthy/fit and a love for routines," his daughter Liz said in an email from her Seattle home.

Behr has run 26 New York City Marathons and 10 Boston Marathons. When he worked the graveyard shift as a data-section supervisor for AT&T, he'd run through the streets of Manhattan in the middle of the night. He ran 9 miles the day his son Sean was born, in the wee hours of Aug. 17, 1975.

He had already logged his run for the day when the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. On a trip to London, in which he and Pam mercifully had a direct flight from Tampa, he ran shortly after landing. Liz recalls him running in pitch blackness on the deck of a cruise ship several years back.

"We had a big travel day planned the next day, so he wasn't sure how he'd fit in the run any other way," she recalled.

But nothing tops the snowstorm story.

Behr had finished the 4 p.m.-midnight shift for AT&T in Manhattan and was headed back to his Staten Island home on an express bus when the flakes really started falling.

"Not a little snow, a lot of snow," Pam said.

The bus made it back to Staten Island, a dozen or so miles from the Behrs' house, before the conditions became too hairy to navigate. Realizing he and his fellow passengers could be stranded for hours, Behr hopped off the bus and — with briefcase in tow — ran for home in his khakis and foam-rubber-bottom shoes.

"There was no traffic, it was quiet," he recalled. "I ran all the way home."

Home, to where the obsession was spawned. Behr had long since graduated from New York City's Power Memorial Academy (where he had a lanky classmate named Lew Alcindor) and had already received his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army (for which he served during the Tet Offensive) when he was seeking a way to ward off the "middle-age spread."

Because his brother Tim had been an accomplished jogger, he decided to give it a go in his suburban Staten Island neighborhood, nearly collapsing after going a half-mile his first time. That was 1973.

"Now I had a challenge," recalled Behr, whose 32 years with AT&T were followed by a second career in Florida, as an English teacher at Mitchell High and adjunct professor of English at Saint Leo. "And it grew from there."

These days, he's contacted about once a year by Mark Washburne, president of the U.S. Running Streak Association and a former graduate-school classmate at New Jersey's Drew University. To earn a spot on the list, which has grown to 670 in this country and 47 internationally, runners must have run at least a mile a day for a year.

"In the case of Jim, I send an email to him on his (streak) anniversary in March every year," said Washburne, whose own streak spans more than 26 years. "I do that with everybody in our association; I don't always hear from everybody. If a few years goes by and I don't hear from somebody I may take their name off."

Behr has no plans of having his name erased any time soon. He figures nature will determine when his last journal entry will be logged. Pam says the couple's two kids have suggested he choose a predetermined day to stop. They've been asking for 20 years.

"Even before we moved here (in 2004), guys were saying, 'Jim, you should choose when you wanna end it,' " Behr said. "Eh, we'll see what happens. We're only human. One day it's gonna happen."

Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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