By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
It a was sunny spring day. We started down Comstock Avenue towards Drumlins. A strong westerly wind created a chill in the air. Ed kept us running at a respectable pace as he recalled his early runs.
Young Ed Stabler started running in quest of a hot lunch. His family lived two miles away from Larchmont Elementary School. On many school days, Ed ran home during lunch break, drank a cup of Mrs. Stabler's hot soup, and ran back to school. At Mamarineck High School, Ed tried cross country and track. However, his first athletic success came later at Swarthmore College. He ran varsity cross country in the fall, and played lacrosse in the spring. He was Swarthmore's top runner. When he became tired of traveling to away races, he ran in home meets only.
When we reached Skytop, Ed was warmed up and I was out of breath. He recalled quitting running after college in favor of handball. One day, while waiting for a court at the Syracuse YMCA, a friend talked him into running the Boston Marathon. On minimal preparation, Ed ran and walked to a 3hr31min finish time. At age 37, that was his first road race ever. He was hooked. Disappointed with his time, he trained harder the following year, only to run 10 minutes slower. In the following two years, he raced frequently on the roads, and lowered his Boston time to 2hr52min.
Past Skytop, we left the road and ran on the SU cross country course. Ed pushed the pace as he recalled his best performances. At 45, he ran the Schenectady 30K in 1hr45min. He gave up Marathons in his forties, and resumed running them at 50. He ran his best Boston in 2hr31min at age 51. At 60, he competed at the WAVA Masters World Championship in Eugene, Oregon. He won a silver medal in the Marathon in 2hr50min, and a mix of medals in the 10K races on the road, on the track, and on the trails. Following Eugene, Ed established a monopoly on the US National Marathon Championships for several years. At times, he beat his nearest age group competitors by over 18 minutes.
As we ran across the Drumlins, Ed shared with me his running philosophy. He lamented that he did not enjoy training hard. He ran for fun and did not follow any set schedule. He liked to run with friends and colleagues. He ran whenever and wherever he felt like running. He insisted on getting winded on every run. He did not stretch, although he thought it was a good idea that he should try someday. He raced sporadically, yet he competed intensely. He did not hesitate to drop out of a race if he was not happy with his pace.
We finished our run at Archbold Gymnasium with a wind sprint. Afterwards, we walked to Ed's office at Syracuse University. A computer engineering professor who ran in his free time, Ed had assembled an impressive array of national titles and records. He hid his championship patches and medals in the drawer of his file cabinet. Recently, the Syracuse Chargers Track Club honored Ed Stabler for his lifetime contributions to running.
Ed Stabler may be an exceptional runner, but he is not the exception. Like Ed, many athletes burn out by the end of high school or college. They spend their twenties and thirties starting family and career. Then suddenly, a mid-life crisis or just a few extra pounds send them back to the track. Under the cover of darkness and anonymity, they discover that they can still run. Their fluid stride, if not their speed, returns naturally. They remember coaches and races. They realize that they miss the competition. Soon, they start a running diary and a plan. Shortly after, they toe the start line of the first race of their new life.
These new born runners grace our track and roads. They enter local and international races. They compete in age groups against their peers. At forty, fifty, sixty and seventy, these veterans put younger runners to shame. The Ed Stablers of the running world finish in the top tier in open competition. On any given day, they can beat most high school athletes. These masters of running are living proof that running is more than just a sport. Running is a way of life.
As he settled in his chair, Ed lamented about the plight of our youths. Without role models, many go through life as spectators. They lack the motivation to run. In turn, running brings self-respect, desperately needed by teen agers. As I prepared to leave, Ed urged me to memorize this poem, which his grandfather taught him at age four:
I see trouble. I see it steady. When trouble comes, I am ready.
This poem is as true today, as it was during the depression. We see trouble in our children's eyes. It has become a steady part of our life. Through running, we prepare them better to face trouble when it comes.
Kamal Jabbour runs and writes in Pompey, where every run is a hill workout. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.