By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
When the New Balance shoe company announced a million-dollar incentive for breaking the American best in the marathon, many eyes turned toward Jerry Lawson. After all, Lawson had tied the American marathon record of 2:10:04 at the 1996 Chicago Marathon.
New Balance chose Bob Kempainen's 1994 Boston Marathon American best of 2:08:47 as the time to beat. However, Kempainen's performance is not an American record, since he ran it on a downhill point-to-point course with a strong tail wind.
After a disappointing performance at the London Marathon last April, Lawson returned to the United States determined to run a good fall marathon. He chose the Chicago Marathon, which offered a flat loop course and an elite field conducive to fast times. Some of the best American runners focused on Chicago as their only chance to win a million dollars.
When Lawson crossed the finish line in Chicago on Oct. 19, 1997, the clock read 2:09:35, an American record for the marathon. His time missed the million-dollar payoff by a mere 48 seconds, less than 2 seconds per mile. Lawson expressed disappointment for missing the bonus, but was clearly satisfied with his record performance. He ran his third sub-2:11 marathon and became the only American besides Kempainen to break 2:10 this decade.
Jerry Lawson was born in the summer of 1966 and grew up in Chittenango. He ran cross country after being cut from the basketball team. He joined the outdoor track team when he did not make the baseball team. He graduated from high school with modest running credentials, inadequate for an athletic scholarship. He attended Mohawk Valley Community College for two years, during which his running improved significantly. He transferred to Boston University in 1987 on the strength of a sub-30 time in the 10K.
Lawson's running improved at the expense of his academics, which forced him out of Boston University. His winnings at the Boilermaker race in Utica further jeopardized his athletic eligibility. In 1989, he moved to Jacksonville, Fla., to complete a degree in elementary education. In the years that followed, he traveled frequently, landing recently in Austin, Texas.
Lawson earned his marathon records the old-fashioned way, through discipline, hard work and many miles. Although he is coached by Jack Daniels, the Cortland State physiologist who believes in moderation, Lawson's training is anything but moderate. At the peak of his training, Lawson runs on average a marathon every day for several weeks. This running volume translates to 200 miles per week, and a yearly mileage comparable to a leased car.
Besides intense training and high mileage, Lawson pays special attention to his nutrition. Standing 6 feet tall, he weighs about 150 pounds. During the final weeks of preparation for a marathon, Lawson passes up the empty calories in alcohol and chocolate, and avoids caffeine. However, he maintains a hearty appetite for some 5,000 daily calories to fuel his training.
Lawson's antics and appearance may have overshadowed his success on the roads. Multiple piercings in both ears, a rat tail and a beard of varying dimension give him a distinctive look. Add to that the latest in fashion sunglasses and sportswear, and Lawson's presence at the start line never goes unnoticed.
Lawson's travels bring him often to Central New York. He ran, and won, many local races in recent years, including The Mountain Goat and the Cazenovia 4th of July races. Lawson's partner, Katrina Price, accompanied him to his recent visits to Syracuse. A serious runner and a graduate student at the University of Texas, Price may have brought the stability that helped propel Lawson toward his recent records.
At the age of 31, Lawson has many years of racing and record-setting ahead of him. He may be the last American runner striving on a high mileage regimen, or he may well be the first of a new breed of runners that will bring back American dominance in marathon running.
Kamal Jabbour, whose RUNNING Column appears Mondays in The Post-Standard, toed the start line next to Jerry Lawson at the 1995 Stride for Pride 5K in Fayetteville. At the gun, Lawson took off like a bullet, and built a quick lead in the first 15 minutes of the race. Jabbour patiently closed the gap in the following 5 minutes.