Syracuse Online


Dr. J. on Running

Patti Ford

Formula For Great Success

Published April 12, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

It was the summer of 1982. I immigrated to America in search of work and freedom. I came to Syracuse to teach engineering. On my first day on the job, Miss Anne Woods showed me around campus. I spotted a young woman running on the road. It was my first culture shock. In the old country, runners practiced their art discretely in parks and on tracks, not publicly on the roads.

I figured that runner was someone famous. Miss Woods replied: "this is Patti Ford, from Mathematics." In the years that followed, I grew accustomed to seeing Patti and others on the roads. When I caught running fever in 1989, Patti became an idol and an inspiration.

A lifetime resident of Central New York, Patti started running in her mid-twenties to run away from problems. She smoked a cigarette to warm up for a race, and cooled down with another. Running eventually displaced smoking, and her times improved dramatically. Catching the tail winds of the running boom, Patti ran her first marathon in 1981 in Ottawa in 3:18:42.

In the Fall of 1982, Patti demonstrated her potential in the annual cross country meet between the Syracuse Chargers and the Syracuse University Harriers. In a historic race against Coach Andy Jugan's finest, Patti set a course record 18:19.9 on Drumlins' 5K course, beating Alicia Hauber by 10 seconds. This race earned Patti her first of many Syracuse Chargers outstanding athlete awards.

In the years that followed, Patti dominated the tracks and the roads of Central New York. She competed at every distance from 100 meters to the Marathon, and set over 40 Syracuse Chargers age group records. Her record setting spree culminated last month at the USATF National Masters Indoor Track and Field Championship in Boston, where Patti won two national championships, and set national masters records of 10:05.32 in the 3,000 meters and 5:11.11 in the mile.

Patti's running excellence resulted from consistent training, hard work and injuries. In the Spring of 1990, Patti sported two colorful casts, one on each foot, to treat stress fractures sustained in the indoor season. Older and wiser in her training, Patti learned to overcome setbacks, and in the process developed an amazing winning streak.

A decade after her first marathon, Patti won the 1991 Hilton Marathon in Rochester in 2:58.41. Two years later, she finished third woman in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, in 2:56:16, a time that ranked among the best all-time performances by a sub-master on that course.

Married to a distance runner, Patti approached motherhood in an exemplary way. She ran throughout her pregnancy, including four miles the day of her delivery. For many local runners, men and women alike, Patti's slowdown was their only chance of finishing ahead of her. That reprieve was short-lived, and Patti was back on the roads faster than ever.

In recent years, Patti shifted her racing focus to the middle distances, where a mix of strength and endurance gave her a winning edge. On the track, she defied the laws of aging, and steadily improved her times. At age 43, her recent US masters' records in Boston were all-time personal records. On the trails, Patti dominated the Upstate Cross Country Series, becoming the first runner to win both the Open title and the Masters title.

Patti's preparation for her record performances was a lesson of quality over quantity. She maintained a detailed running log to document those workouts that worked, and those that risked injury. Her weekly training seldom exceeded forty miles, and included a scheduled day of rest. However, most runs were intense timed interval workouts on the track.

With the end of the indoor track season, Patti can focus on the road racing season ahead. Her training will increase in volume to meet the demands of longer races. As she prepares for July's Utica Boilermaker, Patti will escape the pounding of the pavement to the trails of Highland Forest. There, she will trade the heat and the noise of the roads for a cool breeze and the singing of the birds.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at

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