PROFILE--Brian Salzberg has finished every Falmouth Road Race (45 in a row)

Brian Salzberg, mid-race

(8-18) Brian Salzberg is one tough runner dude--tough enough to have completed every Falmouth Road Race despite an agonizing list of injuries and surgeries (see below). A neuroscience professor at the University of Philadelphia, Salzberg, 76 next month, has lived in Philadelphia for 43 years.

Please tell us briefly about your career/profession. I did a Ph.D. in high energy Physics at Harvard, but, as soon as I finished, I did a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Physiology at Yale Medical School. (Physiology WAS the next page after Physics, in the Harvard Course Catalogue ! Just kidding.) After four years as a postdoc in the Medical School at Yale, I found my first, last, and only job at the University of Pennsylvania in 1975, where I have been Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology for many years. My career has mainly been in Biophysics, where I study optical phenomena in mammalian nerve terminals and other neural systems.

When did you start running and WHY? I began running in June of 1968, after reading Ken Cooper’s newly published Aerobics. My first run was a mile around the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was mainly motivated by a
family history of coronary artery disease, but didn’t really begin running seriously until July of 1973. (I ran a total of only 400 miles between 1968 and 1973.) Partly, I was inspired by Mike Bennett’s having run marathons, at what I then thought was the advanced age of 42. I was also cognizant of the fact that two of my senior colleagues had recently succumbed to heart attacks in their forties. Also, I heard, from Mike, in early August, that there was to be a bar-to-bar race from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights (“The Falmouth Marathon” it was called, although it was only only 7 miles.) It was organized by Tommy Leonard, who still remains involved with it, forty-five years later.

How much did you run in your peak years? In my peak years, the late 1970’s early 1980’s, I would run 60-80 miles per week for around three months before marathons. One year, I had heard that Bill Rodgers was running 140 miles per week, so I tried that once (two ten mile runs per day, for a week.) 110 miles, the following week seemed somewhat easy! Overall, I was doing about 2500 miles per year.

What were some of your top race performances? I am most proud of the fact that between ages 35 and 50, I ran 7 marathons, and none of them were slower than 2:58:19. In 1978, I did the BAA in 2:52, and the race organizers said that that year, the start was so confused that folks who started where I did, were probably owed 2.5 minutes. So, I consider that my PR was 2:49:30. I did a bunch of 2:51’s, 2:52’s, and 2:53’s…and my marathon average between 1978 and 1992 was 2:53:07 and the average of my five fastest marathons was 2:51:29. (Ten fastest marathons averaged 2:58:20.) I ran New York City in 1976, 1977, and 1979 in 2:52:55, 2:51:02, and 2:53:00. My best Falmouth Road Race was 40:40 for 7 miles, and I was running 5 mile races in ~ 5:45’s.

How much are you running and cross-training now?
Salzberg looks at Tommy Leonard plaque
 in Falmouth.
Now, I am recovering from a hamstring surgery, but, before that, I was running 15-20 miles per week, quite slowly.

If you still race, please provide a recent race result or two. 26:57 for 5K, and 2:08 for ½ marathon in the past two years, but I did a 3:40 marathon (Philly) when I was 65.

What training routine currently works best for you? I have largely been following Jeff Galloway’s prescription for Run/Walk; it’s easier to get the distances that way, but I have become very slow. I still hope to get back under 28:00 for 5K, with more mileage….

What was your average training pace in your prime on an “easy day.” What is it now on an easy day?  6:30-7:30 minutes per mile. (My best marathon was run at 6:28 per mile.) Now, I run around 10:00 – 11:00….

Does it bother you that you are slower now? How do you deal with this? Yes, it does bother me! I cannot run a 400 m at my old marathon pace! But, at nearly 76, I am quite happy to be running at all.

How much did you weigh in your prime? Now? Probably ~ 165 lbs in my prime; now, my weight fluctuates between 172 and 182 lbs.

What kind of diet have you followed through the years? Has it changed as you got older? I have always been an omnivore; still am. Beer remains a big part of my diet, as it is said to be Nature’s most nearly perfect food!

Do you attempt to maintain the weight of your younger years? How? I try to keep my weight below 178; mainly by exercising and watching my intake (a bit.) I really am not able to get down to 165, although I do nearly get there post-surgery and post long treks.

Do your currently take any vitamins, minerals, or supplements that you believe contribute to your running and fitness? I take a multi-vitamin, and a statin, but I don’t
Salzberg and another Falmouth icon.
think they contribute much to my running and fitness, although the statin (Crestor) does seem to keep my LDL Cholesterol very low. I think that the running keeps my HDL Cholesterol high.

What injuries or other health issues have you faced through the years? How have you dealt with these? I have been besieged by a relatively large number of injuries during my 50 years of running. There have been nine surgeries, including three craniotomies (for benign brain tumors), two back surgeries, and knee, hip, and hamstring operations. I have been extremely lucky, however, since none of these injuries has prevented my return to running, or caused me to break my string of 45 successive Falmouth Road Races. Yup, I’ve finished ALL of the Falmouth Road Races, and probably hold the crutch record for the course in 2008! (I also walked the course, under the cut-off time, in 2010, after my last two brain surgeries in June and July of that year.)

What cross-training, including strength training, do you do? How does it help you continue to run? I work with a trainer once per week, doing upper body strengthening exercises, and balance training. I think that these help keep me somewhat flexible, and mentally fit for running.

Do you stretch? Why or why not? I really don’t stretch at all, neither before nor after runs. Probably, I should, but I am too lazy.

Why do you keep running? I am still competitive, and I like to beat my (aging) friends. Running also seems to keep me healthy, or, at least, alive. It also relieves any tensions I might encounter during the day, and it sometimes clears my head to think about research related problems.

Do you consider yourself a social runner or a mostly solitary runner? What are your thoughts on each? I used to be more of a social runner, but now, I largely run alone. This is more from necessity than choice; It’s hard to find runners as slow as me! I would actually prefer to run with others….

What is your philosophy of life, running, and aging? My philosophy is to enjoy life to the fullest, and to do no harm, to people or to the environment that we all share.

What principles do you follow to maintain your lifetime running habit? I used to try to run every day, but, when I became acquainted with Ron Hill’s streak, I gave up! I still try to run as often as possible, barring injury.

What are the biggest lessons (life lessons and running lessons) you have learned from running? Long ago, I learned that running, especially competitive running, is more fair than most other things in life. One really gets out of running, largely what one puts in. The clock shows no prejudices, and no favoritism.

How does running & fitness help you on a daily/weekly basis? It keeps me (largely) sane.

It has been said that “aging is not for the faint of heart.” How do you maintain your motivation and optimism? As long as I am still running, I am still alive! Always remember that every run is a new personal age-group record! You have never been this old before.

Who or what inspires you to continue running and maintaining your fitness? My friends, who are older than me and still running. Also, my all-time running heroes like Clarence DeMar, Emil Zatopek, Ron Clarke, Johnny Kelley (both of them), Bill Rodgers, Amby Burfoot,  and Frank Shorter.

Please provide a favorite inspirational quote or two … if you have them. I’ve always liked the quotation from the great miler, Noureddine Morceli (although it doesn’t apply to me!):  “Before a race, I always worry….who will be second, who will be third?”

And, from Tommy Leonard: “If this be heaven, I am going to be a good boy.”

Walt Whitman:
“On a flat road runs the well train’d runner,
He is lean and sinewy with muscular legs,
He is thinly clothed, he leans forward as he runs,
With lightly closed fists and arms partially raised”

Finally, the famous line from Steve Prefontaine:
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

Post-Script, Aug. 19, 2018: Salzberg finished his 46th straight Falmouth in 1:33--23 minutes faster than the next member of the Falmouth Five who have completed all Falmouth Road Races. "Weather was spectacular, with temps in the high 60s and completely overcast," he reported. "I ran/walked, nice and easy."