PROFILE--Norm Goluskin has been running for 44 years

At World Masters Games,
Finland, 2009
(9-18) Norm Goluskin came late to running but made up for lost time. His father was an immigrant from Odessa, Ukraine (formerly Russia) and the focus in the household was on making a living and making sure his sons had an education. Exercise and sports were not even on his parents' radar.  But by sheer luck, Goluskin happened to be in Central Park on September 29, 1974 and saw a bunch of old guys running around the park for 26.2 miles and thought, “Heck I can that.” Historical note: On that day, the late Norbert Sander and Kathrine Switzer became the only New York City residents to win the New York City Marathon.

Childhood: I was raised in The Bronx in a middle-class housing project. Well, at least we aspired to middle class. The project was built around a playground with a softball field, handball courts, basketball courts and even a paddle tennis court. In addition, there were regular games of ring-a-levio, a game born on the streets of New York City. My early years were largely spent playing these street sports. I ran around a lot and I was one of the faster kids in the neighborhood, but I never participated in races or on a track team.

After high school my participation in these street sports fell by the wayside. I spent time in the Marine Corps, then went on to college at night and worked full time during the day for an advertising agency.  There was almost no time for recreation. Once I finished undergraduate school, I started playing tennis and skiing.

Started running? I was 36 (born September, 1938 - just turned 80!).  I started running somewhat regularly in advance of the 1976 New York City Marathon, the first 5-borough marathon and my first marathon. I was 38 when I ran that one. For those of you who are running historians, Bill Rodgers won that marathon in 2:10 (a 4:58 pace) and Miki Gorman in 2:39 (6:04 pace).

Why did you start running? In September of 1974 I was in Central Park and happened upon the New York City Marathon. I was astonished that anyone could run 26.2 miles.  I was 36 at the time, and was inspired and started putting in a few runs a week.  I found I was better at
running than tennis and skiing, and I liked it much more. Running has been a very important part of my life ever since.

Did you have an early inspiration or person who motivated you?  One of my friends was running regularly, but I wasn't aware of it at the time. Eventually I started joining him for runs and met other runners who invited me to join their running club, Central Park Track Club. They had some great masters runners, including Fritz Mueller (who held the masters marathon record of 2:20 set at the 1978 Boston Marathon when he was 42 and a few weeks later he won the Yonkers Marathon in 2:28. That record was broken by Roger Robinson in 1981, when he ran a 2:18:45 in Vancouver at age 41.).  When I turned 40 they asked me to join them in team competition. I was honored.
With Jim Milne and Ron Hill (center)
at the Tameside races, 1996

How much did you run per week in your peak years? Now?  I was a mileage junkie. I loved to run and discovered I was good at long distance. Also, I never had the confidence that I could race far and fast unless I trained long and hard. In other words, I was regularly over-training.  The year leading to my best marathon, a 2:40 in Boston, (I forget the year) I averaged 75 miles a week for 52 weeks. Some weeks were only 40-50 miles while a few weeks were over 100 miles. My typical week included a track workout, fartlek on the road and a long run.

Now, I'm lucky if I reach 40 miles a week. I admit to no longer having the same level of enthusiasm as when I was younger. Also, I'm now living in a small town in the Mid-Hudson Valley, New Paltz, where there are almost no runners my age and few who run at my slower pace. Many days I run alone, which is not as enjoyable as it was.

What were some of your better memorable races? Once my race times weren't getting any faster, I began to look for events that offered a different experience.  In 1996 I went to England with my friend Jim Milne to run The Tour Of Tameside, six races in seven days. The event is put on by Ron Hill, a Boston Marathon winner, European champion and holder of the record for the most consecutive days of running - 19,032. It turns out that Ron and I were both 58, born on the exact same day, September 25, 1938. I beat Ron on the first day, and he beat me soundly on the next day's Fell run. The third race was the Ron Hill 7-Miler. We ran most of the race near each other with me just a bit in front. The last 300 meters finished on a track and, with Ron right on my shoulder, I sprinted like a scared rabbit. I finished a step ahead of him. He told me he had run as fast as he could but couldn't pass me. I felt that beating the great Ron Hill was the peak of my running accomplishments. I could have happily hung up my racing flats and retired from running. Of course, I didn't.

When I turned 62 I decided to run 100k in Italy. The 100k equals about 62 miles and the symmetry resonated with me. This is the longest race I've ever done on a very beautiful course that went from Florence to Faenza.

Annually I run Rock the Ridge, a 50-mile challenge held on the breathtaking lands of the Mohonk Preserve right in my backyard. I ran the full 50 when I was 75 but most years I participate in a 4-person relay. The event is a fundraiser for the Preserve. This is an example of how races can be used to help a non-profit organizations finance its mission.

Over the years I've run hundreds of races, every distance from 400 meters to 100 kilometers. I love running but I don't feel as strongly about racing. However, training for races gives me a goal for my training.

How did you train differently in your younger years? I ran more mileage and more quality. Weekly mileage was typically 60+. Each week I did an interval workout on the track and a fartlek run on the road. On the weekend I did my long run, which was 16-20 miles. At the time I lived in New York City and did these runs with Central Park Track Club.

How do you train now? Do you attend coached workouts?  I run fewer weekly miles and all are a lot slower. When I was in my 40s and 50s I never planned a rest day. Now I build in one rest day a week.  Most days I manage to take a nap. If I'm feeling really tired I sometimes take a second day off. I'm lucky that my friend and world-class masters runner Roger Robinson is willing to coach me. Typically, my week includes a series of repeats and a long run. The repeats are not as fast and the long runs not as long as when I was younger. Currently, one day a week I do mile repeats. Last week I did three, each at 8:48/mile.  I'm not sure if Roger will want me to increase the number of repeats or try to run three faster miles. He gives me the same workouts he gives to younger runners except, as a concession to my age I am allowed a longer recovery. Hard training may not make me faster but it allows me to slow down more slowly than other guys in my age group. His plan is working as I just placed third age in the Fifth Avenue Mile in 07:44.

Has your diet changed throughout the years? My diet has evolved over the years, but this has more to do with trying to stay healthy than with improving my running. I have a family history of heart disease so I rarely eat red meat though I do eat fish and chicken. I've cut down on dairy and sugar. Weight has never been an issue for me. I typically weigh 135 pounds.

Cross training:  I try to hit the gym 2-3 times a week. I've read weight work is important for general health, especially as we age.  I do lower-body weight work to offset muscle imbalances from running and to help slow the natural process of losing muscle mass with age. I go to the gym because it offers benefits, but I can't say I enjoy my time there. I'm also likely to stretch when I'm at the gym. I like stretching even less than lifting weights.

How important is social running to you? If you were/are a competitive runner, can you adapt to the slower times and enjoy a social run? I enjoy social running. Having a set date and time to run with someone makes it a lot easier to get out the door.  Slower times are a fact to which I've adjusted. However, when I'm running hard the effort is the same as when I was in my 40s. In other words, I feel the same as I did 40 years ago and age has no bearing on the good feeling of running to my max.

Obstacles along the way?  I've been lucky and have only occasionally suffered with minor injuries. Since my retirement from the advertising business, my wife and I do a lot of traveling.  When I was in my 60s I could come back from a 3-4 week trip, and within three weeks I was running well again. That's not the case anymore. Now, if I don't run for three weeks, even if I've been hiking most days, the start back to running feels as though I have never run before. It's very difficult even at a slow pace and often feels as though it's not worth the effort. When planning our trips now, my wife builds in places and times for me to do some running so that I can maintain a semblance of running fitness.

A favorite quote: As it applies to life and running: “You can only be young once but you can be immature all your life.” In other words, have fun.

Running – training philosophy:  You get out of it what you put in to it. This, too, is true of both life and running, in my opinion.

Running NYC Marathon
in 1977.
How has running has running helped with the aging process? I don't feel like I'm 80 and most people tell me I don't look it either. As I said earlier, I run just as hard as when I was in my 40s. Just slower. Eighty is just a number. My fitness level is that of a much younger person. As long as I can do all the things that I'm still doing, 80 years old is not my reality. 

What do you know now about running/fitness that you didn’t know way back when?  I came to know that the benefit of getting in shape is more than just being able to run/race well. Running is an integral part of who I am. I have also learned that with age I must start out slowly and that no matter how I feel, after two miles I will feel better. The first two miles are uncomfortable no matter how slowly I run. I've learned from my Garmin that my heart rate is very elevated for the first 2 miles and then drops even as the pace picks up.  It's not uncommon for me to run the last mile or two of a 5-6 mile run at least a minute per mile faster than the early miles.

You were a board member of NYRR: I was a board member for about 17 years. I stepped down two years ago when we instituted term limits. I'm now an emeritus director. When I retired from the advertising agency (president of the New York-based Smith/Green Ad Agency) in 1999, Bob Laufer, then NYRR's lawyer, asked me to start a program for what was then the NYRR Foundation, a running program for middle school kids. I started it in 2000 with 14 kids in Red Hook, Brooklyn and even coached that first year with Jennifer Stockton, the only Foundation employee. Today, the Foundation has evolved into NYRR’s Rising New York Road Runners and offers free running programs for kids pre-school through 18 years of age with over 250,000 kids participating in the program. 

What are the biggest lessons (life lessons and running lessons) you have learned? We are capable of much more than we might expect. I believe the accomplishments of racing 26.2 miles and completing ultras translates to other things in our personal makeup. I feel that I expanded the intellectual and emotional boundaries as I accomplished expanding physical boundaries.