PROFILE--Bob Wischnia has been running for 60+ years

(9-18) If Bob Wischnia’s (Wish) name seems familiar, it’s because he spent 26 years as the deputy editor at Runner’s World (started in 1977), wingman to editor-in-chief Amby Burfoot.  He met and ran with some of the greatest runners in history, including John J. Kelley, Herb Elliott, Alberto Salazar, Rob de Castella, Lynn Kanuka (nee, Williams), Steve Scott, Rosa Mota, John Gregorek, Grete Waitz, Meb Keflezighi, Bill Dellinger and many, many others. After RW he worked for Mizuno and is now retired. He lives in Austin Texas with his wife, Anita Harbor, and twin daughters, Abby (who lives in Los Angeles) and Beth (who lives in San Francisco), 28.

“My goal in college (Arizona State) was to travel the world and get somebody else to pay for it. In that respect, I succeeded. I was very fortunate to visit more than 30 countries and covered several Olympic Games (Moscow, Los Angeles, Seoul, Barcelona), numerous World Championships and various track meets, road races and marathons all over the place,” says Wishnia. “I was a lucky guy.”

Started running: November,1957. I was 7 years old.  
I grew up in the 1950s, primarily in State College, Pennsylvania, where my father taught electrical engineering at Penn State, and Stamford, Connecticut where I attended Belltown School (most famous alumni: Joseph Lieberman). The school was so old and small it didn't have a cafeteria so everyone went home for lunch. I lived about 1.5 miles away and in the winter it was too cold to ride bikes. My parents worked, so in third grade I began running to and from home at lunch. It was the highlight of my day (still is) and I ran through these beautiful woods on old Indian trails. Everyone thought I was weird, which was fine.

Why did you start running? I loved it and especially loved the freedom of movement. Eventually, I started timing my runs and
got faster and faster without making a conscious effort. By 5th grade, the teachers knew what I was doing and didn't put up a fuss when I would fly out of the classroom at the stroke of noon, skip down the stairs and burst out the school doors. I ran all over town and became known as “The Runner.” Still am.

I got faster and when I was old enough for Junior Olympics, I won the 660 & 880 yards, the only events offered. I played other sports, mainly baseball  (I was teammates with Jackie Robinson Jr.) swimming, tennis and football but running was always it for me.

I did OK in junior high track, even though the races were always too short for me; they were over before I knew it. I went to a very small parochial school and was the No. 1 guy on the cross-country team - there was only one other guy. But it was a joke. We had no coaching, no inspiration, and no training schedules. I played football too. Track season was also incredibly low-key and since I was also on the baseball team, there were days where I ran a home meet, finished my race and ran up some hills to the baseball field for a game. They'd have my uniform ready for me and I'd just change behind the stands.
Wischnia to right. President wearing # 1. Photo, 2002

One very funny incident stands out. Our town had one road race—the Bloomingdale's 15K—and by my senior year I thought I was pretty good so entered it. Amby Burfoot came down from Mystic, CT, where he lived, to run it (he was probably a senior in college) and there was a big story in the paper about him winning the 68’Boston Marathon. The story said that he ran 140 miles per week and I remember thinking what a joke, they must have meant he ran 140 miles per month. Of course, the paper was right. Anyway, race day came and here was Amby Burfoot warming up for the race. To me, it was like Mickey Mantle showing up for a Babe Ruth League game. I had a highly elevated opinion of myself and was determined to stick with the great Burfoot. I was way too intimidated to talk to Amby, but figured I'd just run whatever pace he did. Of course, that lasted about a mile.

Later on when I was living in San Diego and still thought I was a pretty good runner, someone suggested I go out to Grossmont College and run with the Jamul Toads who were coached by Bob Larsen (later the UCLA coach) and were one of the best teams in the country. I tried sticking with them for a few months but was still delusional about my own running. These guys were some of the best roadrunners in the country. I was so hammered after every workout that I would just pass out once I got home.

Early inspiration/motivation: I've always been lucky in the sense that I'm a pretty self-motivated person and getting motivated for running or racing has never been an issue with me. Amby and John J. Kelley were from Connecticut and even though I knew they were Boston Marathon champions, their victories and their fame didn't really inspire or motivate me. They were like Gods and I admired them. As I got to know Kelley, he never failed to ask me about a new Grateful Dead or Dylan album.

With Austin buddy, Gilbert Tuhabonye
Running mileage: First off, I was never any good. I was determined and passionate about running and even though I won a few races, I was never good enough to actually compete with the good runners. I actually got better and more competitive as I got older and did well in age group competitions but that was about it. I guess because I never did high mileage or compete at a high level I didn't lose much as I aged. My best competitive years were   2001-2015. Part of it was living in Austin, which has the best running community in America. Here, everybody runs and it’s a big part of the social fabric.

My peak mileage: Was probably about 65-70 but that was as recent as just a few years ago. I belong to a fantastic training group in Austin—Gilbert's Gazelles—and the folks I trained with pushed me to train and race as hard as they did. I never really had a coach before meeting Gilbert Tuhabonye and he's been an awesome mentor to me, and hundreds of others.

My mileage: Is now 40-45 a week as I don't race anymore. In 2015, I accomplished a major goal: Winning my age group (65-69) at the Houston Half Marathon. For the next year I continued to push it with the Gazelles and ran well in several other races as I was pointing for a peak in the '16 Houston. On my last long run before Houston, I was finishing up the last mile on a sidewalk. Big mistake. I hit a crack in a sidewalk, went flying and broke three ribs and tore a hernia. Since then, I haven't raced but continue to run every day. (I'm lucky as I live a mile from a golf course where I'm a member and I run on a beautiful soft course every day. And no, I haven't been arrested).

My diet: It's always been good. I never liked the traditional American diet of meat and even as a kid, subsisted on salads and seafood. I still do. I'm not a vegan. I eat chicken and fish, a salad every night. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family so I never ate pork and once I got away from home, stopped eating beef. My diet hasn't changed much. I still weigh 148 pounds and can fit into my high school and college letter jackets.

What were some of your better/memorable races? I've run so many races from road miles to the marathon and they all kind of blend together. If it's not hot, I love them all. Houston, Carlsbad and Chicago have always been memorable for me but most of the great races I think about were races I covered or witnessed such as the 1978 and 1979 Boston marathons, the 1988 Olympic Marathon, the 1984 and '85 Chicago marathons, Alberto's three New York City Marathon victories and the New York City Marathon that Fred Lebow ran with Grete Waitz when he was dying from cancer.

Cross training: I run, swim, cycle and do yoga every day but I just don't believe cross training does much for running. To be a better runner, you have to run more and run faster. Case in point: I've been a daily swimmer as long as I've been running. It makes me a better swimmer but if I truly wanted to be a better runner, that time in the pool would be better invested in running. I also love to hike with buddies and now play golf every day in money games with some cut throat players.

Social running: I've always been primarily a solo runner (I go very early). When I used to run with other people, I ended up doing other runners' workouts. Although I love group runs, I only run with a training group when I go long on the weekends. Still, running with smart, motivated people has always been a joy but so is running by myself.

Getting slower: Doesn't bother me in the least. I was never fast—never broke three hours in a marathon—so I didn't have much to lose in terms of speed. Today, I just run how I feel which is usually pretty good. The mantra of Gilbert's Gazelles is, Run with Joy and I always try to do that.

Favorite quote: Run on the Edge of Death. For me, racing has always been hard and, at some point, I always experience a crisis of confidence where I can either go through the pain or fold up the tent and go home. Fortunately, I've only DNF'ed three or four times in my life so I'm pretty good at dealing with the discomfort of racing. Running is easy and fun; racing is hard.
Forty years ago, Wischnia appeared on the
cover of a Runner's World catalog.

Running/training philosophy: I spent a lot of time in Australia in the early '80s and fell in with a training group, which included Rob de Castella before he was a Boston, Commonwealth and World Champion. His deal was always run easy, run relaxed on soft surfaces as much as possible and only run hard once or at most twice a week. And, of course, his training group would finish each workout in a pub. The first time I met his group for a track workout in Perth, Deek ran 8 x 400 and that was it for his speed. Heck, my speed work was two or three times as much as his. When I told Bill Rodgers that all Deek did was 8 x 400, he refused to believe that. De Castella's long runs were a joke by American standards. He would start his 20-milers at 8-minute pace with every runner running with him. Deek ran so easy; he'd be a mile behind me and then with four or five to go, would just explode. I've always tried to do that, much less successfully than Deek did. But he exemplified easy, relaxed running.  

Has your running helped with the aging process? I guess it does. I'm still a pretty fit, active guy and one of the reasons I can still do this stuff, is because of my lifelong commitment to running. 

Biggest lesson learned: I'm a very fortunate guy in that I was able to blend my passion with a career for 35 years. I never fail to be thankful for that and was blessed to work with some great people at RW (Amby, George Hirsch, John Brant, Don Kardong, Marty Post) and Mizuno (Fritz Taylor, Ron Wayne, Cain Williams).