PROFILE--Ben Tucker has been running for 62 years
Ben Tucker was the first African American to run the equivalent of a sub-4-minute mile. He clocked a 3:40.8 for 1500 meters during the AAU National Championships on June 28, 1964 in New Brunswick, NJ, finishing seventh. (That time is equivalent to a 3:58.4 in the mile.) The first four that day were some of America's best: Tom O’Hara, Dyrol Burleson, Jim Grelle, and Jim Ryun. All broke the American 1500 meter record that day. In college, Tucker competed for San Jose State and was a member of the 1962 and 1963 NCAA Cross-Country Championship teams. He set school records in the 800 and 1500 meters. His 800 record stood for 15 years, while the 1500 meter school record was tops for 11 years. Now 75, he lives in Berkeley, CA.
Career/Profession? I retired in 2003 from the University of
California, Berkeley, as Manager of Early and Immediate
Outreach Programs. But I wasn’t ready to just sit still, so I
signed up for acting classes at a performing arts company for
seniors in Oakland, focusing on storytelling as an art form. I’ve performed
at the Berkeley Marsh Arts Center and open mics around the bay area. I also published my memoir, A Good Run, in 2015.
When did you start running and why? I started running in
1957, my freshman year of high school. I tried out for basketball team and was cut. The basketball coach referred me to the cross-country coach and I was instantly hooked. I was always an active kid. I was raised in San Francisco and as a kid I walked and rode my bike around the streets and up and down the hills of the city. I grew up in public housing with a recreation center that offered a variety of sports programs.
How much did you run per week in your peak years? Now? In my peak years during cross-country season I ran 50-60 miles per week. Now, I no longer run, I walk on average 30 miles per week and love to hike the hills in my area.
What were some of your better/memorable races? My
most memorable race (besides breaking the 4-minute mile as
stated above) was in June 1960 at Stanford University. It was
the California State Meet Of Champions. I was the dark horse in the 1-mile race and ended up beating the odds-on-favorite and my arch-rival Harry McCalla for the state championship. It was the best feeling in the world. That feeling is still with me and Harry and I are still friends.
How did you train differently from your younger years? In my competitive years, training was more intense; lots of
interval training, hills, and jog/strides. Now, everything is at a
nice moderate pace. I walk with an informal group of friends
and I stop to smell the roses. We are a coaching collective,
helping one another.
Did anyone influence you or inspire you? Jesse Owens and Joe Louis were big heroes in my life.
Has your diet changed? I am more aware of what I eat and
try to eat healthy foods. No red meat. More fruits and veggies.
Cross training, stretching, strengthening? Swimming, and I work out at a gym with weights and do aerobics. And I love to hike the mountains around my area. Walking and hiking are my biggest joys now.
What about the social aspects of running/walking? Hiking
is all about social. I am a writer and storyteller and get some of my best material while on the trail with my friends, where I try out some of my materials on my mates.
Injuries or other health issues? I have had foot surgery and a knee replacement in 2016. My other knee is almost nearing replacement time. Being a runner really helps with recovery. We know how to push ourselves during rehab.
Favorite quote? "When the going gets tough, the tough get
How has running helped you with aging? Running has
helped me ease into my senior years. I know my limitations
and I know how to work around them. The decline is gradual.
My philosophy is that running is a lifetime affair, so go the long slow distance.
What are the biggest lessons you have learned from
running? The biggest life lesson I have learned is that you got to keep on keeping on in every phase of life.
Three short tips for hopeful lifetime runners?
1--Don’t over train.
2--Get proper rest and recovery.
3--Build a strong base with long slow runs, 16-18 miles once a week.