PROFILE--George Hirsch has been running for 68 years


Historic photo of first NYC 5-boro marathon in 1976. Here,
Hirsch runs between the East River and FDR Drive in
 upper Manhattan.
(6-2019) George Hirsch is a true Renaissance man. He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton and received an MBA from Harvard, but never mentions either. He puts on no airs, and suffers none. In between the Ivy League schools, he served in the U.S. Navy. At 84, Hirsch can still run a 10:00-minute pace and afterwards do a Fun Run with his grand kids. He has lived a simple-but-productive and joy-filled life--one centered on people, passion, principle, and running.

Your profession/career: I was in magazine publishing (New York Magazine, Runners’ World) and am now the chairman of New York Road Runners. I was born in a New York Hospital and grew up in New Rochelle, a born and bred New Yorker. I was active and played many sports when I was young, but my sister who is two years older than me was the athlete in the family. When I showed up for playground baseball games, I just prayed
that there would be an even number of kids!

When did you start running and why? I ran the quarter and half mile in high school and college, so that puts my beginnings at September, 1951. I was quite slow in the sprints but persistent. Like many high school runners, I was too light for football and didn’t make the basketball team, so running was the default sport.

Did you have an early inspiration? Oh yes, I followed the sport and knew all the big names at the time. A favorite of mine was Gil Dodds, the miler known as “the flying parson.” When he got sick (measles I believe) and couldn’t go to the Olympic Trials, I wrote him a letter to console him. He wrote back to me, and that letter is probably tucked into my old files, since I never would have thrown it out. I also went to the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki as a teenager. Even though it became known as the Zatopek Olympics, I was more interested in the shorter distance guys back then: Mal Whitfield, Herb McKenley and George Rhoden.
Hirsch and Shay Hirsch, Central Park

How much did you run per week in your peak years? Now? Back then: 75-80 miles a week. Now, maybe 12-18!! But I still get out and run some NYRR races. Most recently I ran one of our 4-milers in 40:55, a 10:14 pace.

How did you train differently in your younger years? Just more miles and faster ones than now. When I ran my first marathon in 1968 (Boston; see recent NY Times essay), there were no training books. I sent in my two-dollar entry fee and a letter from my doctor saying I was fit to run.

How do you train now? Do you attend coached workouts? I run about four days a week and use the stationary bike and the elliptical on my non-running days. Also a little strength training with weights every now and then. No coach.

What were some of your memorable races? The New Jersey Waterfront Marathon in 1988 where I met the spectacular Shay Scrivner, who later became Shay Hirsch after I chased her down at that marathon. The 1994 New York City Marathon that I ran with my son, David. The 1979 Boston Marathon where I got my PR (2:38) and made a lifelong friend of Joan Benoit Samuelson. My final two marathons a few weeks apart at age 75, Chicago (3:58:39) and New York (4:06:14).

Bill Rodgers, Hirsch, Emil Zatopek
Has your diet/weight changed through the years? Hardly at all. Still about 142 pounds. And three good meals a day. Shay used to say: "The last time George missed breakfast was when he had his tonsils taken out at age 10!”
  
How important is social running to you? Because of my schedule, I run more by myself but always enjoy running with others. The social aspect of our sport, especially as we age, cannot be over-estimated. I have so many life long friends that I have met through running.

Obstacles along the way? The usual! There were breaks for injuries along the way, but life is all about “comebacks.”

An estimate of your total lifetime miles? No real idea so let’s say fifty years at 40 miles a week. Whatever that comes to, do the math! [We did, and got 104,000 miles.] 

A favorite quote? “Never make a decision on the uphill in running or in life.”  My own quote but it seems to work for me.
  
How has running helped you with the aging process? None of us can know for sure since it would be impossible to measure me against my own sedentary 84-year-old self. But I do believe it’s made a very positive difference in all ways.

Not "Chairman of the boards" but chairman of the
board, New York Road Runners 
What are the biggest lessons (life lessons and running lessons) you have learned? I think that I can honestly say that although I’ve had arguments, falling outs, and disagreements over the years, I do not believe that I have any grudges or feuds in my life now. So I guess the lesson is, at some point, we should just let go of that stuff. Letting go of “stuff,” including our old PRs, is refreshing. Everyone should try it.

What three tips would you give to a younger runner who wants to run for life? 
1--Races are great fun but you don’t have to “race” each one. Focus on a few that are important to you. 
2--It’s clich√© or a Bill Rodgers saying, but runners are genuinely nice people. So we are lucky to be part of this community. 
3--Stay in it for the long haul. Relax when injured or too busy with work or family. Time off--regenerating yourself physically and mentally--are necessary if you still want to be out there plodding along at my age.