PROFILE--Jay Birmingham has been running for 62 years

Jacksonville Beach Run, 2017
(Mar. 2020) Jay Birmingham, of Fleming Island FL, was a track and cross country coach and teacher (biology, human anatomy, physiology) for 27 years at both the college and high school level. He also ran a running store in Jacksonville, FL, early in the running boom. He retired in 2018 and, now 75, has resumed running every day, and taken up piano, guitar, cooking, gardening, writing and travel. Among his many running achievements, Birmingham still holds the record for a solo, unsupported USA Transcon run. In 1980, he covered 2,964 miles in 71 days, 22 hours, 59 minutes.

When did you start running and why? April 1958 as part of my seventh-grade homeroom team in Wilmington, Ohio. Never stopped running. I'm proudest of my longevity in the sport.  I've always seen myself as a "full-spectrum" runner, competing with enthusiasm in
track, cross country, road racing, ultra running, and journey running.

An early inspiration or mentor? Mr. Glen McElwee, English and social studies teacher, introduced us to track events and conducted the 7th Grade Olympics.  Throughout high school, I avidly followed track, although there was scant reporting.  Sports Illustrated wrote features on Olympians such as Herb Elliott and Peter Snell during my high school years.  I bought some books through Track and Field News.  Run, Run, Run by Fred Wilt and Athletics:  How to Become a Champion by Percy Cerutty were especially influential.
Running Badwater

When I started running ultras, Ted Corbitt was my inspiration. I called him during low points in my 1980 transcontinental run (after two failed attempts) and he kept me going. When I finished, he met me at the steps of New York City’s City Hall where I finished.

How much did you run per week in your peak years? Now?  From 1976 through 1984, I ran 100 miles a week for up to eight weeks before a marathon, up to 200 miles a week for eight weeks before two of my journey runs, and rarely less than 50 miles a week.  I competed 30-40 times a year in races from the mile to ultras.  

During my 27 years of concentration on my profession as a teacher and coach (1990-2018), I ran about 20 to 50 miles a week, unless preparing for a specific long-distance event, such as the Badwater 135. Since retirement, I run 35 to 50 miles most weeks, sometimes farther.  

What were some of your better/memorable races? 
     1963  conference champion, mile 4:45, half-mile 2:07
     1966 first marathon, Heart of America, Columbia, MO 2:51:57
     1967 college PRs 2:03.2; 4:31.7; 15:31 (3 miles)
     1978 Boston Marathon 2:39:13
     1980  Los Angeles to New York City, unsupported, 71:22:59
     1981 Badwater to Mt. Whitney summit, 146 miles, 73:20.

I should also mention my Grand Canyon crossings. In 1975 I did my first crossing and got out of there with only leg cramps.  The 7-mile descent from the south rim beat up my quads and the steps, hollowed out by mules, were gravelly and steep.  The middle 7 miles were gently uphill and I pushed hard (1500 feet elevation gain); but I was dead over the final 7 miles (4000 feet of climbing). I swore I’d never do that again but made the crossing in 1985, 1995, 2005, and in 2015 to celebrate my 70th birthday.

A guesstimate of your total lifetime miles? 140,000.  

After his Transcon run
Has your diet/weight changed through the years? My diet has been undisciplined for most of my life.  I am extremely fond of milk, chocolate, candy bars, and soft drinks.  However, I do eat a wide variety of nutritious food, fruit, vegetables, meat, pizza, pasta, and bread. I don’t take any vitamins or supplements.

Cross training? I’ve lifted free weights off-and-on since ninth grade. I don’t consider my occasional swimming, kayaking, or cycling as cross training. 

Solo runner or social? I've been a social runner at times, enjoying both long runs and quality workouts with teammates and friends of all abilities.  But I have always been comfortable running alone.  95% of my training has been solo. 

Obstacles?  I have enjoyed a largely injury-free running career. 

A favorite quote? “Develop an unshatterable belief in yourself.” --Joe I. Vigil

Running philosophy? When I was a highly-competitive runner (1960-1980), my philosophy was to out-train my opponents. Current philosophy:  Enjoy every training run and every race.

How has running helped you with the aging process?      Running has helped me ignore "the aging process."

What are the biggest lessons you have learned from running? Dedication and persistence.    

Three tips for other hopeful lifetime runners?
1--Don’t take layoffs - run everyday. 
2--Don’t gain weight. 
3--Enjoy being fit. 

To read more about Jay and the Ohio Valley Track Club: