PROFILE--Jim Whiting has been running for 61 years ... and writing almost as long

Finishing a Hood to Coast Relay
(Dec. 2020) Jim Whiting spent much of his adult life living in the Seattle, WA, area, where he ran, coached, and published one of the more influential regional running magazines, Northwest Runner. (A couple of years ago, he moved to Corvallis, OR, to be closer to several grandchildren.) Whiting, now 77, says he was literally the slowest kid in his 7th grade PE class, but later learned he had more endurance than speed. So he became a miler, of course. Then later an adventure travel guy: He has run in three of Greece's most historic sites. In his spare time, Whiting has written more than 300 books for young readers.

Career-profession? From the time I started running in 1958, virtually everything significant in my life is connected directly or indirectly to running. I published Northwest Runner magazine for 17 years. Panels of professional journalists named it the best regional running magazine in the country. It helped me meet some of the biggest names in the sport.

When I was in college, I wanted to run during the summer. But there were hardly any track meets. So when we moved to Bainbridge Island (WA) in 1994, I organized a weekly series of meets during July and August. I thought it would appeal to high school and college runners and adults interested in their mile times. Couldn’t have been more wrong. Struck a responsive chord among kids. Sometimes had nearly 200 entrants. Will

always remember the time when 36 little girls ran in their 3-and-under division. Directed the meets for 20 years before turning them over to someone else.

I was asked to start a middle school cross country program on Bainbridge. At its peak, it had about 80 participants. It was one of the peak experiences of my life. It gave me immense pleasure to watch my kids improve and share in their joy as they did.

What did you do after leaving Northwest Runner? I wrote and edited nonfiction books for young readers. I’ve written more than 300 titles on topics ranging from A(ntarctica) to Z(ionism) and edited about 500 more in a variety of genres.

How did you get started running? I was literally the slowest kid in my 7th grade PE class. Sixty of us lined up to run 100 yards. I saw 59 sets of butts as I stumbled to the finish line. So when my friend Bud Hoff called me one evening during the summer between our sophomore and junior high school years to invite me to a track meet with him and his brothers, I said, No. What else are you doing? he asked. Nothing, I replied. So get over here, he said. Bud smoked me in the 220 by about 20 yards. But at the end of the 440, I outleaned him at the finish. Wowser!

With books, written or edited

This being not long after Bannister breaking the four-minute barrier and track still a major sport, I thought I’d try a mile. Did 5:48. Fortunately, my high school began cross country as a sport that fall. I was one of four guys who turned out. When the top guy quit, I suddenly found myself as the #1 runner on the team.

How much did you run in your peak years? In college, probably 15-20 miles a week (this was early-to-mid 1960s). At my peak in mid-to-late 30s, I ran 60-70 miles a week with 100 one week.

Peak running achievements? Winning my first race—two miles—as a junior in college (something I had thought would never happen). ** Running a 59-second final lap in a three-mile race that same year. ** Doing a world-class workout when I was in my 30s. 3 sets of 10x220. First set average 32.5, second 31.5, third 30.5. ** Running in three Greek venues. Olympia (which became the basis for the first piece of original fiction to appear in Runner’s World). Delphi (see below). Athens (the stadium built for the revival of the Olympics in 1896 on the site of the Panathenic Games, which meant straightaways of 180 meters and curves of 20. Did a speedwork session there and doing the curves at speed took some getting used to).

How much are you running and cross-training now?

Running days probably behind me. Average about 20+ miles a week walking. I live in a quiet neighborhood with plenty of sidewalks. A massive forest with lots of trails is a mile away.

Recent race results? My racing days are mainly behind me, but I recently participated in Billy Mills’s virtual 10K to raise money for his Running Strong charity. Achieved all my modest goals and did have the distinction of being the oldest finisher.

On left, in high school

Does it bother you that you are slower now?
t used to bother me that I was slower. Not any more. Just grateful I can still walk.

How much did you weigh in your prime? Now? 145 then, 170 now. Ouch!

What are your pet peeves? Sellout of track to the metric system, especially at the high school level. The mile is a classic distance. 1600 meters is not. A 7-foot high jump is impressive. A 2.1366-meter high jump is meaningless. ** The over-identification of running with the marathon. I finished just one lifetime marathon, in Greece in 1998. It was not a pleasant experience. I would take exception to anyone who concludes that I am not/was not a “real runner” because of that.

Do you consider yourself a social runner or a mostly solitary runner? Solitary. That way I can set my own pace and not worry about keeping up with/getting too far ahead or behind of someone else.

Why do you keep running and walking? To stay healthy, physically and mentally. Especially mentally. The Bottom Line: Since discovering running when I was 15, it has been the key element in my life—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.