PROFILE--John Fixx has been running for 51 years

Fixx and daughter before a run.

(Jan. 2021) Yes, the name is familiar. John Fixx is the son of Jim Fixx, famous in the late 1970s for his international best seller, The Complete Book of Running. And then, a few years later, for dying from a heart attack on a run. John began running with his dad at an early age, and tagged along to enjoy many trips and famous-runner meetups. Eventually he outpaced his dad, and achieved a marathon best of 2:42. He had another famous author connection in college, competing on the Wesleyan University team where Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm) was a standout. Now 59, John serves as headmaster and cross country coach at a private day school in Connecticut, The Country School, where he still logs 3 to 5 miles a day. He has only been arrested once while running.

Career profession: I've worked in admissions or administration at a number of private schools, mostly in Connecticut, where I grew up. For the last seven years, I've been headmaster at The Country School in Madison CT. We're a K-8 school with a little over 200 students.

When did you start running and why? I actually know exactly when I started running, because my father was a runner. From his log, I can see that I ran a 3 mile race in Westport CT when I was eight years old. The next year I remember running 40 times around my school's 200 yard track to get read for the Greenwich Memorial Day 5 Mile.

Peak training? I ran some 110 mile weeks over the summer when I was a student at Wesleyan University, and did one 30-mile training run. But most weeks were around 70 or 80. I was never the fastest runner on any of my teams, but made a contribution as second, third, fourth, fifth, etc, by grinding out the hard work and planning carefully.
With Leila Goodman, winner of Jr.
Olympic XC for ages 7-8 in 2019.

Best performances? I ran 26:03 for a "short" 5 miler in college, and 57:29 minutes at the Cherry Blossom 10 in D.C. one year. Best mile, 4:32. 5K, 16:01. Marathon, 2:42:22.

What was it like growing up with a famous father? I don’t think I was particularly intimidated. I’ve always had good confidence, and so I don’t feel like I was subordinated by my father‘s fame. I was also very proud of him and his writing and running – – and still am. Because of Dad‘s fame, I got to go to races throughout the United States, I met some pretty remarkable runners, ran some fun miles in different places, and boy did we get a lot of free running shoes and equipment and gadgets and airplane rides and hotels.

Your father famously died of a heart attack at the end of a run. Do you worry about your health? Of course. My siblings and I all do, and we are careful. I was fortunate that Dr. Kenneth Cooper took an interest in my health and heredity and generously invited me down to The Cooper Clinic every other year after my father died, giving me a full work-up exam, and engaging his staff to make recommendations for a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. I am still checked out regularly by physicians and so far have zero calcium build-up, no plaque, no inflammation and no heart issues. My mother and her mother lived a long life, while my paternal grandmother and great grand parents all lived into their 90s. I am hoping this acorn fell under those trees. How great would it be to still be running into my 80s and even 90s?

How many times have you been arrested while running? Only once. It was in the summer of1984, and I was running home around midnight from my restaurant job. A friend named Mark McIntyre joined me. He would go on to finish fourth one year in the Hawaii Ironman. Anyway, when we reached the locked Greenwich town beach, we jumped the fence, hammered a great 3 miles in the park, and then headed out. The police were waiting for us, and took us downtown for fingerprinting. We both had to perform many hours of community service to expunge our records.

You have a busy job as headmaster. Why do you coach? Coaching cross country encourages me to stay fit myself so that I can be out on the trails and the roads with my runners. And coaching keeps me connected to our students in a way that school administration often does not allow.

I coach with two gifted educators—Beth Coyne and Blair—and we have sent 111 runners to the Junior Olympics with the Litchfield Track Club. In recent years we have had a Junior Olympics national champion, a Junior Olympics runner up, and five All-America runners. It’s great fun to watch the development of runners over nine years at The Country School. I think I enjoy their successes more than I ever enjoyed my own plugger running.

Do you still race? Rarely--usually for charity. But when I turned 50 a decade ago, I worked pretty hard to get in good shape, and broke 20 minutes for 5K three times. For this guy who was never that fast, it was fun to get an age-group trophy or two.

Current running and cross-training? I get my exercise these days by dodging the issues, climbing the walls, and jumping to conclusions. I also run three to five miles a day, do the elliptical every other day, and play golf.

With Alberto Salazar at xc camp in early 1980s.

Diet and weight changes?
I've been largely vegetarian since before college, though I do love a pepperoni pizza and nice steak or fish. I consume very few processed foods, enjoy some beer and wine, and try to avoid too many desserts. I weighed 157 pounds during high school and college and I hover at 170 now. I need to do more stretching, lift weights, and more core work. Some planks and sit ups would help keep my gut flat.

Running injuries? I had Achilles problems for a while in 9th grade, and a stress fracture in high school and one in college. Other than those, I’ve been pretty steady, and have missed only a handful of days of running since middle school.

What keeps you running? It’s really just a part of my lifestyle, like brushing my teeth and going to work and loving my wife and children. Running keeps me calm, helps to manage weight, gets me outside, puts me with like-minded people, allows me to set physical goals, encourages me to sometimes make myself do things I’d rather not do, and keeps me fit for golf and soccer and walking with my wife and so forth. I have won my golf club championship three times, and I think my conditioning has something to do with my ability to persevere, focus and bear down under physical and mental stressors.

I feel free when I’m outside. I think running must connect me to a kind of animal existence, where you’re moving under your own locomotion, using your muscles, and propelling yourself. I actually like it when I have to, say, leave my car at the shop for a tune-up, and run home and then run back to get it.

Any life lessons from running? My father was under deadline to finish his first running book, The Complete Book of Running, which coincidentally had 24 chapters, a forward and appendix. So he viewed it like a marathon, grinding out a chapter at a time the way we grind out a mile at a time. I think my father was onto something there. When I have a big project due for work or have to re-roof our house or some other long, fatiguing task, I know I can get through it, because I’ve gotten through some really horrible, long, uncomfortable runs throughout my life. There’s a transfer of confidence.

Aldous Huxley once said, “Perhaps the greatest benefit of all education is the ability to make yourself do the things you have to do when they ought to be done whether you like it or not.” Similarly, I think running teaches us that sometimes, when there are things we have to do whether we like it or not, we can just put our head down and shuffle along.