Carver Memories -- Feb. 16, 1970
Pearson has run a mile or more every day for over 47 years
BELLINGHAM, Wash. --- Even at 73 years of age, former Western Washington University cross country and track & field athlete Jim Pearson continues to run and run and run.
Through July 12, 2017, Pearson, who keeps meticulous journals of his running, has completed 173,392 miles. That equates to nearly seven times around the circumference of the earth or nearly 62 times across the longest straight line in the United States (Washington to Florida).
And it's not just about total mileage for Pearson, who resides in Marysville, Wash., but also consistency. He has run at least a mile a day since Feb. 16, 1970. That's 47.40 years or 17, 314 days.
Pearson ranks second on the current active streak list of nearly 800 runners, 266 days behind the best mark of 17,580 (48.13 years) by Jon Sutherland, who is seven years younger at 66. The streaks are certified by the United States Running Streak Association, Inc.
The all-time record of 52 years and 39 days, which ended on Jan. 29, 2017, was set by then 78-year-old Ron Hill, a three-time Olympian for Great Britain.
"I don't know, it's good for my health. I'm at my eighth grade weight of 145 pounds," said Pearson in a recent phone interview when queried about what drives him to run. "I like to be physical. I wake up each morning looking for things to do."
"Sutherland is seven years younger than I am," Pearson continued. "And the odds are against me. But then they were against me being in the top three."
On Feb. 15, 1970, Pearson, who lived at Birch Bay at the time, was battling the flu while moving across the county to his new residence on the Hannegan Road. With the illness and packing, driving and unpacking, he did not run.
The next day, on a chilly afternoon, he ran, and has continued to do so for nearly a half century. There appears to be no end in sight.
"Well, it will (end), but not yet," Pearson chuckled.
For many years, Pearson didn't give the streak much thought.
"The only reason it came to mind is that after competing in an event, I was talking with someone (about the streak) who got it printed in a magazine," he said. "Then it was picked up by the Seattle Times and later appeared on Channel 13 (Seattle/Tacoma) news. But for so much of it, I wasn't trying to keep the streak alive. I always want to run one day at a time, so there's no stress."
There have been three times when Pearson's streak was in real jeopardy, one in particular about 10 years ago when he found himself in the hospital with what turned out to be blood clots.
"Having driven to the hospital, and having an IV put in my arm, I was disappointed," recalled Pearson. "Then I called home."
His two sons and daughter made their way to the hospital with Hopper pacing off a course in the hallway and Joel bringing his dad's running gear.
"I walked by the nurses with my gown on, walked to the vacant hallway we had measured, dropped the gown, put on a long-sleeve shirt so no one could identify me as a patient from the hospital bracelets on my wrist, and ran my 1.1 (miles) at 11 o'clock at night."
"The next day was actually worse because I was running in the snow. I had gotten permission to go home after Joel volunteered to give me the needed shots."
Later, Pearson injured his knee helping to get a stage ready for a play in which his daughter was to perform. A few years after that, he was told that he couldn't run anymore, "but I'd run 4-1/2 miles already that morning, so I knew that wasn't true," he said.
"Right now, it's the only thing I can do," said Pearson. "I can run one day at a time. I can't run anything fast. I can break eight minutes in the mile, I know it. But probably not seven. My right knee gives me trouble, but the health benefits are there."
"And maybe it's an ego thing. I know that I can handle it. The three times I thought it was over, I was disappointed, but life goes on ... I do it because it's something I can do and not very many other people can. I haven't been totally lucky, but I've been pretty lucky for those 47 years.
"But for years it was always twice a day. It had nothing to do with the streak, but with being fit and winning races."
Since his early 20s, Pearson has devoted himself to distance and ultra-distance running, both as a participant and coach.
In 1975 at Seattle, Pearson was the U.S. champion in the 50-mile run, setting an American record with a time of 5:12:40.1. The clocking was then the third fastest in the world and stills ranks seventh all-time on the American all-time list. He also was a national champion in 1988 in the Masters 50-mile run.
Pearson qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in 1972 and 1976. He competed in four world championships, including the World Masters 25-kilometers at Bruges, Belgium, in 1985; World Masters marathon in 1985 and 1986 at Rome, Italy, and Richmond, B.C., respectively; and the World Masters 10-kilometers at Eugene, Ore., in 1989.
Pearson placed among the top five at the U.S. national championships seven times. Besides winning the Amateur Athletics Union 50-mile run in 1975, he was second in the 50K in 1976 and 100K in 1979, third in the 50 miles in 1979 and 100K in 1980, and fifth in the 50K in 1974 and 50 miles in 1980.
There was an 11-1/2 year stretch where Pearson averaged over 100 miles per week. His longest streak of consecutive 100-mile or more weeks was 78, exactly a year and a half.
Pearson's highest weekly mileage was 182, and he had months of 729 and 719. He ran 6,174 miles in 1975 and 6,028 in 1978.
This type of mileage allowed Pearson to run a personal-best 2:22:32 marathon just 35 days after taking the 50-mile national title. The bulk of his training that year came while completing graduate school at WWU.
Pearson won the Seattle, Portland (Ore.) and Victoria (B.C.) marathons and was a 16-time champion at the Birch Bay marathon, which he founded. He has run the marathon in under three hours 69 times, 27 of them under 2:36 and 14 under 2:30.
Pearson has coached high school and collegiate cross country and track for 42 years, one at Snohomish (Wash.) High School, 35 at Ferndale (Wash.) High School, two as an associate head coach at Whatcom CC in Bellingham, one as an assistant at Mead High School near Spokane, two as an assistant coach at Cardinal Stritch University (Milwaukee, Wisc.), and is currently beginning his second year at Everett CC. He also has coached Harrier Track Club athletes for the last eight years.
Seven of his athletes have qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials and another seven for World Championship meets. He has coached 55 national qualifiers and 30 All-Americans.
Besides founding the Birch Bay Marathon in 1969, Pearson began the Ferndale Track Club in 1970, co-founded the Snohomish Track Club in 1968 and the Freedom Flower Road Runners in 1976. He also is a past president of the Greater Bellingham Running Club, the Snohomish Track Club and the Freedom Flower Road Runners.
Pearson was once referred to by Runner's World as an "Ultra Running King," He has appeared in that magazine as well as Track and Field News, Ultra Running, and Northwest Runner. He also has appeared in books, including The Running Mind by Jim Lillefors, On the Road: The Marathon by Jim Shapiro, Why We Run by Bernd Heinrich, Racing the Antelope by Heinrich, Ultra-Marathoning by Tom Osler, Ultramarathon by Shapiro, Serious Runner's Handbook by Osler and Running Around Puget Sound by Peter Holman Smith.
Pearson and wife Barbie have three grown children. Besides sons Hopper and Joel, they have a daughter, Paige. Pearson also has an older son, Rob, by a previous marriage.
All three of the younger siblings had running streaks of a mile or more a day, one being the current mark of 22.86 years or 8,349 days by Joel, which ranks No. 89 on the USRSA list.
"Joel just turns 33 in October, and at this point, whenever he hits a milestone, he's the first one to do that," said Pearson. "He runs at least 5,000 meters a day. Unless he has something horrible go wrong, he'll get there. It's only 29 more years, but we don't think of it that way."
Joel, who has coached at a number of high schools and colleges, holds a bachelor's degree in history and coaching from The Evergreen State College. He recently completed a Sport Management master's degree program at Cardinal Stritch University.
Hopper's streak helped him fight off an addiction problem. After having a severe wrestling injury in high school, he was prescribed pain medications and became addicted to them. This ultimately led to heroin addiction that lasted over three years. Hopper began running with his father and is now 7-1/2 years clean. The runs created a special bond between father and son.
Pearson's brother, Don, had a running streak of just over three years, and daughter Paige had one just under three years. She still runs but not "streakishly."
A 1962 graduate of Lake Stevens High School, Pearson is a member of that school's Purple and Gold Hall of Fame, being inducted in 2013. In September, he will become a member of the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame.
Pearson was a member of WWU's cross country team that won a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) District 1 championship in 1963. He earned a bachelor's degree in English at Western in 1966 and completed his master's degree in 1975. Pearson, who went on to a long career as an English and speech teacher at Ferndale High, was a 2015 inductee into WWU's Athletics Hall of Fame.
During his early days as a Viking track athlete, Pearson competed in the long and triple jumps. However, two other jumpers enrolled around that time, Dick Preferment and John Hunt. Both possessed the talent to reach the NAIA national championships, Hunt placing second at nationals in the long jump in 1966 and Preferment finishing sixth in the triple jump in 1967.
"That pretty much ended my jumping career," said Pearson. "If you're only the third best on your team, that doesn't say much."
So, as a junior and senior at WWU, Pearson concentrated on the two mile run.
"Keith Gilbertson, Sr. (Snohomish), my summer coach, always told me that I should be running distances," said Pearson. "He finally got me to do that, and then one day (late in 1968), he said, `Jimmy, you've got to get more consistent.' And so I did."
Certainly, one of the great understatements of all time.
By Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015
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