Well Being: For three decades now, he's been on a good run

College dean Aaron Shatzman runs his three daily miles. He's run every day since Oct. 9, 1981.
College dean Aaron Shatzman runs his three daily miles. He's run every day since Oct. 9, 1981. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff)
Posted: October 10, 2011

Aaron Shatzman, dean of social sciences at Montgomery County Community College, is 65 years old and exudes the energy and enthusiasm of an undergraduate. True academic that he is, he wears bow ties - "a gentleman needs to know how to tie a bow tie," he asserts - a sartorial trademark that he adopted from his mentor, David Potter, a distinguished professor of U.S. history at Stanford University, where Shatzman earned his doctorate.

Shatzman is proud of many things.

He is proud of the spacious campus in Blue Bell and the modern buildings and facilities.

He is proud of the faculty, increasingly studded with Fulbright scholars and professors with Ivy League degrees.

He is proud of his forthcoming book, The Old World, the New World, and the Creation of the Modern World, 1400-1650, an interpretive history that is the product of 40 years of research and thought.

And he is proud of The Streak.

Yesterday, when Shatzman laced up his running shoes and set out from his home in Ambler for his daily three-mile trot, he was also celebrating an anniversary: 30 years without missing a single day of running.

The Streak began Oct. 9, 1981. The day before was Yom Kippur, a day when Jews customarily fast. Figuring he'd be light-headed if he didn't eat or drink, Shatzman didn't run that day. But he did run the next day, and the next, and the next. He hasn't skipped a daily run since.

"It has to do with perseverance, persistence, hard work, and accomplishing a goal," Shatzman says.

Shatzman keeps track, of course. He records his daily mileage in a log. From Oct. 9, 1981, to Dec. 31, 2010, he had run 52,932.5 miles, his records show. He estimates he's added 800 miles since.

When I suggested that Shatzman might be a tad obsessive-compulsive, he readily assented.

"Of course!" he replied, his smile broad and unabashed.

"It would be easy to take a day off and more fun to watch TV. Not giving in is the important thing."

What makes The Streak impressive is that Shatzman has maintained it despite chronic injury. His right hip is afflicted by bursitis. He has torn cartilage in his left knee. At age 41, he developed adult-onset asthma.

And yet he has plodded on, every day, in 100-degree heat and subzero cold, rainstorms and blizzards. One day, the bursitis pain was so intense he stood by the side of the road and cried. On another occasion, he couldn't walk, let alone run. Nevertheless, he dragged himself onto his treadmill. Supported by the railings, he slowly began walking. After a while, he began to loosen up enough so he could take his hands off the supports and begin running. He completed two miles, and The Streak was preserved.

(The rule of the United States Running Streak Association - yes, somebody monitors this lunacy - is that you must run at least a mile a day unsupported.)

Shatzman has run up a Tuscan mountain to visit a winemaker. He has run past Roman ruins in Spain. He has run through the streets of Rome, Florence, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Madrid, and Barcelona. He has run past Amish farmland in Lancaster County and on the battlefields of Gettysburg at sunrise. When he travels or vacations, running gives him an excuse, and means, to explore.

At 5-10, Shatzman weighs 155 pounds. His resting pulse is in the mid-40s, and his HDL, or "good cholesterol," is off-the-charts good, more than 90. (His secret: lucky genes and wine).

He wasn't always such a model of cardiovascular health. As a boy, he was fat, tipping the scale at a peak 220 pounds. In his 20s, he smoked. Then, at age 32, while serving as assistant dean at Washington University, he had an epiphany. One day, he saw the chairman of the math department fresh from a run and all aglow. "He looked fabulous," Shatzman recalls. "I wanted to be like him." So Shatzman went home, put on a pair of tennis shoes, and began to run.

At first he could run barely a block. Within weeks, he was running a half mile. In time, he tackled 5Ks and 10Ks. An avid cyclist, Shatzman began competing in duathlons and triathlons, winning age-group titles in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The run of which he's most proud: While being tested on a treadmill, he pushed it so hard that it overheated and shut down. "A triumph for humanity," Shatzman crows. "Man beats the machine."

He calls The Streak, which he intends to continue, "a noble and appropriate aspiration."

"I don't have the genetic makeup that would allow me to be a champion," Shatzman says, "but I'm trying to be the best I can be."

Contact staff writer Art Carey

at 215-854-5606 or acarey@phillynews.com.

Read his recent "Well Being" columns at www.philly.com/wellbeing

comments powered by Disqus