Jack Foster — A Giant of the Sport

Jack Foster ran a 2:11 marathon.

“So what?” you say.

At age 41.

His amazing marathon set an age-group record that stood for a little over 16 years (1974-90), and won him Silver at the 1974 Commonwealth Games.

At 39, he set a world record for 20 miles (1:39:14), and at 42 he won the Honolulu Marathon (2:17:24).

Jack_FosterThe New Zealand farmer is an icon for older runners everywhere. He’s a towering figure of the sport.

It’s not just his racing times that make Jack Foster a giant. It’s his attitudes, which showed all runners, regardless of their age, a better way to think about running.

Foster didn’t “train.” He simply ran for enjoyment and let the results take care of themselves.

Joe Henderson wrote a beautiful article about Jack. (See Running Commentary #979.) He quotes Foster:

“A reporter once asked about the training I did,” wrote Jack. “I told him I didn’t train. The word ‘training’ conjures up in my mind grinding out 200- and 400-meter intervals. I refuse to do this.”

The world stands at a turning point. We’re emerging from an age characterized by a materialistic view of creation, and we’ve entered an age of energy-awareness.

The difference is showing up everywhere – in sports, business, relationships, religion. All of the major inventions of the last 100 years have been energy-based.

Modern physics tells us that energy, not matter, is the underlying substrate of the world. Someday, ancient sages predicted, we’ll discover that consciousness is the even-deeper source of our existence. Eventually, they say, we’ll know that the source of consciousness, energy, and matter is God.

(You can read about the cyclical ages of history in a fascinating book: The Yugas: Keys to Understanding Our Hidden Past, Emerging Energy Age, and Enlightened Future, by Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz.)

Jack Foster spent much of his adult life in New Zealand – a land where thousands of runners have adopted a more natural approach to running than the rest of the world. Perhaps it’s because New Zealand is gorgeous, and the scenery invites people to run in nature, in a natural way.

New Zealanders like Foster and Arthur Lydiard have shown us the future – a future where we’ll train by watching our energy, instead of by rigid rules.

He claimed not to let the old times haunt him. “The drop-off in racing performances with age manifests itself only on timekeepers’ watches,” he wrote. “The running action, the breathing and other experiences of racing all feel the same. Only the watch shows otherwise.”

Jack chose to define a good race by the effort, not by the numbers of a watch. He said, “All the other experiences of racing that attracted me initially are the same as they have always been, and they still appeal to me.”

Call it “person-centered running,” though it sounds terribly new-agey.

I believe Foster simply knew what matters. We can’t predict what the future will bring. Race results are uncertain – they’re a crapshoot. We can’t know, going into a run or a race, if this is the day when we’ll experience something marvelous, or if we’ll slog along in limp-home mode.

Energy defines us. It sustains us. We can’t ignore it. We can only work with the energy we’ve got, and make the best use of it. Pretending we’ve got more energy leads to over-training and a melt-down. Watching our energy, using it wisely, and doing whatever gives us  more energy, is the simple secret of success and happiness. It’s the new way to train.

Jack Foster was ahead of his time. He even predicted the minimalist movement in running – he wore ultra-light shoes and ran over hills and dales, shunning pavement. He was a prophet. I can’t praise Joe Henderson’s wonderful article enough.

2 thoughts on “Jack Foster — A Giant of the Sport”

  1. Age record that still stands ? The masters record now is 2:08:46. Foster’s run was still remarkable though.

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