Running, for this 65-year-old pediatrician, is a way of life

Posted: Monday, August 11, 2003

Juneau pediatrician Dr. George W. Brown tells his young patients that people were meant to move around. And he speaks from experience.

"We are not meant to sit," he said, between seeing patients on what he called a good day to run.

Brown watched runners in Juneau's recent Frank Maier Memorial Marathon run past his Douglas home. It wasn't the rain that kept him off the 26.2-mile course. He said that at age 65, he doesn't run more than one marathon a year. And since 1976, he hasn't missed a start in the Honolulu Marathon.

Brown actually finished a Honolulu Marathon before he started one. He was sent from Anchorage to work with the Coast Guard in Hawaii in December 1975, when he rode a bike to a park in Waikiki. He saw a group of people wearing numbers run by and decided to join them, not knowing they were about four miles into a 26-mile run.

"I had been running two to five miles several times a week for six to eight months," he said. "I was in pretty good shape. What bothered me most was my feet."

Near the end of the run, with his feet bleeding, a woman in her 70s or 80s - who presumably had run four miles more - passed him. He couldn't summon what he needed to beat her to the finish, as his pride demanded. "It gave me a whole new perspective."

A year later in Honolulu, Brown started his first marathon. He recalled that there was a marathon he didn't finish. One year when he was practicing in Palmer, he was paged at about mile 18 of the Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage. After finding a telephone, he ran to the hospital to see a patient.

A native of North Carolina, Brown came to Alaska to work for the Indian Health Service. At first he heard he was going to Sitka, but he ended up in Anchorage, remaining in that area from 1965 to 1988.

He left after his wife, carolyn, who doesn't capitalize her first name, got a faculty position at the University of Vermont in 1988. The Browns returned to Alaska two years ago, when carolyn was asked to be deputy director of public health in Juneau under the previous political administration.

Brown has been involved in a few events that didn't stop at marathon distance. One year he ran 42 miles from Palmer to Anchorage, getting pledges to raise money for his hospital. In 1996, he ran 50 miles from Norwalk, Conn., to Newark, N.J. He was one of 10 runners that ran from Burlington, Vt., to Washington, D.C., for Vermont SAFE KIDS, an organization working to prevent childhood injuries.

"I was 59 then," he said.

Brown said his next marathon will be his 78th.

"I'm sure there are hundreds of people who have run more than 100," he said.

"I started running because I was afraid I was going to get a heart attack," Brown said. That was two years before he learned about marathons in Hawaii. He was 37 and becoming more aware that men in their 50s and 60s were at risk.

He started small. At first he was afraid he couldn't make it around the block.

Now he doesn't enjoy the pain of mile 23 of a marathon, but he enjoys "relaxing, meditating and being a part of nature, which is what happens to me when I run."

At an age many consider time for retirement, he has cut back to 40 to 55 hours a week between Glacier Pediatrics and Dr. Joy Neyhart's office.

"In my prime, I probably worked 100 hours a week."

Brown said a person gains four hours of life for every hour spent in aerobic exercise, such as running. He still feels young "most of the time," but doesn't give all the credit to running. "The kids make you feel young," he said.

"Kids are natural scientists. They're always exploring, and they haven't lost their sense of wonder."

Unfortunately, he added, a big problem among kids is obesity.

"That's one reason we organized the 1979 Children's Marathon in Matanuska Valley," northeast of Anchorage, he said. The event, which was held annually for 10 years, was set up so kids could run in two-mile segments.

The problem with childhood obesity is not an issue of aesthetics, he explained. Overweight kids are at risk of developing health complications.

"We see more and more kids developing diabetes because of obesity," he said. "We're all very frustrated. We wish we could do more."

He talks with kids daily about their health. He doesn't insist that they run, but he does talk about getting more exercise and less television and fast food. "We talk about doing something they enjoy outdoors."

Brown said he knows he's getting through. He sees kids running, often with their families. Organized youth baseball, softball and soccer are popular here, he added.

He likes to run around his Douglas home and along Glacier Highway, weather and his work schedule permitting, he said. He plans to start training for the next Honolulu Marathon in October, building up to one hour three times a week. Distance varies.

"Some days you can run better than others," he said.

But distance really isn't the point, he said.

Tony Carroll can be reached at

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