Marathoner promotes health for the long run

Local pediatrician enjoys the benefits of active lifestyle

Posted: Monday, December 18, 2006

At 69, pediatrician George Brown believes in good health for life; and not just his own health, but that of others.

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Last week, he completed the Honolulu Marathon for the 29th time and says he doesn't plan on retiring from long-distance running any time soon.

For Brown, running is more than a sport. He uses it to further causes, almost all of them related to children or educating people about fitness and good health.

"I don't promote running or marathoning, I only promote exercising," he said. For every hour we run, he says, we add four hours to our lives.

"That's a pretty good investment," he says.

Brown's favorite is the Honolulu Marathon. He missed it in 2004 and 2005 because he and his wife were in southwestern Kenya. They were working at a clinic for AIDS patients through a nongovernmental organization, Llamba.

Ice kept him out of the 2002 race after he slipped and broke a hip.

Brown likes the Honolulu race because it's a "people's" marathon.

"Nobody's more important there than anybody else," he said. Runners span age groups, fitness levels, and ethnicities.

It's also one of the few larger marathons that doesn't have a cutoff time. This year, the last runner crossed the line fifteen hours, forty minutes, and eight seconds after starting.

Brown beat that time, but he couldn't keep up with winner, Ambesse Tolossa of Ethiopia, who clocked 2:14:39 over the 26.2 miles.

Finishing times don't matter to Brown, at least not any more. He does admit going through a competitive period when he was younger, entering an average of five races a year.

Getting used to her husband's running habit took time, says carolyn Brown, a semi-retired Juneau physician who doesn't capitalize her first name.

Sometimes he'd wake as early as 2 a.m. and head out the door. She'd often wonder if he'd ever come back.

"He'd just run off," she said. "I didn't think there was anybody else in his life."

That was 30 years and 79 marathons ago for Brown, who practices at Glacier Pediatrics.

In the couple's Douglas home, with a eye-shocking view of the Gastineau Channel, Brown's wife laughs as she recalls those early years.

"I didn't like it at first, but this is who he is," she said.

In 1979, when they couple lived in Palmer, Brown started a marathon for children.

"We weren't pushing the idea of competition, we were pushing the idea that running is healthy," he said. Kids could run as little as two miles or the try for the full 26.2.

The Valley Youth Marathon had a pretty long run of its own: 10 years.

Brown's longest run was 50 miles in a relay with nine others. In 1996, they ran from Burlington, Vt., to Washington, D.C., to promote the Vermont SAFE KIDS program, carrying letters from school children to the state's lawmakers.

He's also covered the 42.5 miles between Palmer and Anchorage a few times, raising money for various causes.

Although the length of the marathon is daunting for many, Brown says anybody can do it if they're willing to take the first step - deciding to do it.

Brown suggests a rule of thumb for training: Run one hour, three times a week, for six weeks. After that, you might be able to go the distance.

The race may not be for everyone, he says. But exercise is, whatever one chooses.

Being married to a runner means getting accustomed to a new way of thinking and talking, carolyn says.

When the couple lived in Southcentral Alaska - he worked in Wasilla and she worked about 12 miles away in Palmer - a mother with a sick child came to carolyn's office one day.

A nurse called George to ask for his help. The case wasn't urgent.

"I'll run right over," he said.

And he did.

• Brittany RETHERFORD can be reached at

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