By EMMA K. CARTER
Race Across the USA core-member Newton Baker will be celebrating his 73rd birthday as he sets out on day one of our 140-day race across the United States. Teacher, father, and repeated winner of the USA 24 Hour Run National Championships for his age group, Newton is the perfect candidate to inspire us all to get up and start moving.
Newton, what did fitness mean to you as a child? Were you always an athlete?
As a child, fitness was being outside playing every day. All my play through the 1940’s and 50’s was outdoors walking, running, swimming and riding a bike. I was born to play, from nighttime “Kick the Can” and “Hide and Seek” to skiing, basketball, baseball, soccer and fishing. We walked and biked the roadside to collect 2-cent bottles and used the money to buy Root Beer Barrels and Charlie’s Chews. I also ran as part of conditioning for baseball, basketball and soccer throughout high school and college.
When did you start considering yourself a serious runner, and how did you get into the sport?
At age 38, I went to the weekly local Fun Run of 2, 4 and 6 miles. I ran the 2-mile each of the first two weeks as fast as I could and threw up after. Noticing other people weren’t doing that, I bought a book and followed some of the advice. Running was fun and a challenge. I love to play and enjoyed the company of men, women and kids in the races. I ran 5 and 10K’ s, a local 10-miler and heard about the marathon, trained for one and ran my first in 3:14 at age 40. A few more marathons and a couple years later, I was invited to join a 10-person relay team to run a mile apiece in a 24-hour race in Westport, NY on a half mile horse race track. While doing that, I observed Cahit Yeter and Johnny Kenul running it solo. This astounded me and led to my reading Tom Osler and Ed Dodd’s book, “Ultra-Marathoning” – the next challenge.
I ran a “Journey Run,” a self-created 2-day run, 75 miles across Vermont. It went really well. I was disappointed to find the Westport 24-hour was a week later as I figured my journey run had probably worn me out. I entered anyway, ran 102 miles and came in 2nd. Ran a couple more there, one in MA and then, at age 52, entered the USATF National 24-Hour Championship in Sylvania, OH. I was very surprised when I ran 111 miles and came in 2nd to my buddy Ed Rousseau in our age group. I’ve since run 21 consecutive times in this race. I have never considered myself a serious runner. I run when I feel like it and where I can afford to. I have never averaged more than 25 miles a week between April and Thanksgiving.
How are you preparing for your 3,080 mile voyage with Race Across the USA? Have you ever participated in an ultra-marathon quite this challenging before?
My preparation for this race is based on the idea of being on my feet for two to four hours walking and running with an occasional 15 and 20 mile sustained run. I aim for a running pace at 5 plus miles per hour and walking at 4 MPH. Vermont has plenty of hills, but no way to train for higher elevation. I have dark, cold, ice and snow to help with mental training.
I think of the Race Across the USA as my biggest running challenge for sure. This event goes beyond running. One must adapt to travel, camping, running and living in close quarters with new people, repetition of distance, weather, food preparation and keeping our focus on the mission of good communications about fitness with kids in the schools. My experience from living three years in Niger, West Africa with the Peace Corps should be great background for participation in this adventure. I think constant adaptation will be critical.
What are your goals for the Race Across the USA ultra-marathon?
My goal in this adventure is to be the best teammate possible, running each day and communicating with kids along the way. Anything short of doing all the running will lead me to be the best support person available for the team. And, of course, having fun!
Do you have any tips/tricks for those who aspire to a complete an ultra-marathon?
Get to know your body, mix walking and running, and read Osler and Dodd’s book. For all the advances in advice available these days, that book is sufficiently wise advice! I benefitted from learning to run shorter races, going up the ladder to longer distances over time. I believe that contributed greatly to learning how to pace myself and understanding how my running body worked. I read everything I could find, talked to other runners and always believed in Dr Sheehan’s adage: “We are an experiment of one.” And I like, “Start slow and taper off.”
Your Race Across the USA profile says you’ve lived with prostate cancer, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, and Spasmodic Dysphonia. How have these medical challenges affected your athletic life, and how has your athletic life affected these everyday medical challenges?
The two cancers and speech Dysphonia mentioned in my profile have not significantly hindered my athletic life except for paying attention to kinds of food I’m eating. Radiation has played a significant role in what foods require instant bathroom stops and availability. A badly broken left ankle while ice skating in 2008 has noticeably compromised my push uphill, but I get there. My athletic life affects these medical challenges by making them easier to live with, knowing my activity is helping to keep me as healthy as possible. Truth is, I have them and don’t think much about them. The Spasmodic Dysphonia is a bit of an irritation as I love to talk and can’t speak as quickly and with the nuance that I’d like. But, I live with that, too!
What does running mean to you? What have you gained from the experiences you’ve had as a marathon runner?
I like the smart-ass poster that says: “Running is the answer. The question is irrelevant.” But running feels good, is a fun challenge as a race, and most importantly, has created a wide range of male and female friends across the country and from abroad. My experience in 225 marathons has taught me that what is most important is to keep showing up and keep moving. As my friend Fast Eddie Rousseau would say, “Motion Is Lotion!”
Core team runners are committed to raising at least $2,000 for charity. So far Newton has raised $3,350. If you would like to donate in Newton’s name or sponsor his journey, check out his profile on our Core Team page.