Man Continues To Set World-class Pace At 84

August 08, 1991|By Jennifer Keats | Jennifer Keats,Contributing writer

Maybe Ed Benham is a world-class runner because he hasn't been at itlong enough to wear out his body.

After all, he began running on a whim just 12 years ago -- when he was 72.

Without any training, the 5-foot-5-inch retired jockey entered a 10-mile race in Ocean City with his oldest son. He won a $50 gift certificate and a first prize in his age group. "And I ran fast," said Benham with a big grin.

Today, Benham's speed has earned him so many medals he no longer keeps count. "The walls are lined with them," said the Glen Burnie resident, shrugging. To date, he has set more than 130 world records for his age group.

Benham, who has been named Runner of the Year in his age group for 12 years by The Athletics Congress, the national governing body for U.S. long-distance running, once ran marathons in 3 hours 31 minutes. After hurting his knee three years ago, his time has slowed some, to 3 hours 48 minutes.

Last Monday, Benham returned from the World Games in Turku, Finland, with six gold medals in five events: the 800 meter, 1,500 meter, 5,000 meter, 10,000 meter and cross country.

He received a team medal in thecross country event, despite suffering from a cold and battling stiff competition -- the American team faced 5,052 runners from 53 nations.

"It was a good race, but I've run tougher," said Benham, who ran through saw dust, up and down hills and through the woods to complete the cross country race, one of five in which he competed. He considers hurdles, like jumping bales of hay and water obstacles, tougher.

"Of course, Eddie is the best -- these are the World Games," proclaimed his proud wife of five years, Annie, 63. "I'll bet (he) won more than anyone else."

She worked for Signet Bank until she was 60."I retired so I could be with Eddie," she said. "I'm his coach."

"Oh, you're more than that, honey," Benham quickly replied.

"I think (his running) is the most wonderful thing in the world," said Annie. "That man really runs a race, and he hasn't been running too long."

But running has become an expensive hobby, and only the younger runners see much money.

Once sponsored by Nike, Benham is now sponsored by Brooks, another maker of running shoes. The company sends him several pairs of shoes for training, but no cash.

Benham has been traveling here and abroad since he began racing competitively. Besides his recent journey to Finland, other World Games competitions -- which happen every two years -- have taken him to Japan, Australia, Canada and Puerto Rico.

On this last trip, the Masters Runners group (for ages 40 and up) and part of the Potomac Valley club in Washington gave him $500 toward the cost of the $1,695 trip.

"Everywhere there's a race and we have the loot, he goes," said Annie.

Benham loves the competition, and he intends to keep going. As soon as he recuperates from the Finland competition, he plans to start training for the Twin Cities Marathon in October.

"I'll get fat and lazy and fall apart if I don't run," said Benham.

"We generally do something all the time. We're not people who sit around. Eddie says rigor mortis will set in," added Annie with a hearty laugh.

Generally, the blue-eyed Benham follows the two-mile loop each morning around Glen Burnie Park, near his home on Crain Highway. By afternoon, he's off again, running about 10 miles from Glen Burnie to Annapolis along the B& A trail. When in training, Benham simply increases his miles.

"I like it here because I like the trail . . . . it's great for training," said Benham, who also makes use of a punching bag, weights and aNordic Trak exercise machine.

"I try to make it every day. If it snows I put on a sweater and socks on my hands," he said.

The couple, who met as neighbors in Ocean City and still spend a lot of time in their house there, maintain that being healthy is easy with the right foods and exercise.

Diet consists of home grown greens, like collards and kale, lentil soup and little red meat.

Benham says he is not worried about money. He still owns a sewing machine and works on leather.

"At least I know I'll never go hungry," he said.

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