Early in 1990, Jim Kolch picked up a map and drew a straight line from San Francisco to Bel Air. Those 3,000 miles represented the distance he still had to cover to "run around the world."
On July 23, the 52-year-old Bel Air resident ran past the 25,000-mile mark, covering enough ground to circle the globe. It had taken 15 years.
Kolch ran most of those miles at Aberdeen Proving Ground while chief of staff for the U.S. Army Chemical Research, Development and Engineering Center. Even after he retired from the Army four years ago and went to work at EAI Corp. in Abingdon, Kolch continued to run every evening on the post.
When Kolch began running in 1976, he had noparticular mileage goals. He had quit smoking and didn't want to gain weight.
Soon, he realized he had traded one addiction for another.
In about four months, the Michigan native was running four to five miles a day. Before long, he started logging more than 50 miles aweek.
"It's all obsession," said Kolch, who ran through two majorinjuries. About five years ago, he suffered a broken collarbone, buthe didn't miss a day of running. A couple years later, Kolch broke two ribs, but he missed just 18 days.
"I got to the point I was in withdrawal, and my wife told me to go out and run," said Kolch.
"There's a sense of accomplishment when I run. Really, I suppose, it's an ego thing. I run with some of these 18- and 19-year-old kids and just tear them up. There's a lot of people out there running, especially the younger folks, who see an older guy doing it and it gives themencouragement. It builds in them an 'if-you-can-do-it, I-can-do-it' type of attitude."
In his early running days, Kolch simply ran forhis health. About a year later, after he had been transferred to Korea, Kolch discovered a way to add a little edge to his running. On his first jog in Korea, a fellow soldier told Kolch about the Army's Run For Your Life program.
Through the program, which tracks soldiers' running progress, Kolch watched his mileage mount. Like all runners in the Run For Your Life program, he received a patch after certainmilestones including the completion of 100, 200, 300 and 1,000 miles.
The more miles Kolch ran, the more miles he wanted to run.
"The highest patch in the system was 10,000 miles, so I focused pretty quick on getting that," he said.
In 1984, he reached the 10,000-mile mark. He needed a new goal and set his sights on enough miles to circumvent the globe.
"I guess when I hit 10,000, it was the next obvious thing. Running around the world just seemed like it was achievable," said Kolch, who was assigned to Aberdeen Proving Ground shortly after reaching the 10,000 mark.
Kolch breezed through his second10,000 miles even faster than the first. But as he got closer to hisfinal goal, he encountered problems he never had to deal with before, including high blood pressure.
"The last few years I was in the service, I remember it mentioned to me I was borderline high. A year ago January, it suddenly went through the roof," he said.
"They had to put me on medication. The medication works great on the blood pressure, but it not only affects the heart but every muscle in the body. It tires me out. I don't have the endurance anymore."
Before hestarted taking the medication, Kolch said, he ran races at a 6 1/2-minute-per-mile pace. On the medicine, his speed dropped to 8 1/2 minutes per mile.
Although the medicine slowed him down, Kolch completed the final 3,500 miles of his trek in about 18 months.
Kolch crossed the finish line of his personal race to no fanfare.
After allthat effort, the final moment turned out to be a little disappointing.
"It was anticlimactic. I didn't make a big hoopla about it. It's been a real downer, because I focused so hard for so long and, bingo, it's over. But I promised I will not keep track anymore, and I haven't.
"I beat myself to death running those last 5,000 miles. I think I've only run about 110 miles since."
Kolch doesn't plan to give up running altogether, but he has dropped his weekly mileage considerably. He still wants to run a few of his favorite races, includingthe ninth annual Gas Mask Dash Sept. 13 at Aberdeen Proving Ground, as well as the Zoo Zoom and the Constellation 10K, both held in Baltimore.
In addition to running and cycling, Kolch plans to continue hiking with his wife, Barbara, and their dog, Buffy. He said he may also take up swimming.
"I'm just the type that has to keep active. Now, I've started riding my bike two days a week. I still need what Igot out of running and I can see a biathlon or triathlon coming up in my future."
Looks like Kolch might be trading one obsession for another.