Perry Hall's Ray never sees a day not made for a run

Running: Through high times and low, rain and snow, the 63-year-old has set the country's top pace for a daily regimen -- 33 years and counting.

April 08, 2000|By Michael Reeb | Michael Reeb,SUN STAFF

When Bob Ray began his running streak 33 years ago, Cal Ripken -- another well-known streaker -- was 6 and playing sandlot baseball.

Gas was 28 cents a gallon, LBJ was president, Watergate had not happened, a gold medal was a dream for the men's U.S. Olympic hockey team and Russia was still a socialist republic.

Through it all, Ray, 63, has run at least once every day in what is recognized as the longest streak in the United States.

He has run through floods and blizzards, on mountains, through deserts and in the 48 contiguous states. Ray is a meticulous record-keeper who calculates he has logged more than 87,000 miles during his streak.

When he began running every day on April 4, 1967, he had little idea that he would still be at it three decadeslater.

"One of the women I was running with made a comment that she had run every day for two weeks," said Ray, a retired U.S. Postal Service letter carrier who lives with his wife, Cindy, in Perry Hall. "I wanted to see if I could do that, then a month, three months, six months, then a year. It just progressed from there."

Today, 125 of Ray's friends and fellow running streakers from across the country will honor him with a commemorative run and banquet in Towson.

"Thirty-three is a third of a century and that's why I picked it," said John Strumsky Jr., who is organizing the festivities.

Those 33 years of running every day are the longest in the nation, according to George Hancock, who keeps track of such streaks for Runner's Gazette magazine.

"He has the longest certified streak in the United States," said Hancock, who limits his record-keeping to U.S. runners.

Ron Hill of England said he has run every day since Dec. 20, 1964, and that he has the world's longest streak.

"In dire circumstances, I will run [just] a mile," said Hill, 61, of Greater Manchester. "In 1993, I had to have an operation on my foot, and for six weeks I ran a mile [a day] in a plaster cast."

Ray has met Hancock's criteria to maintain a streak by running under his own power during a 24-hour period without resorting to a treadmill. There is no minimum daily mileage.

Honesty is an area that he cannot monitor as closely.

"Runners are a close-knit, supportive group," Hancock said. "An exaggerated running claim, story or accomplishment eventually is exposed in the running community. The streaking runner's peers weed out the fake stories."

Said Les Kinion, former chairman of the Maryland Marathon Commission: "I've known Bob since the early 1970s. He was actually the treasurer of the Maryland Marathon. I know he's honest, that's for sure. We wouldn't have voted him into the position if that wasn't the case."

Or, as Ray said when pressed about the validity of his streak: "Just meet me at my doorstep tomorrow morning at 5: 30 when I go out to run."

When he does, he makes sure he is equipped with a dogtag as well as his shoes -- 130 pairs of which he has gone through during his stretch. "One time I had 17 pairs of shoes going at once," said the Delta, Pa., native. "I wanted shoes for this, shoes for that, shoes for rainy days, shoes that grip."

The dogtag is the idea of his wife. "It's in case I get lost or hit by a bus," Ray said. "I started doing it when [Westminster runner] Dave Herlocker got hit by a car and they had such a hard time identifying him. Everybody should do it, especially us old guys."

The dogtag includes Ray's name, birthdate, blood type, his wife's name and relevant phone numbers. "Under normal conditions, I do 50 miles a week," Ray said. "If Cindy's off, I keep it to a minimum so I can spend more time with her."

His daily run is done over a number of courses that the topography of his Perry Hall neighborhood offers. "I have so many directions I can run here," Ray said. "I can do the [Perry Hall High School] track, the trails. The power lines are up here. I can do the road runs. I can run as fast as I want or as slow."

Said neighbor Hugh McKenna, a 63-year-old non-runner: "Because of his stride or lack thereof, I can tell it's him from a distance. But he still gets one foot in front of the other and he gets there."

Through thick and thin

It's not always easy.

In January 1982, during the 15th year of his streak, Ray tore cartilage in his rib cage.

"It wasn't really a serious injury. It was more an inconvenience than anything," he said about a bandage around his torso that he had to remove before he ran.

"As far as the weather, I just pick a time and grit my teeth and go outdoors."

The hottest, he believes, was in Arizona in 1987 during a cross country trip when he ran in each of the 48 contiguous states.

"I don't know what the temperature was because my thermometer broke," Ray said. "The coldest time I ever ran was in Chicago in 1982. The temperature was 26 below, and the wind chill was 86 to 100 below. [A fellow runner] said: `Are we going out in this?' I said: `If we don't, we'll hate ourselves afterward.' "

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