A lifetime on the track Q&A

| 08 Aug 2016 | 02:06

Staying fit and giving back is a walk in the park for Lon Wilson, a 69-year-old retired Xerox employee. Wilson has been putting one foot in front of the other for more than four decades—as a runner, racewalker, fitness instructor, and volunteer.

You’ve completed 107 marathons—running 10 and race walking 97. That’s amazing. Why did you switch from running to racewalking?I was looking for something for my mother, and I came across Howard Jacobson, who was giving racewalking classes in Central Park. It was 1979—I was in my 30s then, so I wasn’t thinking about walking—but I was one of those guys who was always nursing something at the start of the marathon, you know. We starting talking, and I made the switch. For me, running a marathon is like losing a boxing match. Racewalking a marathon is like losing a dance competition—you’re tired but you’re not all beat up.

When and why did you stop racing? I stopped competing when I turned 60. A lot of people don’t know when to stop, even if they’re not walking too good, like their posture’s not right or they need hip replacements or knee replacements. I wanted to stop before I was stopped.

What do you do at the New York Road Runner’s Club? I work part-time as a coach for the Striders, a community service program we run in dozens of senior centers. And I’m also a part-time fitness instructor at the Concourse Plaza Wellness Center, as well as for the City Parks Foundation’s Senior Fitness Program.

And you also run intergenerational programs there, which is so important to not only help bridge any disconnect between kids and adults, but also to combat the sedentary lifestyle that comes with today’s technology. Yes, an active lifestyle, doing anything—hopefully something you like so you keep doing it—is the key to a sound mind and a sound body and a sound community. I run the intergenerational program every Thursday throughout the summer. I teach proper techniques to all ages that result in maximum benefits and flexibility. We also use weighted hula-hoops—from one pound to five pounds— for our dynamic warm-up.

What happens when school is back in session?Then I’m a PSAL track and field official. We have high school meets all over the city and I officiate them. Been doing that for almost 40 years now. All the schools come to the meets to compete in running and racewalking. The NYRR also has a program called Mighty Milers.

I didn’t realize there was racewalking in high schools.There is for girls, but the boys’ program stopped about 15 years ago. The USAT&F and other local track clubs are fighting hard to bring it back because colleges are offering racewalking scholarships now.

Tell me about the New York Walkers Club. We started in 1979, and about a decade ago we became part of the Central Park Conservancy. We meet every Saturday morning in the park—8:30 a.m. in July and August, 9:30 a.m. the other months—as a free public service. You can attend as many times as you want for free instruction, and take a walk.

The other days of the week we have members-only outings. Recently, a group walked the Manhattan Bridge and ended up at Roberta’s. Sometimes we meet at City Hall Park and racewalk over the Brooklyn Bridge and go to Junior’s. We’ve walked from Columbus Circle down to Pier 81 for Lobster. Everything revolves around lunch! We might go do a walk in Cold Springs or the Botanical Gardens. We get around.

Is there a fee?Membership is $20 a year. You get free coaching and a 25% discount to Urban Athletics.

Let’s talk about “The Wall” and “The Stick.” I was volunteering the year P. Diddy ran the marathon, and had The Stick, a massage baton. He was cramping at about mile 19 going into 20, which we call “The Wall.” He didn’t look too good, so I used it on him. We decided to continue to have massage available to help participants finish the race.

Is there an experience or a person that stands out in all your years of participating in racing?Hartwig Gauder, who walked the NYC Marathon in 3 hours and 6 minutes and was a 50k gold medalist in the Moscow Olympics. In 1996, Gauder received a heart transplant. Eight months later he wanted to walk the NYC marathon again, so the NYRR asked me to walk with him. I had run with the top race walkers as a judge, so I knew Hartwig well. It was a week to remember, hanging out with a World Champion, visiting the German House—great beer!— and many parties. A German movie crew was with us all week filming the movie “Second Chance.”

On race day, Gauder was disqualified for finishing too fast. His “disabled” classification due to his transplant required him to finish after 5 hours and 15 minutes; he walked it in 4 hours and 55 mins.