Following a motorcycle wreck in his early 70s, Joe Christian had a concussion, a broken neck, a broken pelvis and numerous other broken bones.
Nine days in intensive care, he was more than ready for his physical therapy. Bored in a post-ICU hospital room, he spent the afternoon doing push-ups and sit-ups. His penchant for exercise led to his early release from the hospital.
Thirty-four days after the April 30, 2011, wreck, wearing a back brace and neck brace, Christian ran a road race.
At 75, Joe Christian is still riding his five motorcycles. He’s still running in area foot races. This weekend, he will run again in the race that stoked his competitive spirit more than three decades ago.
Saturday morning, when Christian embarks on the Flatlander Fall Frolic’s Dawg Gone Good Race, it will mark his 1,000th race ... at least, the races he’s counted.
For years, Christian has been a regular at 5K races throughout South Georgia. In the past decades, he’s also run 18 marathons, including the New York Marathon, the Boston Marathon, and the Hawaiian Marathon. He ran his last marathon in 1999, and had weighed running the Boston Marathon this past year.
He has participated in five Iron-Man competitions, swimming two miles, biking 112 miles, running 26 miles, back to back to back. His best Iron-Man time was 14 hours and 52 minutes. He competed in these competitions while in his 50s.
He was featured on the cover of Runner’s World magazine several years ago. He has a room full of trophies. In 2011, he was installed in his Virginia high school’s hall of fame.
Including marathons, iron-man competitions, 5Ks, 10Ks, 15Ks, Christian has run 999 official logged races. Though he’s unofficially participated in hundreds of other races, he paced himself so that this weekend’s 43rd Flatlanders Fall Frolic and the 40th Dawg Gone Good Race would mark his thousandth registered competition.
Though he started running road races in 1980, his love for running and exercise were fueled in 1978.
At that time, he’d been retired from the military for two years.
Raised in Tazewell, Va., his mother signed the paper work allowing Christian to become a reservist as a young teenager. Older, he joined the military full-time. As a 1st Air Commando and a ranger, he’d been running all of his life.
On his first tour of Vietnam, he returned to the States weighing less than 100 pounds; he was in the field, didn’t care for the food so he rarely ate it. Returning from his second tour of Vietnam, with a different assignment and better rations, he returned to the States weighing 220 pounds.
Through the years, the military took him to 108 countries. During that time, he became accustomed to the military routine of no matter where he was or what job he had later in the day, the morning started with exercise.
His Air Force career eventually brought Christian to Moody Air Force Base and South Georgia. He and wife Marlene lived in Lakeland; they now live in Naylor. They raised two sons, Randy and Kevin.
Retiring the military at the age of 38, still carrying the 200-plus pounds of his second return home, Christian believed he was content to be finished with the regular exercise of the military life. He settled into a job with the Postal Service.
There, some co-workers ran for exercise. They ran a nine-mile loop in Valdosta, starting at a school through Valdosta State to Remerton through Wood Valley circling back to the school. One co-worker convinced Christian to join them. He did and enjoyed it. Two years later, he ran his first race in Lakeland.
Joe Christian has been running ever since.
At his peak, he weighed about 150 to 160 pounds. At 75, he weighs in the 170s. In the past, he ran 5Ks in about 17 to 18 minutes. Now, it takes an average of 29 to 30 minutes to complete the 3.1 miles of a 5K.
He says a couple of guys who have been chasing him for years have surpassed him in races this season, but he continues to run aggressively. “I want to be top,” Christian says. “When I’m running, I want to be like a dog going for the jugular.”
While his race time has slowed, his routine remains vigorous. He often runs two times a day, with the first run in the early morning hours. On some days, he runs hills. On other days, he runs shorter distances for speed. On other days, he runs 10 miles for distance.
Pushing off from a table or window sill, Christian performs 150-200 standing push-ups to work his chest and stomach. He does not perform standard push-ups or lift weights because he’s not interested in acquiring muscle bulk. He has a regular routine with the Insanity exercise work-out videos.
He walks. He water skis. He runs. He rides bicycles. He rides motorcycles. He pilots planes. He estimates running 100,000 miles, for an average of 54.9 miles per week.
Joe Christian believes movement is the secret to life and healthy living. Had he not regularly exercised, he believes his 2011 motorcycle wreck would have left him incapacitated.
While he is an avid exercise enthusiast, Christian advises a slow start for beginners. His formula for success: Start walking a mile. Walk a mile until you’re comfortable. Then walk and jog a mile until you’re comfortable. Then jog a mile. Then walk and jog two miles until you’re comfortable. Then jog two miles until you’re comfortable. Then walk and jog three miles until comfortable. Then jog three miles. Once comfortable with three miles, he says, “Go for it.” Three miles is the threshold to running longer distances. If a person does this daily, Christian says, he or she should be comfortable at three miles in five or six weeks.
In life, exercise should be an ongoing process, not a sprint.
As for completing his 1,000th race Saturday morning, Joe Christian says he will begin his second thousand with a 5K come Labor Day morning Monday.
Flatlander Dawg Gone Good Race is Saturday, Aug. 31, Lakeland, 7 a.m. registration; 7:30 one-mile fun run; 8, 5k. 7-14 yrs old, $15 ($20 day of race); 15 yrs and up $20 ($25 day of race); $20 Ghost runner — get a T-shirt. Pre-registered runners are guaranteed a shirt. Register www.runningintheusa.com or Lakeland/Lanier Chamber of Commerce. All proceeds go to Lanier County Family Connection in support of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and Literacy Awareness. More information: Call (229) 482-9755.