Sam Johnston after his daily run. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SAM AND CHUCKIE JOHNSTON
Hurricanes, sprained ankles, and pneumonia haven’t stopped 75-year-old Sam Johnston.
Sam Johnston has a peculiar theory on running.
“I always tell everyone that it cures everything,” says the 75-year-old Naples, Florida resident who has run every single day for the past 40 years.
Sprained ankles, pneumonia and the flu are just a few of the ailments Johnston has conquered over the years without breaking stride.
“I had a Christmas party about four years ago and my knee was aching,” remembers Johnston. “I thought it [a run that day] ain’t gonna happen. But I went out anyways and the pain went away.”
The weather doesn’t seem stop Johnston either. He’s run through snow, sleet, rain and even Hurricane Irma, which tore through Naples on September 10 as a Category 2 storm. Johnston snuck in a run near his home shortly after midnight on September 10 as the storm barreled closer, and then ran again in a parking lot on September 11 once the storm had passed.
His steadfast dedication to the sport—which many would deem crazy—recently earned him the number 14 spot on the official USA Active Running Streak List. The association also named him its 2017 „Runner of the Year.”
The accolades are very nice, says Johnston, who competed in the Naples Half Marathon from 1997 to 2007, but they’re not what drive him.
“People accuse me of having positive addictions,” says Johnston. In addition to his running obsession, he says he’s also addicted to “giving up things.” He quit smoking in 1965, quit drinking in 1977, and became a vegetarian in 1987. “I only wish I started these habits earlier,” he reflects.
The Ohio native began running at age 33 while living in Dallas, Texas. He didn’t get serious about the sport until age 35, though, when he challenged himself to run for 100 days straight in an effort to lose weight. One hundred days turned into two hundred, which turned into one year and then ten. Four decades later, Johnston can’t imagine a day without a run.
“When I first started running, I said I feel like I’ve had two drinks,” he says. “It’s given me a positive outlook on my life and has a very calming and mellow effect.”
His work on military bases relocated him a handful of times to places like England, Korea and Washington, D.C. And through all the traveling and life transitions, Johnston kept running.
“It wasn’t easy when we were traveling all over Europe, packing up and moving every day,” says his wife, Chuckie. “But it’s just a big part of his life. He is an energizer bunny.”
That relentless energy has cost him more than 80 pairs of running shoes, he estimates. Johnston buys exactly two new pairs—always Asics—every August and waits until November 1 to break them in. He keeps his attire simple: a sleeveless shirt, running shorts and a headband.
Johnston says he’s only run on a treadmill three or four times when travel and extreme weather thwarted his plans. He prefers to keep things al fresco—and early.
These days, his routine begins before sunrise—usually around 4 a.m. The retiree pops a quarter of a caffeine pill, browses the news online and pumps out 40 push-ups before heading outside for a run around the 1.5-mile loop in his gated neighborhood in North Naples.
He logs about 3 miles in the humid summer months (any more than that, and his shoes get “slushy” with sweat) and up to 6 miles during the more mild winter.
Johnston doesn’t think about much when he runs. “I just sort of look where I going,” he says. “And I count my steps.”
After his run, he picks Chuckie up and the duo walk two to three miles together. “I always joke that he comes back to ‘walk me,’” laughs 65-year-old Chuckie.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SAM AND CHUCKIE JOHNSTON
Johnston then spends the majority of his day doing volunteer landscaping work around town. “I’m not ready for a nursing home,” he says, half joking.
His natural stride has slowed considerably over the years. He once managed an 8:30-minute mile pace, and now averages between 11:30 and 12-minute miles.
“When I first found out I was doing 12-minute miles, I really worked at it and got my pace back down to 10:30,” says Johnston. “But then I realized, ‘What’s the point?’ So now I just go at my own speed.”
No matter the pace, he says he’s never considered breaking his streak. And with the way it makes him feel, why would he?
“Running gives me a great sense of wellbeing and health,” Johnston says.
Chuckie says she’ll be probably be more disappointed than Johnston on the day that he ultimately breaks his streak.
“He is the type of person who will adjust,” she says. “He is a glass-half-full person in every situation.”
Until then, Johnston will continue lacing up his Asics, day in and day out, through whatever weather and injuries may come his way.
“I really believe in the power of running,” says Johnston. „If there was a magic elixir, it would be exercise.”