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Overdrive at 65 : Encino Sexagenarian Preparing to Run In His 38th Marathon

November 27, 1987|STEVE SPRINGER | Times Staff Writer

Art Schneider is a marathon man.

He has run in 37 of them, with No. 38 scheduled for Dec. 6 in Melbourne, Australia. He has two first-place finishes, a second, a third, a fourth and two fifths.

His time isn't appreciably different than it was when he started 17 years ago and he expects he can keep doing this for another 17 years or longer.

So what's the big deal?

Art Schneider is 65 years old. He didn't start running until age 45 and then only for health reasons.

"When I ran my first marathon," said Schneider, an Encino resident, "I had no intention of finishing. I figured I'd just go for a 15-mile workout. But after 15 miles, I felt very good, so I figured, why not go for 20? When I got to 20, I didn't feel so good, but the end was in sight. So I kept on going."

That was in 1970 in Palos Verdes. Schneider finished the marathon in three hours, 49 minutes.

He since has run in marathons in places ranging from Athens to New York. He has run in 100-degree heat in the Mojave Desert and 20-degree cold in New England.

His best time was a 3:09 at the National Masters in Orange County in 1978. That gave him a fifth-place finish in the 55-59 age group.

All of his top-five finishes have been in age-group categories. He now runs in the 65-69 division.

"The whole thing changed," he said, "when they put the age-group categories into track and field. It started in San Diego in 1968 with seniors competition. There's no point in my trying to compete with a 25-year-old. That's ridiculous. But if I can compete with a 60-year-old, that's fine."

Schneider did compete with youngsters back when he was one himself. In 1938, he ran a 4:33.4 mile to set a school record at Alameda High in Northern California.

While that time might not seem so spectacular today, remember this was 16 years before Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile.

Schneider continued his running at Caltech, but finally gave it up when his studies and family gave him all the running around he could handle.

Schneider got a Ph. D. in mechanical engineering and physics and went to work for the government while raising a family of four. He currently works in the private sector for an aerospace firm in Canoga Park.

Twenty years ago, a doctor told him to start exercising to prevent heart problems and he was off and running.

"It was surprisingly easy to get back into it," he recalled. "I started running a mile for a year or a year and a half. Then I extended it and soon I was running 5 and 10Ks."

He has been at it ever since except for a break in 1985 and '86 to recover from surgery to repair a small tear in the cartilage in one knee. Other than that, he has remained injury free through the years.

"It's a darn shame," he said, "that people think when they get to be 40 or 50, they have to give up sports. It's the exact opposite. Sports improves your health and your mental attitude.

"But most Americans are blind to physical fitness. What they think of as the aging process is just disuse of the body. They don't have to go downhill physically as fast as they do. The decay in my speed as I age has been a lot slower than I thought it would be."

Not that running well comes easily. In preparing for a marathon, Schneider usually runs three times a week in the Sepulveda basin area near his home, covering 10 miles the first day, about 14 the second and as many as 20 on the final day. He will sometimes start as early as 4:45 in the morning, often sharing his path with fellow members of the Basin Blues, a running club.

If he runs enough in advance, the marathon itself, rather than a grueling ordeal, also can turn out to be a stroll in the park. At least for a while.

"The first half is really fun," he said, "a pleasant, social affair because you're going slow enough to talk. Now the last six miles can be anywhere from uncomfortable to painful depending on how fast you ran the first 20 and how much preparation you've done.

"You have to pace yourself properly, figure out what is the right pace for you. Taking an extra 15 seconds per mile can make a big difference. If you figure wrong on your pace, that last six miles can be agony."

Schneider is concluding preparations for his Melbourne run, part of the Seventh World Veterans Games, Olympic competition for those older than 35.

And beyond that?

"There was a guy who ran in the New York Marathon at age 83," Schneider said. "So I figure I've got another 20 years of this."

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