When I saw James Hefner running at Roper Park last week I knew I had to interview him. For years I’ve seen the now 81-year-old running at the park and at various 5Ks around town.
I approached him during a training run with the intention of setting up a time to meet him and do a story for the paper. A few miles later, he agreed to meet me a couple of days later when he started his run – around 5 a.m.
When I arrived, Hefner had already logged a mile and a half. He sat down so I could type notes as we talked then asked me if I’d like to run with him. I agreed. Thankfully, he did most of the talking; allowing me to keep up with his swift, steady pace.
Hefner started running in his 30s and “found running to be real good for me,” he said. Since that time he has completed 19 marathons.
“The first one I ran was down in Savannah and after I finished I said I’ll never run another one of those again,” he said. “But I ran 18 more before I quit.”
His personal best was at the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, Alabama. He did that one in 3 hours and 58 minutes. “It’s the only one I ever got under four hours.”
When he was younger, Hefner logged 8-minute miles. Though his pace has slowed over the years, the distance he runs is impressive – logging 10 miles during each of his runs a couple of times a week.
Obviously keeping so physically fit has helped Hefner avoid many health issues associated with aging, but he has battled skin cancer. “That’s why I get up early and run, before the sun gets up.”
He acknowledges God for giving him the strength to run.
“I thank the Lord for giving me the body to run with in the first place because a lot of people don’t have that,” he said. “Once I got hooked on running I never quit.”
When asked why he runs, Hefner said it just makes him feel good.
“The number one reason I run is I feel good. Ever since I started running I’ve found I’ve felt better,” he said. “And it certainly helps to keep my weight in line. I was a little overweight when I first started.”
The avid runner has always been diligent about keeping running logs and charting his progress.
“When I first started running I couldn’t run a mile. A good friend of mine started running and I thought he was nutty. I read an article in Reader’s Digest and it had a chart that showed how long and what pace a person of a certain age should be able to run. I was off the bottom of the chart for my age and how fast I should run,” he laughed. “I was so sore the next day after I ran I couldn’t get out of bed. It seemed a while before I could run a mile.”
His distance and time logs show his progression as a runner through the years – and his dedication.
“I’ve run in the snow and been caught out in thunderstorms,” he said.
Earlier this spring, Hefner almost gave up running after a nasty fall prior to the Flapjack Run here in town. Hefner was warming up along South Main Street and fell, hitting his face and head on the sidewalk.
“I had some real serious thoughts about this running thing after that fall,” he said.
While raised in Hinton, Hefner hasn’t lived here his entire life. He joined the Army and spent seven years in military service, most of that overseas. After the Army, Hefner got married and joined the Air Force, serving primarily in England but also at the Pentagon and in Japan, where his first of two daughters was born.
In addition to running, Hefner participates in the local DAV, conducting military funerals for veterans.
“Something I strongly like to support and show my appreciation for is veterans. I was never in combat but I like to do what I can for the sacrifices that were made.”
Hefner also donates blood regularly, something he likes to do to “help my fellow man.”