Joey Howe attemped seven marathons before he finished his first, but that first one was quite memorable as he finished runner-up to Tom O'Bryant in the 1984 Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon with an impressive time of 2:37.
He now has 19 such races on his resume, but none are any faster than the one almost 30 years ago.
He had a time of 3:03:32 at the Country Music Marathon in Nashville in 2004 and he posted a 3:05 at Chickamauga in 2008, so he still has the ability to run fast for long distances. He has run four marathons under three hours.
Howe has been running for a long time. Starting at the age of 12 when he was in the seventh grade at Tyner Junior High, he wasn't very good when he began.
"I had watched the 1976 Olympic Marathon on television and told my mother that I could do that since they were built like me. I was in the seventh grade and we had a three-mile training course. It took me an entire season to complete that course without walking as I was the worst runner on the team for the first two years. I got better in the ninth grade," he explained one morning before business picked up a Fast Break Athletics, a popular running store where he's worked for many years.
Howe has run hundreds of races since that time. His running career has been like a yo-yo, some years have been really outstanding while others have just been sort of so-so.
These days, he organizes group runs from Fast Break on a regular basis where he can share with new runners the joy and benefits of one of our oldest sports.
"I turned 50 on December 31 and ran the Karen Lawrence Run. I found out that I still couldn't place, even in a new age group," he laughed at the memory.
"I'm trying to get about 35 miles a week now and I'm back on the trails most of the time. I had been forcing myself to run too fast for so many years that I spent more time either sick or hurt. Now I'm running according to my heart rate.
"The suggestion is to take 180 minus your age as your target. I could barely run faster than 10-minute miles when I started this in July, but I'm more comfortable now as I'm not doing any speed work," Howe continued.
While he has done 19 marathons, he's also done 17 ultras, including the challenging Mountain Mist 50K in Huntsville three times and Strolling Jim twice.
Strolling Jim is a 41.2-mile race in middle Tennessee and he completed it in 2006 and 2007, finishing fifth overall the first year in 5:23.
"I eat a burger every two or three weeks. I don't have great eating habits, but they aren't awful. I eat more protein than carbs, but I'm in the human race now as I'm training for life," he broke into a big grin.
Howe attended Tyner High School and got his diploma from there, despite transferring to Brainerd for his senior year when he needed just one credit to graduate. From there, he's attended Chattanooga State and UTC with majors ranging from accounting to data processing to allied health to landscaping.
"I guess I have close to 130 hours at those schools, but not enough in any one area to get a degree. I was running a lot in those days and got really fit, but I didn't study very much," he admitted.
His career in the running shoe business began in 1993 when he started working with Jerry Grahn at the old Athletic Attic, which was located at Eastgate back in those days.
"I've sold running shoes most of my life. I was working with Jerry at the Attic and he's the one who taught me how to run fast. I can remember pacing him on long runs at the battlefield where he would do two loops in less than two hours.
"I left the Attic in 1995 and started my own business. I bought a franchise for Hakky Shoes, which was a shoe repair business. It seems like I worked 80-100 hours a week for about six years, but I didn't renew my lease in 2001.
"I wasn't running much at the time, but I figured I had t start back if I was planning to work in a running store. My dear friend Dick Dillard offered me a job when I needed it most," he remembered.
Joey has been married once, but has been divorced for a number of years. They had a daughter named Jessica. Sadly, Jessica was diagnosed with an aggressve form of leukemia when she was four. She battled the disease for 27 months and was even in remission for a year before it returned and took her life at the tender age of seven.
"Jessica lived for 27 months after she was first diagnosed and was a patient at St. Jude. Her mother and I were divorced at the time, so I didn't get to spend as much time with her as I would have liked, but she died on October 11, 1994 when she was seven.
"That experience made me a more compassionate person, but running became much less important during that time," Howe recalled the lowest and saddest period of his life.
So what are his immediate goals?
"I just want to get 35-40 miles a week. Tim Ensign is my biggest inspiration and I just want to be consistent like him. That's the best I can do. Racing creates inconsistency and that's how I get hurt, but I just want to remain complete uninjured this year. I'm planning to spend more time in the woods than on the roads.
"I get a kick out of running and leading group runs are fun. I'm trying to expose more people to the trails on Stringer's Ridge as there are some really good ones close by. We normally go out for 60-65 minutes, which is the best workout for the time that you can get," Howe nodded.
So what are some of Joey's other hobbies?
"I like to eat, but running has always been my sport. I bought a standup paddle board a while back, but I haven't used it much. And I tried rock climbing one time. All that did was show me what a fear of heights I had," he laughed.
As the youngest of six children whose parents are Barbara and Joe Howe, Joey is sharing his experience of running with many others who are new to the sport.
He knows that running is a lifetime activity and can offer benefits that are so much more than physical fitness.
He's had his day in the spotlight where he's turned in some really fast times. These days, his thoughts on running have changed.
He just wants to stay consistent and injury free. If he can accomplish those goals, everything else will take care of itself.
(This is the seventh in a series of features on runners in the Chattanooga Track Club. If you have an idea or suggestion of someone who might be an interesting story, email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)