Al Howie: A Running Friend, a National Hero
A few months ago, a running legend passed away at age 70. I had heard about the man who somehow conquered brain cancer by a macrobiotic diet. He ran prodigious distances in training, and had run a record time for 24 hours in Canada in the early 80’s. We were thrilled that he would run the second version of our Sri Chinmoy Seven Day Race in May of 1989 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York. To meet the man, and see him take off, gliding along like it was a 42 km race at the beginning, was a thrill and a worry for me. Could he last? I did not have to suspect his tactics. A sub 2:28 marathoner, Al Howie easily won the Seven Day with 511 miles total(822.37 km), against a strong field of runners. Al was gracious and vibrant, a real presence on the running track and off. It also seemed like he could do more miles, more km, without any problem.
Sure enough, Al Howie signed up for the longest certified race that same year in the fall- The Sri Chinmoy 1300 Mile Race(2092.15 km), part of the Ultra Trio, which had never seen anyone finish the distance in the 18 day time-limit. He started the race the same as always- run far, run fast on day one-113 miles. Day two- another 81 miles. Day Ten - he reached 788 miles and was still going. Finally, on October 6, 1989, Al Howie became the first man ever to reach 1300 miles in a certified race, completing 1300 miles in 17 days+08:25:34. Triumphant, and bedecked in both the flags of Canada, his adopted home, and Scotland, his birthplace, Al Howie strode about, waiting for two more competitors to meet the distance in the next few hours. He was humble but forthcoming. He even felt that going faster than this epic performance was not out of the question.
The next year- 1990, Al Howie returned in the spring to set a new course and event record of 530 miles in the Seven Day, and later in the fall, ran 1000 miles in the Ultra Trio, setting a new world best for age group 45 - 49 of 13 days+09:19:38. Al would work various jobs all year to provide for his forays in ultra running both spring and summer, often without sponsorship or financial help. But the search for more and more miles was filling his mind and heart with ever-reaching goals.
In 1991, Al Howie achieved perhaps his greatest goals, and in stunning fashion. He traversed the Trans Canada Highway to run across Canada in 72 days, an epic achievement. He averaged nearly 64 miles per day (102 km), one of the greatest feats of endurance ever seen on this earth. Along the way he ran to gatherings in cities and towns on his route, speaking to the Elk guilds, and supporters of various charities. Only two weeks later, after over two months on the road, Al Howie came back to New York to attempt the 1300 Mile Race again. True to his transcending capacity, Al ran 13 hours faster than the previous record, completing the distance in 16 days+19:31:47.
Always a gentleman, and always a lover of progress, Al Howie has established achievements that are hard for the average human being to understand. Yet, his unspoken motto to never give in to adversity was on display in all his actions, both on the playing field and off. Even when diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, Al refused to accept defeat, and sought to overcome his malady. In 1997 he tried the 1300 Mile race yet again, stopped with 360 miles after five days, then did the inexplicable- started up two days later in the 700 Mile Race, and completed that race 11 days, 22 hours later. Shear determination got him through that event. The doctor even said later on that Al’s high mileage and constant monitoring of his condition with fluids and food literally saved his own life the last few years, since a sedentary type 1 diabetic would have gone into coma and probably died.
Al Howie prolonged his life by sheer determination and a stern refusal to give up the spirit. He knew all men are more than just the body and mind.
Long live the memory of Al Howie, champion and hero forever.
Sahishnu Szczesiul Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team New York