Joe King of Central Point runs on a treadmill at Superior Athletic Club in Medford Wednesday. The 82-year-old King recently ran the world’s fastest mile and fastest half-mile for a human older than 80, just his most recent master’s records.

King of the running masters

Joe King of Central Point set a world record in Boston on March 30. He ran 800 meters — a half-mile — in three minutes and seven seconds, the fastest time ever at an indoor track meet for a man over 80. The previous month, he raced a mile and broke the world outdoor record in his age group.

At 82 years old, this World War II veteran and retired high school teacher is leading a growing pack of masters runners worldwide who continue to train and compete well into their golden years.

A competitive runner since high school, King still holds an American age-group record in the 5,000 meters he set in 1991 as a 65 year-old. Almost every time he competes in a Rogue Valley road race, he sets a course record for his age group and finishes well ahead of many men half his age.

To look at King, you'd never guess his age. He walks with the fluidity of a young man and flashes a boyish smile. Both his blue cotton shirt and white pants are ironed and his oxblood loafers shine. His watery blue eyes are intense, especially when telling a story, of which there are many. The only apparent health complication is a pair of hearing aids. He attributes them to his time in a C-46 Curtis Commando troop carrier at the end of World War II.

"I was a radio operator in the Pacific theater," he explains. "We only wore our headphones when we were communicating. I sat between a pair of loud 5,000 horsepower engines."

As a 12-year-old, King was drawn to distance running after watching Henry Fonda sprint through sagebrush in a cowboy movie. King ran high school track in Oakland, Calif., and later in college. He hasn't stopped. In the days before running became a national craze, King was twice stopped by police who thought he must be running from the scene of a crime.

Seniors who want to start running should take the old Boy Scout advice, says King. "Do the walk-run-walk thing. Build slowly. Increase your distance before you go for time. Don't look at a watch for at least three months. If you run too fast too early, that's the way you hurt yourself."

Running should be fun, says King. He instilled this philosophy into the cross-country and track runners he coached at Encinal High School in Alameda, Calif., where he taught history for 30 years. Five of his six children also ran competitively in high school. His proudest coaching accomplishment is that many of his student athletes continue to run today.

Writing has allowed King to share his philosophy on running to a wider audience. When the Alameda Journal launched 21 years ago, the editor approached King about writing a weekly article on running. Today, 1,001 columns later, Thoughts on the Run is a fixture, and provides King a forum to incorporate perspectives on history and whatever else is on his mind when he sits down at his computer.

Over his lifetime, King estimates he's run more than 61,000 miles — about two-and-a-half times around the world. Today, he runs about 25 miles per week: 30-40 minutes a day, 5-6 days per week. Training indoors on a treadmill allows King to avoid exposure to the hot sun and to control his pace. Twice a week he runs "intervals": a series of short, fast segments with slower rest segments in between, designed to enhance his speed. He also does sit-ups and other abdominal exercises daily, along with light, upper-body strength training.

Mental outlook is crucial to living a fulfilling life well into retirement, according to King. When he was 16 years old, his friends wanted to look older. By contrast, he wanted to stay 16 as long as he could.

"I'm still working on it," he says.

King's love of competition extends into other realms. He plays chess, checkers and Scrabble, as well as card games like Concentration, and through them, reaps the benefits of mental fitness.

"You naturally slow down with age," King says. "But it doesn't have to happen as fast as most people think."

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer and runner living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at

Share This Story