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Runner’s finish line is the equator

Lawrence Pierce
Claude Fowlkes runs on a treadmill during the winter months to keep up his weekly running total.
Lawrence Pierce Claude Fowlkes keeps a log of the miles has run on a computer. He will finish the distance it takes to run around the globe at the equator on a cruise in February as the ship crosses the actual equator.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At the equator, the distance around the world is 24,901.5 miles.

Claude Fowlkes plans to run his 24,902nd mile aboard a cruise ship in February as it crosses that imaginary line.

The retired DuPont chemical engineer's stride is confident. So is his knowledge that his mileage log is accurate.

Fowlkes, 67, can be seen running on Kanawha Boulevard or on the Sunrise Carriage Trail in warm weather, and on a treadmill at Nautilus on inclement days. After a run he's always seen sitting with his laptop, meticulously recording his many steps on an Excel spreadsheet.

When he adds up the distance that he's run, he's getting close to the distance around the equator -- and he is planning for that moment.

Fowlkes and his wife, Roberta, will be on an 11-day Princess Cruise that goes through Hawaii on its way to Bora Bora and Tahiti. Between those last two destinations, he will make that momentous step.

While they plan to chat with the ship's captain about the significant crossing, to enlist his help in knowing the exact moment it happens, Fowlkes is not taking any chances.

"I'm taking my GPS," he said, and then, with a wry smile, added, "It'll probably be at 3 in the morning."

Fowlkes started keeping track of his mileage in 1982 on a monster of a laptop -- Roberta said they still have it, but it's antiquated, to say the least. He started tracking his running as he trained for the Charleston Distance Run, competing in the race for 22 consecutive years.

Each month he set a goal, and each day he recorded how far he ran.

The goal of 1,000 miles per year was reached after he retired in 2003. A runner must average about three miles each day to run 1,000 a year. Fowlkes said that may not sound like much, but if you miss a day, that puts six on the next day's agenda.

At 67, Fowlkes can point to good years, mileage-wise, and bad.

"That year," he said, highlighting a section of the chart on the laptop, "was one of my lowest. My job with DuPont took me to France for extended periods of time."

He likes running around Charleston, but his favorite running spot is the New River Gorge.

"I ran those trails before they were trails," he said.

His chart includes when he gets new shoes, showing how many miles he puts on each pair. He admits he doesn't replace them as often as recommended, sometimes going 1,500 miles in one pair.

"They don't look bad, so I don't replace them," he said. His wife just shrugs and smiles, pointing to his "practical" side when it comes to buying new shoes. On a recent visit to Nautilus, he sported those 1,500-mile shoes and a T-shirt from his alma mater, Virginia Tech.

Fowlkes grew up on a farm in Virginia. Insulin-dependent since 16, he's monitored his blood sugar for more than 50 years. His mother had to boil needles, and when he went to college, they kept everything in the infirmary where he went for his shots.

He tracks his blood glucose on a program on the same computer, noting the effects of running on his levels. He's been on a glucose pump for about seven years.

The avid runner has marked on his charts the days he made it "around the world" at Charleston's latitude, as well at New York City and other prime locations.

As of Jan. 7, he had 76 miles to go to make it the distance around the world at the equator, so he was planning his daily and weekly run totals to make sure he hit the mark on the right day of his cruise.

"I'll get it done before I get on the ship so if I break my ankle, I'll just hop the last mile," he said with a chuckle.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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