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Why run 100,000 miles?

Last Saturday, John Lucas got up and went jogging again.

No news there. About 40 good friends and admirers went with him to celebrate. Here's why: He was running his 100,000th mile that morning. That's right: the equivalent of running around the world four times.

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How does Mr. Lucas know he ran exactly 100,000 miles as of May 22, 1999? Because for the past 56 years, he's kept a running diary - a lot of diaries, actually - dutifully marking down little items of interest ("chased by a dog on Elm Street") along with his pace, time, and distance run.

In an era when for too many adults, sports is about watching, not doing, Lucas is the ultimate anti-couch potato. And he's not about to hang up his sneakers.

Lucas was born in Boston and ran high school track. After college, he coached track at Natick (Mass.) High School, left to get a graduate degree, then moved on to 37 years at Penn State University in State College, Pa., from which he retired last year as a professor of sports science.

What makes Lucas run?

Early on, he says, it was competition (he tried out for the 1952 United States Olympic team at 10,000 meters). Later, "for about 20 years," he told me during a chat by phone, he thought running was about physical fitness, keeping in shape. Now, he says, the reasons are "metaphysical and spiritual," more about "uplifting my spirit" than exercise.

He's also a testament to the joys of keeping a diary. He knows the hottest day he's run (109 degrees; Alexandria, Egypt) and the coldest (minus 21 degrees, Jasper, Colo.). He's run in 75 cities on four continents, including 11 Boston Marathons. He's run along the Thames in London. And in a typhoon ("that was foolish") in Tokyo.

He's been arrested twice on outings, and feels sheepish about both. He once walked into Lenin's Tomb in Moscow's Red Square after a run and was grilled by police who found his attire "disrespectful." During the 1972 Munich Olympics, he accidentally ran right out of a German ski village into Austria and had to plead with border guards to get back in.

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Jogging is never a burden, Lucas says. It's refreshing, "a kind of symphony for me." His best advice? Run on the left of the road, facing traffic.

Today he's a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, traveling across North America. (The Salt Lake City scandal is serious, he says, but the IOC is "in the process of getting rid of all the rascals.")

Two days ago, he jumped on a plane to Athens to check on the 2004 Olympics there. Then he's headed to Olympia to see the ruins.

I forgot to ask if he'd be driving or running to Olympia.

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