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Southard, 87, an inspiration to younger runners

Brom Hoban

Austin's Jim Southard gives new meaning to the phrase "in it for the long run." A regular at many Austin area road races, Southard has been running since 1968. Now 87, he recently competed in the Lions Camp 5K race in Landa Park, New Braunfels, last weekend.

"I like racing in New Braunfels," he says. "It's the home of the Wurstfest, and they often have sausage wraps and a beer as post-race refreshments. Plus, they made a special age group for me. Eighty and over."

Southard is a World War II veteran, although he says, "I didn't see any combat." He was stationed stateside, serving within the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).

"The Army was training me in pre-med. I later got a pharmacy degree at the University of Texas in 1946." Following his graduation, Southard took a job with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company and moved to Indianapolis.

He remembers that, years later on a winter night at the age of 45, he realized he was out of shape, and feeling the pressure of his job. Before he thought too much about it, he headed out the door for a run. He hasn't stopped since.

"I was pretty stressed out at that time of my life," he says. "I went out on a cold February night to try a run in an old pair of basketball shoes."

Southard remembers that in those days you couldn't find running shoes in sporting goods stores, and he remembers ordering a pair by mail from Houston. Three months after that first, cold, night run, Southard ran his first race -- a marathon in Indianapolis.

"It was exciting. But I hit the wall at 18 miles. The marathon is a ridiculous distance. At this point, my favorite distance is the 5K," says Southard, who has run a 3:25 marathon.

In 1975, following a divorce, Southard decided to return to Texas.

"I knew Austin, and I liked the climate, and it has a great running community, even then in the 70s," he says.

It's a community that he's left his mark on. He's won his age division 14 times over the years in the Statesman Capitol 10,000, ranging from 60 on through 85-and-over.

"Jim has absolutely been a life force behind moving the age groups up, because of his continued passion to compete," says RunTex owner and race organizer Paul Carrozza.

"When I turned 60, the Cap 10's age group divisions ended at 50 and over, and I became one of the early lobbyists to increase the divisions to fairly represent older runners," he says. "I knew the (then) publisher Jim Fain, and with his help, they added a 60-and-over category. I got the win."

"Older runners need to be rewarded within age groups, just like youth runners," says Carrozza. "If you're still competing at 80, the difference between the 70-79 age division and the 80 and over division is significant. So when you see those age groups in races, you can thank Jim.

"His legacy will be the fact that he's continued to compete for so long, that we keep adding age groups."

In the Cap 10, Southard says, "I ran 41:43 at age 67. That's still a record." This year, he was the oldest runner in the event, finishing in an hour and 14 minutes, an 11 minute per mile pace.

Southard is often the only entrant in his age group, but he does have area completion from runners like Joe Barger, John Campbell, and Jack Caldwell, all of whom are in their 80s and very good.

These days, Southard runs 15-20 miles a week, races when the mood strikes him, lifts weights for upper body work, and is in remarkably good health.

"Basically, I'm injury free," he says. "Having run almost every day for 42 years, you realize that in your late 80s, you don't have a lot of time. So running is a matter of survival. It's a bit frustrating that I'm slower now. You're trying as hard as ever, but the clock tells you differently. But it's the effort that's important. I'll run as long as I can."

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