By Jesse Specs Spellman
I love to tell the story of how I first met Luther Isaac. When I participated in the 2017 Brooklyn Half Marathon, I was running at a fairly decent speed, passing mile 7 going into mile 8 at about an 8:30 pace (I’m trying to paint a picture for you all, stay with me MSM readers, we’ll get there).
In 2017 I was still learning how to run using proper pace, cadence, breathing etc. As I approached mile 8, I saw the back of a Black Men Run shirt. For those that are unaware I am a proud member of the NYC chapter. I’m saying to myself that it doesn’t look like anyone I know so I pick up the pace to catch up which is something I obviously shouldn’t do but I did anyway. As I get closer to this person I start to recognize who it is.
Now if you never met Luther Isaac, he’s run royalty to us which is why he’s known as “The Master Runner”. I’m in a bit of awe because I’ve followed Luther on social media years prior but was never fortunate to cross paths, so here we are now running side-by-side. Rewind this back a bit when I mentioned I was still learning how to run right, and at am 8:30 pace coming out of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. I started to have a small conversation with Luther which only lasted about half a mile. As we went into mile 9 I suddenly felt myself out of breath and winded. I took a look down and saw 8:05 pace. In a matter of a mile, Luther gradually knocked 20 seconds off his pace getting faster while I started struggling and fading. I like to share this story because you can really get an idea of how amazing he is as a runner. I have another one to share but we’ll get to that later (lol).
MSM: Mr Luther Isaac aka Master Runner, thanks so much for allowing us to feature you. The first question obviously is how long have you been running? Was running something you picked up as you got older or was it always in your lifestyle?
Luther: I started running in 1971. I tried out for my high school track team in 1969 and wanted to run the 200. My coach told me I was not built for the 100, 200, or the 400. He said he wanted to start a Cross Country Team, and I would be a perfect candidate. I thought I knew best and told him I did not want to run in a startup cross country team, so I quit. Two years later when I entered the US Marine Corps, endurance running was a necessary part of the training, and I have been running ever since.
MSM: I’ve watched your consistency for years and your weekly and monthly mileage is pretty amazing. Give our readers an idea into your running numbers and most of all your age.
Luther: I average approximately 45 miles a week when I am not marathon training. I am 65 years of age and God willing, will be 66 in November.
MSM: There’s a cycle we all fall into ESPECIALLY Black men where we think the older we get, it’s been told our bodies slowly begin to slow and break down yet here you are breaking the cycle and norm for Black men. You’re showing all of us that we can all be 60 and fit and very much active. What have been some of your thoughts as you’ve gotten older, simply continuing to run?
Luther: As we get older it can be tough to admit that we are slowing down with age. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life so I’ve stopped comparing my older self with my younger self. I read a study that found that the performance of elite athletes starts to decline around 35 and recreational runners do not begin declining until around 50. So, at around the age of 55 I began to only focus on age-graded results and started comparing my race times to the standard of my age and gender. To my amazement, I discovered I was competing within the top 10% of my age category!
MSM: You’re a well known figure in our run community. Honestly as I write these questions I feel very humbled to discuss all these topics. Did you ever think you would have so many runners looking up to you?
Luther: I never did and it is still hard believe. I have been a solo runner all of my life. One August evening in 2015, I was out for an evening run and saw a few men wearing Black Men Run shirts. After I completed my run a few of them were still there and I approached them and received a warm introduction on what BMR represented, who they were, information on the BMR-DC Chapter, and how I could join.
One of the requirements as an active member was to post your activity on Facebook. I was not on Facebook nor did I have any type of social media accounts. In March 2016, I made my first solo road trip to represent BMR-DC in the NYC Half Marathon. There I met one of my first running nephews, James Ravenell. He introduced himself and told me that Alden Gibbs, my chapter brother, had pointed me out on the course. Before that evening was out, I was an official member of Black Runners Connection (BRC), and friend requests in the hundreds started from there. It has been overwhelming.
MSM: Two things: you recently retired and Covid. How has it been having more time on your hands and has this led to more running? How has quarantine running been treating you as well as Covid?
Luther: I was scheduled to retire this year and just completed 20 years as a Federal Contractor and 45 years of service in March, the same week we were mandated for 100% telework due to COVID19. After a few weeks adjusting to the CDC guidelines, it was an easy decision to retire and deal with this pandemic by my wife’s side. Our travel plans have been put on hold, but other than that we are actually staying very busy. Quarantine running has been very good. It has not lead to more running, but healthier running.
MSM: Now that you have time do you see yourself possibly traveling to do more races once things hopefully get back to normal.
Luther: At one time that was all I thought about; retiring and traveling the world racing. Now, I just want to travel the world and run in whatever destination I land in.
MSM: You’ve Boston qualified two times and also ran in the Boston “monsoon” Marathon back in 2018 and also had a bit of a scare. You scared most of us as well. How did you manage to pull through that day mentally?
Luther: I felt physically and mentally strong heading to the 2018 Boston Marathon starting line. We had freezing rain the day before and throughout the night. Forecasters also expected sustained winds of 15 to 25 miles per hour with gusts up to 45 miles per hour. My running partner that day was my running niece, Beofra Bee, one of the best running athletes I know with over 100 marathons under her belt.
It was Bee who encouraged me to BQ for 2018. I had set a lofty goal to BQ on the Boston course for the following year. The weather was one of the worst in Boston Marathon history. Many of the elite runners opted out due to the conditions. Regardless, I was determined to run my race. Bee paced and ran with me until mile 16, then she said “go for it Unc”. I took off running and was on schedule to BQ. Shortly after, Bee was next to me asking why I was walking? I didn’t even realize I was walking! Hypothermia had set in. I took off running again not certain how far I ran or if I was running but Bee told me something was wrong and I needed to check into the medical tent. It was the last tent and 24.9 miles into the race. When she got me to the tent, I had no idea where I was. I was violently shivering, lacked muscular coordination, had difficulty speaking, and was confused. I was carried into a church behind the tent. The doctors immediately replaced all my wet clothing with dry blankets. They placed warm hot water bottles next to my head, neck, chest and groin to help increase core body temperature. I was able to swallow without danger, so I received warm chicken broth.
I was vigorously worked on for about two hours. Finally I was able to get up and went to the men’s room not sure how long I was in there but heard a knock on the door telling me there was a van waiting to take me to a medical facility. I looked in the mirror and realized I was running the Boston Marathon. I burst through the door, asked for my clothes, looked at Bee and said, let’s finish this race. It was only by the grace of God and my guardian angel Bee that I was mentally able to cross the finish line with a time of 5:49:08, exactly two hours slower than my BQ time.
MSM: You’ve done Boston twice now. Do you see yourself possibly going for the 6 star?
Luther: I have never considered going for the 6 star.
MSM: The 0:Dark:30 crew, 530am run crew. WHEW that’s early, how do you do it? Not only you but your team?
Luther: The 0:Dark:30 Crew consists of some amazing men and women. I don’t know how they do it but I rely on rest and proper nutrition.
MSM: How many marathons have you run since you’ve started running? I feel like there was a time where I was seeing a medal Monday post almost every Monday.
Luther: I had to go back and really research this question because I never kept count of any of my races. I ran my first Marathon in 1975 just as a craft when medals were only given to the top 3 male and female finishers. During the 70’s and 80’s I averaged two per year. Results back in the day were mailed to your home or you could go to your local library and get a carbon copy. Since this will be in print, I can officially say I have completed 71 Marathons.
Okay so here’s my next run story featuring you Luther. The Race 2018 was one of the best race events I’ve ever been a part of (I’m painting the picture again MSM readers hang with me). We all started the race and I went out with the 1:45 pacer, which on those Atlanta hills a pacer was very much needed. We started with about 20 runners but around mile 5 folks started to fade and pull back. Around mile 9 on the beltway there were about five of us remaining along with the pacer. One of the runners was you. In my mind I start saying to myself “I can’t fall off the pace, I have to keep going this time.” The pacer is keeping us at an 8 flat pace for the entire race, such a beautiful thing. At this point I’m starting to get flashbacks of The Brooklyn Half of 2017 but this time I’m literally amping myself up saying “I’m going to finish with Luther Isaac this time,” and making a concerted effort to stick with the pace group all the way to the end. So here we are approaching mile 10 with the pace group, I look down at my watch and I see 7:58 but this time I feel good. Then all of a sudden as we come off the beltway I hear footsteps, and I look over my shoulder and I see you pull ahead. My thoughts are saying he’s just going to pace the group for a bit but you (Luther Isaac) keeps going, not slowing down and in less than a half mile into mile 10 we no longer see Luther. He disappeared. I simply laugh and let the rest of the runners know he did the same thing in 2017. To give you perspective I believe you ran a 1:42 and I finished at 1:44. But to have that happen twice was pretty amazing to see. This is why they call you The Master Runner.
MSM: This leads to my next question, what is it that takes you to that next gear where you essentially knock 30 seconds off your pace?
MasterRunner: I use to train mostly on the track and, as I got older sprinting and running 400’s & 800’s became more difficult, and I never cared for warmup runs. So I just started progression running, and increasing my pace depending on the distance. I don’t coach or recommend this style to anyone. The style works for me and keeps me on the podium with my age group.
MSM: Speaking with a more experienced person as yourself, from an age standpoint, you’ve experienced and I’m sure have seen the same things we’re seeing today when it comes to social injustice and racism in this country. Could you share any experiences from your younger days? Essentially we’re all still fighting for the same rights and equality. What advice would you give to our younger generation, myself included?
MasterRunner: I was raised during the time of the Civil Rights Movement and my parents were advocates for racial equality and wanted to advance our interest as African-Americans. Their efforts assisted in radical changes including the introduction of the Civil Rights Act. The violence, lynching, and deaths were even more prevalent against African American males and females than it is today. We obviously couldn’t capture video of those crimes. The youth of today have to continue to protest peacefully against racial injustice but it is imperative to know who’s protesting with you, and to make certain you eliminate those who would infiltrate your stance just to cause damage and destruction. For instance, the Reverend Al Sharpton led a peaceful protest of thousands to commemorate 57 years since the Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream Speech”, and Get Your Knee off My Neck March without incident.
MSM: When we launched this digital magazine you were one of the first folks I thought about to feature not only as a runner but more so for all the wisdom you hold. Any last thoughts you’d like to share with us?
MasterRunner: Thank you for considering me as a featured guest in Mid Strike Magazine. I am honored. Please continue to highlight our brothers and sisters!