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News / Sports / Community Sports

Martinez: Camas runner Jerry Kotsovos approaching milestone of 130,000 miles logged

74-year-old man first took up running 46 years ago and rarely misses a day

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: December 25, 2020, 6:00am
6 Photos
Jerry Kotsovos of Camas, pictured on his daily run Wednesday afternoon, December 23, 2020, has been running for 46 years. Now at the age of 74, he will reach a milestone of running his 130,000th mile on Christmas Day.
Jerry Kotsovos of Camas, pictured on his daily run Wednesday afternoon, December 23, 2020, has been running for 46 years. Now at the age of 74, he will reach a milestone of running his 130,000th mile on Christmas Day. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Let’s get one thing straight. Jerry Kotsovos doesn’t run to seek attention. In fact, he’d much rather run from the spotlight.

“I’d be so embarrassed if it made it sound like I was trying to get my name in the paper,” Kotsovos said.

But his many years of running, the miles he has logged and mostly his sense of stick-to-it-ness has made the 74-year-old Camas resident a source of inspiration in the running community.

Kotsovos did not contact The Columbian. His friend, Nirav Dalal, did.

“I often tell him that he’s a celebrity in our community,” Dalal said, “which he laughs off.”

On Friday – Christmas Day – after 46 years of running, Kotsovos will reach a milestone when he logs his 130,000th mile of running. That’s an average of about 2,800 miles a year or almost eight miles a day.

It’s long enough to circle the globe at the equator five times.

“People might think ‘well, how does he know how many miles he’s run?’ ” Kotsovos said. “But really the logging of my miles started the first year I was running. I thought ‘I wonder if I could run 1,000 miles in year.’ And it just kept going from there.”

He started running at the age of 29, while he was a teacher at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, Ore. It started out as a way to help him control his weight, and it quickly grew into a passion.

“Running has helped give me a zest for life or just an enthusiasm you get from running,” he said. “Some people call it a runner’s high. In Runner’s World magazine, they like to say running may not add years to your life, but it will add life to your years. It’s invigorating.”

He started running in July of 1975 and ran his first marathon in October of that year. Since then, he has logged 29 marathons, his best time coming at the 1979 Boston Marathon – 2 hours, 56 minutes and 12 seconds.

“The funny thing about Boston is that they publish your name, bib number and seeding place in the newspaper the day of the race,” Kotsovos said. “It’s weird when you’re running in place where you don’t know anybody, but you’re hearing hundreds of ‘Go Jerry!’ or ‘You’re almost there Jerry!’ ”

His last marathon came in Portland in 2016 at the age of 70.

“The only reason I ran it is so I could say I had run a marathon in six decades of my life – in my 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s,” he said.

Kotsovos moved to Camas in 2003 after retiring from 35 years of teaching in Coos Bay. But he did not retire from running.

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In fact, in retirement, he found time for another running milestone – running every day for more than 1,900 consecutive days, or more than five years.

“I remember thinking ‘oh it would be nice to go a whole year without missing a day,’ ” he said. “But then once you get a streak going, you want to keep it going. … My wife and I traveled a lot during that streak. And to keep it going, I went on runs in Canada, Panama, Egypt, Costa Rica and finally Spain.”

Kotsovos said some of his all-time favorite run have coming from traveling abroad.

“I have a vivid memory of this park in Shanghai, China,” he said. “It was 5 in the morning. And the last thing you expect to see when running at 5 a.m. is other people. But there was this park not far from our hotel … there were hundreds of people doing tai chi at 5 and 6 a.m.

“And I contrast that with some of runs in European cities early in the morning and there is no one out. It was like some time warp when I’m running by some castle and not seeing a single human being. It’s like being out there centuries earlier.”

During his marathon days, Kotsovos piled up the miles, often running twice daily. These days, he keeps his runs to about five miles around his Camas neighborhood.

But he still gets out almost every day.

“People are surprised to see me running in the snow,” he said. “But I run in the snow or the rain. You have to run in the rain in the Pacific Northwest, so I’d be stuck running on a treadmill. I won’t run on ice, and I’ll stop a run if I see lightning coming.”

There’s a saying in running that states that the hardest step in the first.

From his first step, running has taken Jerry Kotsovos nearly 130,000 miles, or more than half the distance to the moon.

So if you’re out in the afternoon this Christmas Day – or any day after – and you see a man jogging along Lake Road, it’s probably Jerry.

Give him a honk or a wave or a “Go Jerry!” Boston has nothing on us.

It might embarrass him a little, but that’s fine.

We could all use a little inspiration to cap off a long and difficult year.