"It's never too late to start running," says 73-year-old Peter Fish.
Fish should know. Never athletic in school or as a young man, he ran his first race — Medford's 10-mile Pear Blossom Run — in 1992 at age 56 and earned a top-10 finish in his age group.
He's been racing and setting age-group records ever since, but 10 miles is a walk in the park for Fish these days. A recent race was 100 kilometers — 62 miles — last Halloween in Arizona. His last race was in January, the same distance, this time in Texas.
He's run about 40 ultramarathons since he turned 64.
"What got me into ultramarathoning was something bad," Fish says, dropping his already quiet voice. He gazes out at the dying sunlight from inside the club house at Laurel Hill Golf Course in Gold Hill. Fish and his wife, Jan, have been managing the course for 32 years.
"My daughter got cancer, a rare form of sarcoma," Fish says. "The treatment options were limited. Research needed awareness and money, so I organized a run across the U.S."
The logistics proved difficult. Because Jan Fish had to stay and manage the golf course, Peter Fish was unable to line up a support vehicle to carry his necessities.
He then developed plan B: Start at Kansas City and run eastward, where the distance between motels is less than a day's run. Fish ended up running 1,300 miles in just over two months. The money he spent on motels — instead of sleeping in a van — was partially offset by avoiding gas bills.
Fish started the trip in April 2001, on his 65th birthday. He ran 172 miles his first week, but then decided to take one day off per week.
His trip set a new standard for traveling light.
"I carried everything in a modified fanny pack," Fish recalls. "I had a cell phone and one change of clothes, which I washed every night."
Trans-America running wannabes take note: The best way to dry your socks at night in a motel is to drape them over a lampshade.
When he arrived in bigger towns, he contacted TV stations and newspapers and was frequently interviewed. He had a Web site for family, friends and funders to follow his progress. In the end, Fish figures he made about $5 per hour for his running.
"It was a hard way to raise money "… I was better at raising awareness than money," says Fish. He sent his earnings to institutions researching cures for his daughter's form of cancer.
This stage in his life ended happily. His daughter's cancer is still in remission, and she moved from California to Central Point, an easy run away.
Tragedy struck again last year when Fish's son was killed in an accident.
Once again, Fish is employing running to help raise awareness and, in this case, to help youth. His son was both a talented musician and skateboarder. Father and son shared a passion for music, and playing the piano is something the elder Fish has been studying and practicing since his university days. He earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees in music and has given many public performances.
For a few years in the late 1960s, Fish played in a street band in Berkeley, Calif., on a harpsichord he built from a kit. Music provides a counterbalance to his running and is one of his secrets to overall health.
"Playing (the piano) is something I do to stay in touch with music and myself and the instrument," Fish says. "So I play for an hour or so every morning." Bach is his favorite composer.
These days, Fish runs 50 miles per week. In the morning, he takes his dogs for a run on the Gold Hill bike path. But because the two dogs are small, they tire after three miles, so Fish takes them out one at a time on his six-milers. He runs more miles now than he did a few years ago, but all at a lower intensity.
"It's an entirely different state of mind," Fish says. "I think about half of my running now is brisk walking."
For Fish, the allure of running is all about the challenge.
"I think it's important to challenge yourself every now and then," Fish says. "Don't do it all the time, but you just have to keep fighting."