Jack Foster ... Eternally Inspiring Runner
- By: Hiyamallar
I owe my start in long-distance running to Guru, like most of us. It
was in San Francisco in 1978, when he spontaneously began running in
Golden Gate park, and we all jumped in behind him. So began many
Several years later I came across Tales of an Ancient Marathoner, a
small book on running by Jack Foster that told a fascinating story.
As a boy in England, his first love was cycling. When he was 24, he
moved to New Zealand and stopped exercising. Then occurred an episode
that transformed his life. When he was 32, he saw some people running.
Feeling inspired, he went for a jog and came back breathless, thinking
that he had run a few miles. His wife said, "Jack, you've only run a
few hundred yards" (and only seven minutes!)
He resolved to get in shape and a marvellous transformation occurred.
even without a running base, coach or any plan. Within four years, he
became a world class distance runner and marathoner! In 1969, at 37,
he entered his first international competition and placed third in
2:19. He returned to this event in Toronto in 1970, and proceeded to
win the race (in a time of 2:16). He became the New Zealand marathon
champion, and held national records for 15 miles, 25k and 30k; in the
process, he set a world record for 20 miles! Representing his country
in the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970, he ran 2:14 for fourth
place. Then in 1974, at 41, he ran 2:11:18, good for 2nd place! This
time he set an age record for the marathon that he would hold for
Overall, Jack went on to win eight marathons. He competed in two
Olympic games, earning an 8th place finish (2:16) in the 1972 games in
Munich at age 40. He held many marathon records between the ages of 40
and 60 - one of the more remarkable was running 2:20 at the age of 50.
A few years ago, I wanted to give the book as a gift, and was unable
to locate my original copy. Soon after, I began the Christmas trip in
New Zealand and found that Guru had lifted Jack and his wife in
Rotorua, where they lived - I had just missed the event and my chance
to meet him. Naturally, I was quite disappointed, and mentioned this
to Jogyata. He told me not to worry, as he could arrange a meeting
anytime I was there. He had the warmest regard for Jack, and suggested
that I write him a letter and ask for a copy of his book.
Jogyata related a conversation he had with Jack, who said that a few
years before, he went out of his house one day and immediately
realised that he had lost his passion for running! At that point, he
simply returned to his first love of cycling.
Upon my return to San Francisco, I decided to write him. Such is the
power of the internet, that I was able to locate addresses for
Rotorua - with no less than six J. Fosters listed!
I had just one $20 New Zealand bill that I intended to enclose (having
nothing else to offer) and I didn't want to send it to the wrong
person! Finally, I just used my intuition and picked one name out. I
mentioned missing his being lifted by Sri Chinmoy, that I was a fan,
and had followed his career for years, and asked if he could send me a
copy of his book (hoping he would sign it!).
I didn't hear anything back from New Zealand. Another Christmas trip
came and went. From time-to-time I would mention the lack of response
to Jogyata - we both felt it was unusual.
In April 2004 our New Zealand family prepared an amazing film of many
of their famous runners offering salutations to Guru for his 40 years
in the West, each giving heartfelt and uplifting messages. It included
so many greats, such as Alison Roe, John Walker, Art Lydiard, and
others, including a segment with Jack Foster, who was humorous and
charming, saying something like, "Sri Chinmoy, I hear you play the
piano. I'd like to play music with you sometime". He looked spry and
A few months later, I was at Aspiration-Ground when Jogyata approached
me with the sad news that Jack Foster had been killed in a cycling
accident that June. After just having seen him appear so vibrant in
the recent film, it seemed a cosmic mistake had occurred, and I felt
Later in 2004, Guru made some trips to California, and in order to be
able to go, I had to catch up with my work. Part of that ritual
involves clearing out my desk (usually a big mess).
While doing this, a thick pile of correspondence held together with a
rubber band emerged from the chaos. I could see one envelope was
correspondence from New Zealand. Saying to myself, "this couldn't be",
I carefully opened it and discovered a handwritten letter from Jack
Foster, dated 21 January (of 2004), thanking me for my letter of July
2003, adding that someone had borrowed the last copy of his book, and
so he could not send me one.
He mentioned that he no longer ran, and that he had been cycling,
"200-300km most weeks" (he was then 72), but "strictly
non-competitive", adding "Enjoy your running." What made the letter
most poignant were his last sentences; he wrote that cycling was "Much
more fun than running, and no injuries, unless one crashes!
Fortunately very infrequently" (the postscript reads, "Returned
herewith - $20NZ")! Knowing how things turned out, it was a bit hard
to read this without tearing up.
It is easy to see why this letter, so happily received, created a
number of conflicting emotions! I felt tremendous energy and called up
Jogyata the same day. By chance he was with Shardul, who mentioned
doing a musical concert in New Zealand after the accident, dedicated
I researched his passing, as I was surprised to have missed it. I got
more perspective from the remarks of his son, who noted that his
father died while doing something that he loved. He said that his
father had liked to think of himself as a "white Kenyan", or a
"heart-lung machine with legs"! It is clear that he had a loving
family, and that his memory will exist with them, and with many of us,
for whom he is an "eternally inspiring runner".
I have thought about writing a letter to his wife and family, it's
been on the list of one of the things to do for a while, hoping they
might enjoy this story. So, although I never got to meet him, I was
overjoyed to have a letter from one of my running heroes.
From: Inspiration Sun Edition 6