Runner says he’ll live to be 100

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Bill Marchese

Marathon runner Don Hedgepeth, 75, still runs and works out daily, and he manages a full-time business.
Photo by Bill Marchese

For Don Hedgepeth of Rancho Mirage, 75 is the new 55 in more ways than one.

A runner for the past 33 years, Hedgepeth has logged more than 25,000 miles and worn out an uncounted number of running shoes.

He has completed three full marathons in Southern California, and six half-marathons. He still works full time.

He jogs three days a week. On his days off he bicycles to World Gym where he devotes just over an hour to circuit training that includes sit-ups, leg extensions, the bench press and other exercises.

“My doctor said, ‘Never stop’,” he said.

And he never will.

“If I don’t run, I feel tired and sluggish. Exercise gives me energy… it doesn’t take it away. I can’t stop now.”

When asked what age he feels like, he said, “About 55.”

His doctor told him his heart and vital signs compare to a much younger person. Having survived prostate cancer a few years ago, he is more determined than ever to stay in shape.

Full-time work

Hedgepeth runs a property and real estate management company, which he started in Los Angeles. It’s been a full-time occupation since 1975. “I have no plans to retire,” he said.

His real estate career was a dramatic shift from his early ship building days in Newport News, Va., where he worked on radiation safety equipment for the USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier. He was on the maiden voyage of The Big E, which served the US Navy from 1962 to 2012.

He moved his management company from LA to the desert in 2006 and bought a mid-century home with a spectacular view of the hills above Rancho Mirage. He improved the home’s energy efficiency with insulation and Thermopane windows, modernized the kitchen and bathrooms and created water-saving desert landscaping years before the drought crisis. Home improvement is an ongoing venture.

Marathon hobbies

Along with marathon running, he also enjoys marathon reading.

 “I got rid of the television 30 years ago,” he said, preferring books and magazines to “bad news on TV and advertising trying to sell you something.”

Eliminating the TV and clutter, he describes himself as something of a  “failed minimalist.”

Without the distraction of a television in his daily routine, the time available for work and play seems more manageable as he juggles a full-time job, reads, tends his garden, cooks and even takes a nap after a run or a session at the gym.

His reading tastes range from Billy Crystal’s humorous biography, Still Foolin’ Em, to the more esoteric Lapham’s Quarterly, featuring contributors such as Stephen Hawking and Benjamin Franklin. The books and magazine are donated to charity after reading.

He is restoring a classic 1963 Studebaker Avanti, a bumper-to-bumper complete makeover including a new Corvette V8 engine. He purchased the car in 1990 for $1 when it was a derelict basket case of a car. He only laughs when asked how much he has invested in the car so far.

Believing he will probably live to be 100, Hedgepeth credits the power of exercise and diet to be the secret of a healthy long life. Almost a vegetarian, he cooks his own meals and loves cooking. He sets lofty physical fitness goals and high standards for himself and then doggedly follows through. Running for example: He keeps a notebook tracking every mile he ran since 1982.

“It keeps me honest,” he said.

A friend and a marathon runner inspired him to begin.

 “If she could do it, I figured I could, too,” he said.

 Until then he was neither athletic nor interested in exercise and rarely played sports as a youth.

In 1982, he logged his first 350 miles, starting about mid-year to begin training for a marathon. Tracking every mile was part of the training. In June 2014, he figures he topped the 25,000-mile mark, according to his logbook. And now he is starting on the next 25,000 miles, running on the streets about 15 miles a week on alternate days. He wears out a pair of size 10 New Balance shoes every 500 miles.

Tracking progress

Hedgepeth tracks “notable facts” like a personal Guinness Book of Records. Here is a sample: “Over the last 51 years, I have:

1.Worked out at the gym three times a week.

2. Bicycle raced from Ensenada to Rosarita Beach in Mexico.

3. Completed over 20 10-K races (‘with shirts and photos to prove it’).

4. Jogged with Jack LaLaine on the beach in Santa Monica. (‘Jack was running a 10 K on the beach. He was 90 at the time. How could you not be inspired by a guy like that?’)

5. Jogged with Muhammad Ali on Wilshire Boulevard. (‘I met him by accident as I jogged past his home and joined him in a run for about a mile with his security guards around us.’)

6. Worked out with Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Santa Monica gym.

7. Skied with Billy Kidd, the downhill Olympic Gold medal winner in 1970, during a weeklong ski camp in Steamboat Springs, Colo.