In his first race, Joe Henderson began the mile run with so much speed and exertion he couldn’t make it past the first lap. Discouraged and wanting to quit, his high school track coach urged him to run once more and finish, to give it a fair try. He did, and after that, he never gave up . Before he knew it, he crossed the finish line of his 700th race. Not only did running become a sport for him, but it also became a passion that led him to a satisfying lifelong career.
While he is now a University of Oregon running instructor and heavily involved with the running community in Eugene, he was editor of “Runner’s World” magazine for seven years, writing for the publication for more than 20. He has also written more than 30 books on running, offering advice and techniques from past experiences. In his slim frame and short stature, he has run everything from less than 100 meters to more than 70 miles — including 50 marathons, four of those in Boston.
His first Boston Marathon in 1967 is one he describes as flawless, where everything came together “perfectly.” It was where he ran the best time of his career, at two hours and 49 minutes — and he hasn’t beaten it to this day.
“Once you’ve run Boston, you’re always there on marathon day,” he said. “I tune into Boston as I do to no other event.”
He says he felt the effects of the Boston Marathon bombings from Monday of last week.
“It will probably be felt in every big event, including at the Eugene Marathon,” he said. “It definitely hit close to home.”
Although the last time he ran it was in 1978, he has been back many times since to watch runners from around the world participate, including friends and family.
“The last time I was there, years ago,” he said, “I was standing in the spot where the second explosion went off, watching my wife’s son running by. I remember it well, standing there.”
Fortunately, none of his colleagues were hurt in the bombings.
In the years following his first marathon, he decided to move to Eugene after his first visit in 1971 and immediately fell in love with the city and its running culture. Other than instructing running courses for the UO’s Department of Physical Education and Recreation, he also leads a marathon team sponsored by the Eugene Running Company.
Bob Coll of the ERC says it is an honor to work with Henderson.
“Joe is an iconic figure in the world of running; it’s a privilege to know him,” Coll said. “He has coached our marathon teams at the store for nine years, and to this day, he hasn’t had one single person not finish a marathon.”
Each mile marker of the Eugene Marathon is dedicated to local running legends such as Steve Prefontaine. Henderson’s own is Mile 25, the last full mile.
He will be rooting for his marathon group and students this Sunday along the course of the seventh annual Eugene Marathon. From the 7 a.m. start, he will watch the race from the sidelines and patiently wait at Hayward Field to congratulate his team.
“When they finish, I’ll be there right at the finish line to greet them,” Henderson said. “I’m there for them, not for me.”