SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S editorial offices, more or less predictably, are rife with running nuts, ranging from such Johnny-run-lately joggers as Tex Maule to dedicated distance men like Andy Crichton. None of them, however, can hold a relay baton to Hal Higdon, a free-lance writer and frequent contributor to our pages who wrote the story on race walking that begins on page 32.
Higdon has been hooked on running ever since he was a boy. A promising track career lay ahead of him when he was 16, but a doctor diagnosed what seemed a trivial ailment in Hal as far more serious—asthma. "You must never compete in sports for the rest of your life," the doctor warned, and Higdon didn't run again for more than a year. "I was psychologically demolished," he says.
At long last Higdon got different medical advice and began to run again. The scare and his inactivity had slowed him down considerably, but in 1957, at 26, he ran a 4:13.8 mile for the University of Chicago Track Club.
Two years later Higdon quit a desk job with The Kiwanis Magazine to become a free-lance writer and, aglow with new confidence, entered the 26-mile, 385-yard Boston Marathon for the first time. He stayed with the leaders most of the way, but toward the end he fell apart and failed to finish. Three years later he tried again, finished in 26th place and wrote his first bylined article for us about the experience (SI, April 15, 1963).
April 26, 1970
That article did more than merely entertain our readers. Before he got it, Crichton, then track editor, had done a little cautious middle-distance work. "But going 26 miles never seemed possible to me," he says, "until I edited Higdon's piece." Two years later Crichton himself entered the marathon as did his fellow staffers Walt Bingham and Gwil Brown. Higdon's article inspired others as well. "Since then I'll bet 50 people have come up to me in Boston," he says, "and told me they started because of it."
After that the Higdon-Crichton rivalry became a regular feature of the Boston Patriot's Day event, though probably nobody but Crichton and Higdon was aware of it. In 1966 Crichton passed Higdon at the 17-mile mark. "About three-quarters of a mile farther on," Crichton says gleefully, "Higdon passed me. Then I passed him again, and finally he passed me, but by that time he was riding in a bus with a leg injury."
In the 1968 race Crichton caught Higdon at the 21-mile mark. "I pulled up next to this guy," Crichton says, "and I was so blurry-eyed I didn't even see it was Higdon. We'd suffered together and we both had cramps. Finally, with 300 yards to go, Hal said, 'Let's catch that guy in green.' I said, 'Hell, I can't make it. Haven't we got a good enough story for the papers already—WRITER AND EDITOR CROSS THE FINISH LINE TOGETHER?' But Higdon took off and beat me by 50 yards. I didn't talk to him for months after that."
Higdon has written magazine articles on many subjects, ranging from ecology to business, and a number of books. He is one of the few authors we have who actually goes through the races he writes about for us, and we hope he goes on doing it. Meanwhile, we are considering what to do about his recent statement that "SI should give me a medal of valor for even entering a walking race."
An editor rampant on a field of cobblestones, perhaps?