The races, to be sure, were toss-ups. This is not to say there weren't any winners-Orange County's Owen Morse took all three of the events he entered—but this was joggling, or juggling while running. Everything was up in the air.
The joggling races were part of the 43rd International Jugglers' Association Festival held in Los Angeles in July. Inside, in UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, competitors juggled all manner of objects, from suitcases to chain saws. Outside, in UCLA's Drake Stadium, competitors juggled three small weighted balls while taking part in such track events as the 100-meter dash, the five-kilometer run and the mile relay.
The times were hardly world-class by normal track standards, but a representative from the Guinness Book of World Records was on hand. Morse and teammates Albert Lucas, Jon Wee and Tuey Wilson, ran the mile relay in 3:57.38, beating their own world record of 4:01.49, set the year before.
The team record was set despite a drop by Wilson; dropped balls must be picked up before the runner continues. Morse was able to make up for the lost time by joggling a :56 split, his best ever.
The other world record, in the women's mile relay, was not as impressive nor was it recognized by Guinness. The time (6:54.1) was slower than the joggling record for the women's mile run (6:43.4). "But we have great camaraderie," said Sandy Brown, 34, a professional juggler from Leavenworth, Kans., who ran the third relay leg and also won the women's 100-meter dash.
Competitive joggling was introduced to the festival 10 years ago by Bill Giduz, 38, the news director at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., who also teaches a juggling class there. Fourteen years ago, Giduz, who had just learned to juggle, began to work juggling into his daily jog. "The arm motion you use while you run is the same as in juggling," he said. "Your legs drive the rhythm. I really thought it would sweep the nation, but it hasn't. Yet."
Morse, who ran track for UC Irvine while majoring in psychology, became a professional juggler seven years ago and a joggler in 1986. He has now won the 100-meter joggling dash four times, his best time coming in 1988, when he set the IJA world record of 11.9. He beat Lucas for the title that year and again this year, in 12:06. Morse also won the 400 meters this year, again edging Lucas, who had begun to suffer the effects of the previous night's nine-hour plane flight from Tokyo, where he works as a professional juggler.
"These races distinguish us as world-class jugglers," said Lucas, who has joggled five marathons, his best in 3:29:42. "It shows we're not just guys who do birthday parties in orange hair, floppy shoes and red noses."
Juggling—jugglers insist—takes a certain amount of athletic ability. Joggling is merely an extension of jogging. "It's much easier to teach a runner to juggle than a juggler to run," Morse said. "Carl Lewis would have no problem here."
Some jogglers train year-round for these races. Mike Hebebrand, 25, a math teacher and running coach at Bassett High School in La Puente, Calif., runs six to 10 miles each day at a 6:30 pace, although he admits he usually doesn't juggle while he runs.
"You get a lot of strange looks," said Hebebrand, who won the joggling mile at this year's festival in 5:16 and last year joggled the Los Angeles Marathon in 3:32. "Some people get really upset when you pass them in a normal race. But it makes most people laugh and smile."
Jogglers say they enjoy the upper-body workout they get from juggling. Most use the weighted balls. And those that do say their conditioning has improved because they concentrate so hard on their juggling that they forget they are running.
Morse, who owns a comedy juggling team with his relay-mate Wee, said he was thrilled to win three races at this year's meet. How much does it mean to him to be the "fastest joggler in the world"?
"It's an honor," Morse said with a grin. "But get real."