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Campbell has discovered new zeal for running

By Joe Concannon and Barbara Huebner, Globe Staff, 04/18/99

John Campbell has been one of running's journeymen. You see him, then you don't. Now 50, he gave up running between the ages of 20 and 25 after missing the qualifying standard by one second in the 5,000 trials race for the Commonwealth Games. He also went through a divorce, and didn't return to serious competition until 1983.

It was ''the stresses of life and a marriage breakup'' that drove him back to the tracks and the roads, he said yesterday.

He was working as a commercial fisherman on New Zealand's South Island. ''I ran a fun run,'' he said, ''and I couldn't see my toes. I couldn't believe how unhealthy and terrible I felt, so I started running again. There have been two or three times I've given it up.''

When Campbell became serious again, he geared up to run in the Boston Marathon, where he would finish sixth in 1988, fifth in 1989, and fourth in 1990 in a time (2:11:04) that still stands as the masters world best. He blew past Australian great and Boston record holder Rob de Castella in the process. At 50, Campbell is back in town.

Campbell's goal now is to approach the world over-50 record of 2:19:23 in a race in which four-time Boston winner Bill Rodgers is also a threat in that division.

''If it wasn't for my local neighbor who owns an aviation business next door to us, I might not have returned,'' said Campbell. ''He had his pilots run around the mountain every year. He wanted me to participate in it, just to make up the team. I ran quite well, without any training at all. I said, `If I can do that, I'll keep going.' That was 18 months ago.''

His last marathon was in London in 1991, and he ran 2:17 with stomach ailments.

The memories of 1990 are vivid.

''I was really fit at the time,'' said Campbell. ''I remember passing De Castella. I'll never forget it. He looked at me and there was this look of fear on his face. `Here's this old guy passing me.' I think it was beyond him, and I'm sure I contributed to his retirement. I paid the price, too.''

To prepare for Boston, Campbell has been running two hours a day.

''I run an hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening,'' he said. ''I do two to three workouts in the evenings. It's important to have the recovery.

''I've done a couple of insignificant races in New Zealand. The goal is to run sub 2:20.''

Famous four

The National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, N.Y., announced that its new inductees will be led by ailing Boston king Johnny Kelley and include Francie Larrieu Smith, Billy Mills , and women's marathon pioneer and 1972 Boston winner Nina Kuscsik...... There are officially 12,775 entrants for tomorrow's race, the most except for the centennial race in 1996 ... Japan's Keizo Yamada, who won the 1953 race, was on hand and will run his 253d marathon tomorrow at the age of 71 ... Lorraine Moller, celebrating the 15th anniversary of her 1984 victory here, said at yesterday's breakfast for past champions that she toyed with the idea of jogging the race this year but ''for the amount I might suffer, I thought I'd sit and watch it over breakfast.'' The four-time Olympian from New Zealand, who now lives in Boulder, Colo., has not run competitively since winning the masters division here in 1996, but is deeply involved in Hearts of Gold, a charity founded by Yuko Arimori. On its behalf, Moller has run half-marathons in Cambodia to raise funds to buy artificial limbs for victims of land mines, and in Mongolia to aid homeless children. ''It's a great chance to do something really worthy with the platform we have as Olympic athletes,'' said Moller. Arimori, who will compete here tomorrow for the first time, is a two-time Olympic medalist, most recently bronze in 1996; Moller took the bronze in 1992.

Please excuse her

Fatuma Roba was being feted at a breakfast by the Ethiopian community and did not join Moses Tanui at the traditional awarding of the No. 1 bibs to the defending men's and women's champions ... Ai Dongmei and Sun Yingjie both came close to missing the race when they ran into visa problems. But Sen. John Kerry's office intervened, and the two elite Chinese athletes (with personal bests of 2:27:30 and 2:25:45, respectively) will be on the starting line ... Lynn Jennings is now the only invited American athlete left in the women's field, after Christine McNamara of Boulder withdrew with a leg injury ... In an article in last Sunday's Globe, Rodgers said that if he knew the name of the Ethiopian who recently broke his record of 28 sub-2:15 marathons, he would buy him a beer. Well, Bill, it's 35-year-old Abebe Mekonnen who has 32 and counting. One of them came here in 1989, when Mekonnen won in 2:09:06.

This story ran on page C28 of the Boston Globe on 04/18/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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