Every Saturday morning, 80-year-old Charlie Gregory leaves his home in Marietta, Ga., and makes the short drive down to Atlanta where he joins about 100 of his running friends.
They meet at a prearranged location, usually a large parking lot, and embark on a long, leisurely run through the city’s streets and residential areas, sometimes covering as much as 17 miles.
For Gregory, the Saturday runs are largely a social thing.
“It’s just being with the people, everybody is so upbeat,’’ he said. “I don’t like running by myself. And when I get down there [in Atlanta] and run with this group of people, we’re all real friendly and upbeat, talking about the next run we’re going to do.’’
Gregory is a Charleston native who grew up on Red Oak Street on the West Side, graduated from Stonewall Jackson in 1951 and, after attending the University of Cincinnati and West Virginia State, left Charleston to begin a career as a Navy pilot.
He first felt the competitive running urge in 1970 while living in the Atlanta area when the city introduced its now-famous Peachtree Road Race. Caught up in the racing spirit, he entered that inaugural 6.2-mile event and has now run in 30 of them, as well as 100 marathons and countless other races.
But he’s never run the Charleston Distance Run, a hilly 15-miler that’s been a fixture on Labor Day Weekend since 1973. It’s set for 7:30 a.m. Aug. 30.
This year, though, he plans to make his CDR debut.
The thought of entering his hometown’s most famous race came a few months ago in a conversation with Jeff Galloway of Atlanta, a national running icon/author and the organizer of those Saturday morning running sessions. Galloway, who won the first Charleston Distance Run 41 years ago, suggested Gregory give it a try.
As a runner, Gregory is a bit of a late bloomer. After making his marathon debut in 2000 at age 66, he began an eight-year odyssey that included at least one marathon in all 50 states, including one at West Virginia’s North Bend State Park. He ran the Boston Marathon in 2004 and ’05.
His best marathon time is four hours, 22 minutes — not bad for a man of his age — and on Saturday mornings, as a concession to age, he runs with the slowest group, averaging about 14 minutes a mile.
In addition to the Saturday workouts, he runs two other times each week and also finds time for tennis.
Fitness and good genetics, he says, are the keys to longevity. “I’m trying to live as long as my mom. She passed on her good genes to me,’’ he said. “She lived to be 101, and her mother lived to be 102.’’
His plans for the Charleston race are nothing special.
“I fully expect to be the last one to finish up there in Charleston,’’ he said.
BRIEFLY: The 15-mile run, a 5-kilometer run and 5K and 10K walks begin at 7:30 a.m. Aug. 30 on Kanawha Boulevard at the Capitol. All four events conclude at Laidley Field. … When Galloway won the 1973 race, it started and ended in front of the old Charleston Civic Center, which was later incorporated into the new one. He won in one hour, 16 minutes and 29 seconds in a field of 213 finishers. … Runners also may enter the 15-miler as part of a three-person relay team.
Reach Mike Whiteford at firstname.lastname@example.org.