Marathon runner races back into good health

He's 47 years old, and a relatively recent convert to the world of triathlons, but Jeff Spires may be making up for lost time these days, through his enthusiastic participation.

"It started probably about five years ago. I was about a two-pack-a-day smoker, and my sister wanted me to do a race with her, so ... I just put 'em down one day and started training, and it just went from there."

The race in question was a 13.1-mile event - a half-marathon, in Augusta.

Prior to taking part in that race, Spires had undergone a medical exam, and a doctor assessed his lungs as being comparable to those of a 70-year-old man. That hit home.

In the end, however, Spires' sister was not able to participate in the run due to work constraints. Undeterred, Spires ran the half-marathon by himself and has steered clear of cigarettes since then.

"I average probably about 50 miles a week on the run and then probably anywhere from 100 to 150 on the bike," he said, adding that three or four miles of swimming are also part of the weekly mix.

Due to his work as a maintenance supervisor at a college in Augusta, Spires doesn't have much daytime left by the time he finishes work and running.

"I don't watch much TV, but I don't figure I'm missing too much," he said.

"He's just a great natural runner," said Kyle Smith, who knows Spires as a fellow booster of sports at North Augusta High School and in local recreation leagues. "I see him running up Martintown Road all the time, and he's really into it."

Spires' running buddies sometimes include a four-legged one: Cody, his 12-year-old Boykin spaniel. Cody, "whenever he's up for it," can handle a couple of miles on the Greeneway before his back problems force him to back off, Spires said.

The Spires household is just off Martintown Road, near Lowe's, and run routes sometimes lead across the 13th Street bridge for a loop on Broad Street in Augusta.

"My half-marathon is around 1:50, or 1:48, so nothing real fast. I just did this half-Ironman that we had a couple of weeks ago and had a finishing time, I think, of 5:50."

That feat included a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile in that order and his Ford F-150 bears a window sticker proclaiming "70.3" - the combined mileage in such an event.

Spires, a Clearwater native, has also been known to head into the woods or water without fast times on his mind.

"The main thing I've got other than my running is I fish and I duck and I turkey-hunt a lot," he said, mentioning trips as far afield as Arkansas and Tennessee.

He is also well-acquainted with Riverview Park's woodsy patches, having become an assistant coach with North Augusta High School's cross-country program.

"My daughter started a couple of years ago running cross-country for Midland Valley, and I did it as a way to spend more time with her, and she graduated and moved on to a technical college. I enjoyed it so much I just stuck with it."

Spires has also stuck with his original employer, having graduated from Midland Valley in 1983 and gone straight to work at the Medical College of Georgia.

Referring to his line of work, he said, "It's nothing real special. We take care of all the student dormitories as far as painting, refinishing and stuff like that."

Looking to the more recent past, he recalled his first effort to go for a run, "a couple of weeks after I quit smoking."

He said, "I think I got maybe a quarter of a mile and I ... almost had to crawl back into the truck. It was that bad. It probably took me a good month or two before I could even get three miles in, and then after that, it kind of took off, because I started getting my wind together."

He is a faithful annual participant in Augusta's half-marathon, and he also joins family members each year for the Cooper River Bridge Run, from Mount Pleasant to Charleston.

Huge plans on the horizon include participation in 2013 in Ironman Florida, held in Panama City and involving 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of bicycling and a 26.2-mile run.

Spires will also take part as a volunteer in the 2012 Florida event, which is set for this weekend. Volunteer service, he explained, opens doors in terms of registration for full-scale athletic participation in 2013.