Midtown: Sports

An every day runner is tops in the nation

Barbara Latta has run with a diplomat. She has run on rooftops and cruise ships, on treadmills and front porches, in all seven continents, and in all 50 states.

Now she has run into the record books, becoming the U.S. Running Streak Association’s top female runner, and has run every day for more than 28 years. No other woman in the United States has run that many consecutive days, according to the Running Streak Association’s online records.

As of April 12, Latta had run 10,356 days in a row. By April 18, she will have logged seven more days of running, and she’ll hold the top position until she stops.

Few people in Latta’s circle of friends and fellow runners knew she had a streak going. She never thought much about it herself until she joined the Running Streak Association about five years ago.

“I never told anyone about my running streak,” she said. “Anyone who doesn’t run every day would think it is foolish and would say I need to get a life.”

Latta, 70, a retired teacher, has always enjoyed an active lifestyle, walking, biking and enjoying the outdoors.

She went out for a run one morning 28 years ago and was hooked.

“I came to work and felt so good after running,” she said. “I told my principal about it, and he advised me to not stop.”

So she took his advice and ran every day for the rest of the week. That week stretched into the weekend. Weeks turned into months, and months turned into years.

“I used to run in an old pair of tennis shoes, and when I told my brother I had started running, he bought me my first pair of running shoes,” Latta said.

She used them until they fell apart, glued them back together, and kept running in them until she had to break down and buy new ones.

From the beginning, she logged all of her runs, and has kept meticulous daily records. To qualify as a member of the U.S. Running Streak Association, runners must run at least one continuous mile per day for an entire year.

Latta runs for pleasure, not pain, and takes time to smell the roses.

On a mission trip to Liberia a few years ago, she ran alongside an ambassador from Lebanon, who invited her to the embassy for tea and cookies. They still correspond by email.

“This goes to show you meet the nicest people when you are out running,” she said.

Latta recounted a recent trip to Haiti, where she worked with a school in a secure compound. She was confined there, with little space for running. But the roof was flat, and she was able to get in her daily runs atop the roof.

“I saw the sunrise from up there each morning, and it was beautiful,” she said.

On a recent Caribbean cruise, she ran along the ship’s seventh deck, which had a running track. She ran an hour a day on the porch of a parsonage in Cuba, where she helped work on a church.

Latta has run four marathons (26.2 miles), at least 20 half marathons and countless other shorter races in which she has broken records in her age group.

One of her favorite races is the Magnificent Mile, held annually in downtown Raleigh to raise money for the Spastic Paraplegia Association to help people sidelined because of motor neuron disease.

She loves running at Shelley Lake, which is close to her home in North Raleigh. She keeps track of the laps around the lake’s two-mile greenway using a rubber band on her fingers. Every time she completes a lap, she moves the rubber band to the next finger until she has completed her daily run.

As long as Latta has been a member of the U.S. Running Streak Association, she has been third in line for the women’s crown, but last winter, the two women with longer streaks had to stop. One stopped for medical reasons, and other, Julie Maxwell of Minnesota, broke two bones in her ankle on Dec. 10, 2011, ending her 33-year streak.

Latta, at 70, never thought she’d outlast the two women ahead of her.

“I thought there would be no way those two women would quit, and I thought I would always be third,” she said.

While she is glad to be number one, she is sympathetic towards the women whose long streaks ended. “I would be devastated if that happened to me,” she said.

In addition to being the top woman, Latta is 64th overall. According to the Running Streak Association’s website, the longest running streak among all active association members is 43.72 years, maintained by Mark Covert, 61, of Lancaster, Calif.

Latta says she feels no pressure to continue her running streak. Daily running is part of her schedule, and she can’t imagine not doing it.

“Anything can happen,” she said. “But I will hold on as long as I can. Running is such a habit now. I’m out the door before I even think about it. It’s part of my routine, like brushing my teeth. I just keep going out the door.”

On a personal note

I have always known this day would come eventually, the day I would say goodbye to my North Raleigh News and Midtown Raleigh News readers. I recently got a job as public affairs director for the North Carolina Railroad Company and must give up this column.

That this space today would be devoted to an athlete with a long running streak is especially fitting. I have enjoyed a lengthy writing streak, producing “Who’s Got Game” every week for nearly 6-1/2 years, missing just one column in 2009 when my mother died.

Like the runner featured today, writing this column every week was part of my regular routine, and a part of my life too.

It all started in 2006 when former North Raleigh News editor Dan Holly wrote a column seeking a local writer to cover sports and recreation in a column he perfectly named “Who’s Got Game.” I landed the role, and set out to answer this question every week.

I quickly discovered a lot of folks got game here in Raleigh.

Amazing athletes, from 5 to 95, have generously shared their victories and their defeats with me and who have let me photograph them for the newspaper.

This is what I have learned:

Perseverance. Tenacity. Bravery. Gratitude. Humility. Grace. Strength under pressure. Honesty. Sportsmanship. Teamwork. Hope. Resilience. Humor. Friendship. Loyalty. Inspiration.

I would love to continue hearing about your sports adventures.

Keep in touch.