Monday, March 14, 2011

Mike Cody's Last Mile

Posted By on Mon, Mar 14, 2011 at 10:42 AM

Mike Cody
  • Mike Cody
Mike Cody ran his last mile Sunday on the campus where he set high school and college records in the 1950s.

The well-known Memphis attorney and mediator has logged more than 80,000 miles and 14 Boston Marathons in his career. At 75, his heels finally failed him. The padding simply wore away, making it too painful to run. Cheered on by family and old friends, he took four more laps around the track at Rhodes College Sunday, finishing in just under nine minutes.

In his prime, Cody ran the mile in 4:24, the half mile in 1:56, and the quarter mile in 48.7 seconds. He was good enough to have competed at the highest levels of the NCAA Track and Field Championships but chose to go to Rhodes, then Southwestern, instead.

"My folks didn't have any money at all, and at East High School I wasn't even sure I was going to go to college," he said. "Back then you would be drafted if you were not in school. I thought I would have to go in the Army. East had no track so the coach would put me on the back of his motorcycle and take me to Southwestern so I could run over there. The coach there talked admissions into giving me a scholarship."

Cody was a one-man track team at a time when points were awarded for various events. Track was a big deal in the Fifties. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile barrier in 1954, and runners were regularly featured on the cover of a new magazine called Sports Illustrated. But the national running craze was still 20 years in the future.

"We hardly had a team at East," said Cody. "It was a bunch of us would couldn't make the baseball team."

Cody weighed 125 pounds, which gave him an advantage on banked indoor tracks where a mile was 11 laps. He could stay low on the turns and thereby shorten the distance. Outdoor tracks were made of cinders, and runners would often have to bring a little shovel to dig makeshift starting blocks. Cody's half-mile times might have been better if he had not typically run the mile earlier in the day, with a relay or two coming up. Still, his times would have made him competitive with any college in Tennessee except for UT-Knoxville, which was in a league of its own.

Cody was on the leading edge of the road-running craze that swept the country after the 1972 Olympics and the publication of books by runner/author Jim Fixx. His best marathon time was 2:48, when he was 45 years old. He starting keeping a personal running log in 1973 and kept it up until he closed the book on Sunday.

"There were hundreds of people on the track yesterday including lots of little kids," he said. "It's a whole different sport. It's good for fitness but it's not as serious."

Last year Cody told me a story about an old friend who tried one sport after another until he finally found his athletic calling and declared "I always knew there was a sport I was really good at, it just took me 50 years to find it."

Cody plans to get his exercise from now on in the pool or on a stationary bicycle. His good luck was to find his sport early on and pursue it for a lifetime.

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