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Medicine and Health

Pour it on in the Second Half: George Etzweiler and the Old Men of the Mountain

Two men finish a marathon.
Dan Houde
Mount Washington Road

A 95-year-old State College man just completed the Mount Washington Road Race in New Hampshire. George Etzweiler, a retired Penn State professor of electrical engineering, usually runs 15 miles a week.

“When I was 72, I did 72 miles that week,” he said.

He recently completed his 10th run up Mount Washington. The race is a 7.6 mile foot race, at a very steep incline of 12%.

Etzweiler trains for the Mount Washington race on a hill outside of Boalsburg, PA.

"I’ve known about this hill for at least five years or more, getting close to 10, and didn’t fall to the idea that this top half-mile was a good place to train until Jay picked it up,” he said.

Julian Maynard, who goes by Jay, is also retired from Penn State, where he was a physics professor, and an avid runner.

“This hill is actually pretty nice," Maynard said, "because it has the right average slope for Mount Washington, which is about 12%, but it also varies in slope about the same way Mount Washington does.”

Etzweiler founded his running group, called Old Men of the Mountain, in 2007.  Maynard is one of the members.

The Old Men of the Mountain are all 65 and older. Etzweiler’s son and Maynard are the babies of the group at 69.

The group plans to run the Tussey Mountainback 50 mile Relay and Ultramarathon again this year. The race has 12 legs, with a maximum of eight runners. This means four runners must complete two legs of the race instead of one. Etzweiler says group members frequently have conflicts in their schedules, so he’s always recruiting.

“I look at the local race results for people over 65, call 'em up and say, 'Hey, do you want to run with us? Could you join us?'” he said.

In addition to busy schedules, health can change a lot over the course of a year. Etzweiler didn’t quite make the time cut off for Mount Washington this year, though the announcers let him finish anyway. His training regimen was interrupted this past winter when he had a pacemaker put in and had to stop running.

He breathes hard when he runs, but he has a real sense of humor about it.

“I'm a constant puff runner," he said. "When I hit a hill, I slow up so I don't puff any faster than I did along the way.”

Running has left him with a lot of stories.

“I used to run with two guys. One was in the track and field program. I ran a 10 mile race with him one time. He'd always get ahead of me going up the hill, and then I'd pour it on going down and catch up with him, and we'd finish together," he said.

This seems to be Etzweiler’s general philosophy for life, too -- pour it on in the second half.

“I didn’t run a full mile at one time in my whole life before I was 49,” he said.

Etzweiler started running in 1969.  He jokes that it nearly killed him then, but it didn't, and it still hasn't.

“I passed Joe Sopko, who was in his twenties, and he said that he heard this old guy, thought it was a steam engine coming. When he took a look at me as he passed, he figured he was going to see me lying dead along the road somewhere.  The next time he saw me, I was passing out awards at the end of the race," he said.

Etzweiler likes to use his running to raise money for charity. In 1987, he went around the Electrical Engineering department at Penn State, encouraging people to sign up to sponsor him for every mile he ran. He egged them on to be overgenerous, thinking he couldn’t finish the New York marathon.

“I kept telling them, at my age, which was 67 then, 'What's the chances of me finishing it? Make it big, look good! You won't have to pay up,'" he said. "But I did finish it.”