Princeton Personality by Jean Stratton
Princeton Runner David Kurman Has Completed 100 Marathons
Running a marathon is a challenge of the highest level. The 26.2 mile race taxes the strength and stamina of the most experienced and best-trained athlete.
Established in the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896, the race honors Pheidippides, who according to legend, ran 26 miles to bring the news of the Athenian victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.
Most people have never run one marathon, some have run a few. Imagine running 100!
Princeton resident David Kurman has done just that. He ran his first Boston Marathon in April 1971 and completed his 100th, also the Boston, appropriately in another century April 2004.
"The math worked out perfectly for running 100 33 years and three races a year," says Mr. Kurman with a smile.
In between the first and the 100th, he has participated in marathons all over the world London, Moscow, Montreal, Bermuda, and Barbados, as well as many in the U.S., including the New York, which he has run 19 times.
It all began when he was a boy in Mineola, N. Y., he recalls. The only son of Adam and Mae Kurman, and older brother to sisters Janet, Ellen, and Amy, David loved to run.
In high school, he was on the track team, cross-country team, and also on the basketball team.
"My parents encouraged me to be in sports, but they didn't want me to play football and break my fingers. I took piano lessons for many years," he explains. "So, this was the initial push for me to be on the cross-country team. I was always a distance runner.
"In high school, the physical education teacher, Dr. Irwin August was also the cross-country coach. I was especially motivated by him. He was so dedicated to having a top-quality team. A lot of thought and dedication went into our practices. We worked hard and did a lot of drills, and at the same time, he made it fun for us."
A true scholar-athlete, David was an excellent student, especially in math. In addition, he was active in student government and the Boy Scouts, and he worked at the public library after school and on weekends.
He remembers a very happy childhood. "My parents were both Scout leaders, and as a family, we traveled. We took all our vacations by car, and I saw all 48 contiguous states. I especially loved Yellowstone Park and the Grand Canyon.
"I also remember being captivated by the landing on the moon. I was 16 years old, and stayed up to watch and hear the first words spoken from the moon. Then later, I went to the ticker tape parade in New York."
His outstanding high school record prompted the principal to recommend Princeton University to David, and he applied his senior year.
It was also during his senior year that he entered his first marathon. "I was putting in mileage for cross-country and track, and there was always that mystique of the Boston Marathon," he explains. "It's more than a 100 years old, and was the only marathon people knew of. I set that as a goal, and because of all my training we had run 13 miles in practice I was very confident."
It was a successful race for him, and as he says, "It lived up to its legend."
Interestingly, he adds, "The day of the race coincided with the arrival of the college admission letters. My parents were home, and knew if the envelope was thin, it was probably a rejection, and if fat, an acceptance. When the mail arrived, it was a fat envelope from Princeton."
Entering the university in the fall of 1971, he found that "college classes were a lot more difficult than high school. But it was absolutely the right place for me."
He continued to study math, majoring in statistics, and also worked at Firestone Library, and found a new interest in radio.
"I was involved with WPRB, the university radio station, all four years. I did a lot of different things, including being on air for news and music programs, and serving as director of sales. Through the radio station, I had the opportunity to work and interact with upper classes and younger students as well, and I made a lot of lasting friendships."
David was also on the cross-country team for two years, and during his four years at Princeton, entered and completed seven marathons. Clearly, he had the bug!
After graduation in 1975, he went to New York, obtaining a position as producer at WOR Radio.
"My work at WPRB kind of set the tone for the future," he notes. "Instead of math, I ended up in radio. Jean Shepherd, who had a famous nightly story-telling show, was my boss. He had performed in Alexander Hall at Princeton, in a show which was sponsored by WPRB, so he was familiar with the Princeton radio station when he saw it on my resume."
Mr. Kurman stayed at WOR for two years, then had the opportunity to move to CBS, where he worked as a programming executive.
"I started at a time, in 1977, when the network was acquiring a lot of radio network sports rights, including Monday Night Football, the World Series, and the Olympics. It was a dream job. I was young, single, and I had all the time in the world. Giving up weekends to travel to stadiums in other parts of the country was no problem."
Of course, he also made time to run, and through the late 1970s, he ran six marathons, including his first New York Marathon. In the '80s, he added the Honolulu Marathon (his favorite because of the opportunity to combine it with vacation), Montreal, Los Angeles, the Orange Bowl in Miami, San Francisco, Moscow, and London, among many others.
During the '80s, he sometimes ran as many as five and even six marathons in one year. His best finish was two hours and 56 minutes in the Chicago Marathon in 1990.
At the same time, Mr. Kurman's responsibilities at CBS Radio were increasing, and he was also serving as a volunteer reader for math and statistics books at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (a service he had begun while an undergraduate at Princeton), and he also served as a trustee for WPRB.
In addition, in 1985, he earned an M.A. in journalism from New York University.
In 1997, he became Senior Director of Programming for CBS Radio Network, a role he has very much enjoyed.
"I work for the radio network, which produces shows for radio stations across the country. Shows include talk, music, sports, and features. In my current position, I work on feature programs and informational programs, such as life-style, health, commentary, business, and finance.
"I have really liked radio," he continues. "For one thing, it's the scale that is involved in radio. One person can single-handedly put together a program and put it on the air. I really enjoy this and being able to inform and entertain the listening audience. Perhaps tell them something they didn't already know."
He adds that he has great admiration for the late William Paley, the founder of CBS.
"He was a visionary. I met him, and even contributed some nuggets of information when he was writing his autobiography. I've been with the company for 27 years, and I very much appreciate what he was able to accomplish. A lot of good work he laid down is still evident today."
Another pleasure at CBS Radio is the opportunity to be a part of the company's running team. "We do corporate challenges and compete against other networks and publishing companies, such as The New York Times," says Mr. Kurman. "It's very enjoyable."
In 1994, his life took another turn, when after a long and attentive courtship, he was married.
"I met my wife Gail in the sixth grade," he recalls. "Deep down inside, I knew I wanted her to marry me, but we eventually went our separate ways, and she made her way to Florida. We corresponded, and I was finally able to convince her to move to New York. I had running partners in the city, and I think she thought I might run away with one of them!"
Mrs. Kurman comments on her husband's perseverance and focus on what he wants to accomplish.
"David always said there were four things he wanted to do: (1) run the Boston Marathon when he was 18; (2) go to Princeton; (3) work for CBS; and (4) marry me. And he did them all!"
The couple lived in New York, and son John David was born in 1995. When he approached school age, the Kurmans decided to move to the suburbs.
"We knew New York Long Island and Westchester Connecticut, and Princeton," says Mr. Kurman. "Since I was an advisor to WPRB, I was in Princeton a lot. Also, people have always had the best things to say about the schools. We spent a day looking at houses here, and when we saw this house, it was just right for us. And it was great, too, when we moved in, our next door neighbor was a Princeton classmate!
"I like the idea that I am in my own home, have my own backyard, and can play the piano as loud as I want! Whenever time permits, I play Gershwin and really enjoy it. Also, we are close enough to walk to town, and we often find ourselves at McCarter Theater."
In addition, Mr. Kurman continues to volunteer for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, and is also a trustee for WPRB.
"David has been a long-term volunteer here in Princeton and in New York," points out Richard Scribner, President and CEO of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. "Several years ago, he became involved at the national level and became a member of the Communications Committee, focusing on public relations and helping us to become better known.
"A year ago, he was invited to join the national board of directors. In addition to his long service as a volunteer reader, he has been a devoted member of the national board and a very valuable member. He brings a calm sense of perspective and a very thoughtful insight to the work of the organization and how we can improve.
"David is very calm, unflappable, and doesn't let emotion or controversy around him keep him from exercising a very keen judgment," adds Mr. Scribner. "I've known David for four years, and he's a very nice guy."
That opinion is shared by Gregg Lange, a consultant for Entertainment Media, and also a trustee for WPRB.
"David has an extraordinarily giving nature. You don't really have to ask him to show up. He is very well organized, too. Being willing to help is great, but volunteer activities can be notoriously undermanned and underfocused. He has this ability to walk into a disorganized situation and focus it toward accomplishing something.
"We put in pretty major time overseeing the continuing long-term operation of the station, which is operated by the students," adds Mr. Lange, also a Princeton graduate. "David really wants to give back to the students. He is very devoted to that, and is highly respected by the students.
As a friend of many years, Mr. Lange is well aware of Mr. Kurman's running achievements, although he doesn't participate in that sport himself.
"I am not a runner and proud of it," he says, with a laugh. "When David has finished a run on some miserable day, I say 'What a 'wonderful' activity. When you know someone for 30 years, you can do that. We often kid each other about sports, CBS, and running."
Running, of course, continues to play a major role in his life, and Mr. Kurman maintains a regular training schedule, basically running 35 to 40 miles a week, over five to six days.
"I run during lunch in New York in Central Park for one hour and in Princeton on weekends, Saturday or Sunday, for an hour and a half," he explains. "In Princeton, I like to do my running in the early morning, go through town, then over to Pretty Brook and Province Line Road. It's a nice place to be."
Mrs. Kurman does not join him on these runs, he reports. "She does everything except run, and is a great swimmer! John David is pretty fast, and he wants me to go faster."
Training intensifies if he is planning to enter a marathon, adds Mr. Kurman. "If I am going to run a marathon, three weeks prior, I'll get in a special long training day of a 20-mile run, just to make sure I can go the distance."
In order to avoid injury, he takes special precautions. "I don't change running surfaces," he points out. "I consistently run on pavement, and I buy new shoes frequently, so that I am well-cushioned."
He is also very careful about eating the day before a marathon. "It's always the same. I have pancakes for breakfast, a turkey sandwich for lunch, and pasta for dinner. You're storing up carbs for the next day."
Mental preparation is very important, and of course, Mr. Kurman is very experienced. "Now, I know what to expect. There are no surprises. Having the benefit of experience is helpful."
Nevertheless, no matter how well-trained and experienced the athlete, a 26.2 mile run is daunting and grueling. In particular, many runners refer to the "wall" as they approach the later stages of the race.
"After 18 to 20 miles, you have used up the readily available power, and you have to call on reserves," he explains. "It becomes difficult to lift your knees and to take another step.
"Marathons are not for everyone. It is easier for certain body types, particularly lean builds, and also good technique and good genetics are factors."
Obviously it is important to be in good shape the day of the race, but one cannot anticipate every eventuality. For example, Mr. Kurman says the London Marathon was one of his most difficult.
"London was a struggle," he recalls. "The day before the race, I went out for a jog and got lost. So it was a longer run than I'd planned, and I was more tired during the actual race."
Weather is another factor, and he has run in cold and heat. Whatever the circumstances, runners encourage each other, he says, and interaction during the race is common.
"Before things got so high tech in Boston, when they put up the entrees on the wall, I'd look and find people I knew and write them a note."
More people are running these days, he adds, and "some marathons have reached maximum capacity. In New York, for example, you have to enter early."
Mr. Kurman certainly shows no sign of stopping and has already registered for the New York Marathon, set for next November, and is considering entering another before that.
"I look forward to being able to continue to have the health and endurance to run marathons, and additionally to have time to continue to enjoy it," he says. "And maybe eventually, I can give up the daily commute and find something closer to home."
While anticipating races yet to come,
he points out that the 100th marathon does stand out as something
special. "I was very proud to have Gail and John David at
the finish line for the Boston Marathon. They knew it was my 100th
and important, and it was very special to have them there. Always,
my proudest achievement has been marrying Gail and having our
fine son, John David."