LAKEWOOD RANCH — On their third date, Jerry Pujol lost a race against his future wife, Carolyn.
Pujol showed Carolyn his freshly decorated condo, and, afterward, she told him she was going to run the 8-mile trek back to her home.
“He thought I was completely insane,” Carolyn says.
Pujol was worried about Carolyn finding her way home, so he decided to run the first mile with her.
But, instead of running, he did a lot of coughing. The then 50-something former chain smoker put the brakes on his body and told Carolyn to wait for him when she reached the corner.
After years of keeping notes about why he could only run a short distance and why he couldn’t breath well, Carolyn helped to turn Pujol into a marathon runner.
“She is the woman behind the man,” Pujol says.
Pujol ran the New York Marathon — twice — first in 1986 and then again the following year. He’s competed in several 10Ks and half-marathons.
Although he no longer runs marathons, running is still a part of Pujol’s life. And Dec. 8, the 80-year-old Lakewood Ranch resident qualified for the 2013 National Senior Games, in Cleveland, after he finished first in the 80-to-84 age group 5K, at the Senior Games State Championships, in Lakeland.
Carolyn Pujol, a 69-year-old former marathoner who had to quit running because of a hamstring injury, was there cheering on her husband. She admits she was embarrassed when Pujol did the Tim Tebow pose after he won.
“I did my Tebow to give thanks,” Pujol says. “I am faith-oriented. I was just grateful I could finish at this stage of my life.”
The National Senior Games will take place in July, but even though Pujol will train for it, he isn’t sure he will run in it. He says the competition is plenty good in Florida, and he wants to do right by his not-yet-creaky body.
Pujol grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and eventually joined the Air Force. He started smoking at 15 years old and continued smoking throughout his time with the Air Force.
After breaking his jaw during a pick-up basketball game while stationed in Germany, he ended up in the hospital with his jaw wired shut. The experience prompted him to quit smoking.
“I said to myself, ‘I have to get something out of this,’” Pujol says. “It wasn’t pleasant smoking through your teeth and getting that nicotine taste.”
At first, he allowed himself one cigarette per day, but he eventually quit cold turkey at 21 years old.
Jerry met Carolyn 29 years ago at a ski club in New Jersey where he worked as a ski instructor. Two years after Jerry lost his race to Carolyn, they got married. The couple bonded through running.
During their runs, Carolyn would run ahead and wait for Pujol, but he soon caught up. Within a year, he began competing in 10Ks.
“I liked it,” Pujol says. “I could do some good thinking while running, and it toned down the stress of business and life.”
Along the way, the Pujols trained together.
Twenty years ago, they ran across the Golden Gate Bridge, an 8-mile run.
Later, they biked for six weeks from Coos Bay, Ore., to Tijuana, Mexico.
In Tijuana, the couple was stopped at a tollbooth for biking on the side of the highway. They turned around and biked back.
“We’ve been chased off highways and golf courses in our training,” Pujol says. “At least the tollbooth operator was nice about it.”
The Pujols spent some time in Colorado and Europe before settling in Florida, where they’ve lived for the last 17 years.
He won a 5K in Bradenton last spring, winning his first gold medal in a race of 3,500 runners.
Then, he won the state championships, the one his workout mates at Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club give him grief for when he trains and plays tennis there nearly every day.
Pujol keeps doing it for his grandchildren — his eldest just won a marathon in her age group after starting running a year ago — and the one he shares his strides with, Carolyn.
“My wife and I have had wonderful experiences running together,” Pujol says. “ It’s a wonderful thing to share physical fitness. Whenever I have an ache or pain Carolyn will say, ‘I have a stretch for that.’”
“A lot of guys say, ‘Gee, he can still do it?’” Pujol says. “Years ago somebody my age would be in a rocking chair. You just dig deep and have a little luck and faith. I never achieved anything great in life, but I have the love of a lot of people.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].
Pujol’s training regimen and diet
Before he ran the Senior Games State Championships, Pujol completed an eight-week training regimen. He also rides his yellow bike everywhere. Here is what he did and what he ate:
• l Ran 6 miles twice a week
• l Cross-trained twice a week, which consisted of a 20-mile bike ride
• l Speed intervals twice a week
• l Tennis two-to-three days a week
• l Drank whey isolate protein every day after exercise
• l Ate oatmeal every morning with blueberries, bananas, raisins and yogurt
• l Ate a large salad at lunch and chicken or turkey for dinner, with a occasional piece of red meat