A Quarter Century on the Run
Watt White closes in on a rare running milestone by Donny Levit
So what were you up to on February 22, 1994? Maplewood resident Watt White certainly remembers. “I recall running from the parking lot of a gym I belonged to with light-up ASICS running shoes,” he says. He laced up his shoes the next day as well. And the day after that. Believe it or not, he’s been doing the same ever since.
On February 22, 2019, Watt White will have run at least one mile per day for 25 years. For those of you who enjoy statistics, that amounts to 9,125 days. The runner estimates he’s logged between 20,000 and 25,000 miles. “I love numbers, stats, and records,” he says. “Anytime you can combine those, which you can with running all the time, I just really like that. I got that from my parents.”
Because his parents were avid marathoners, Watt was exposed to the running world from a young age. As a high school cross-country runner, he was already cooking up quirky activities. “Off season, I would do some extra weird things to share with my coach,” says Watt. “I once tried to do a 24-hour run. Well, it worked out...for about five hours.” Before heading to college, he ran 10 miles each day for seven weeks. “At that age, I had nothing else to do but run, nap, eat cereal and watch TV,” he deadpans.
Watt credits English runner Ron Hill for inspiring him to attempt running each day. Hill, whose streak lasted a stunning 52 years and 39 days, overcame a broken sternum and various surgeries without missing a run. “I always liked the weird corners of running...the feats, the strange things,” he says.
Running has served as an organizing principle for Watt, who’s carved out an impressive career as a composer, singer, songwriter and producer. “If you’re going to run every day, you’re always going to go. It’s about when – not if,” he says.
Watt is both guitarist and musical director for the Tony Award-winning singer and performer Lena Hall, who played the role of Yitzhak opposite Neil Patrick Harris in the Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. In addition, he sang vocals in punk-metal band The Smashup. The band did an international tour with Megadeth, Deftones, and Lamb of God.
Of course, getting in a run every day for almost 25 years has its significant challenges. “There are those times I’ve needed 20 minutes to duck into a phone booth [to get in a run],” he says. “But the hardest time was when we were on tour [with Megadeth].”
His fierce touring schedule sometimes made “one mile feel like five miles.” Watt recalls injuring himself during a band softball game organized by Dave Mustaine, co-founder of Megadeth and the original lead guitarist of Metallica. “I was fasting because it was Yom Kippur and I pulled a muscle while sprinting to first base,” he recalls. “I think it was a Yom Kippur punishment for playing that day. Running was really hard the next day and I was limping onstage trying to be a heavy metal singer.”
Watt, his wife and their daughter moved to Maplewood from Greenpoint, Brooklyn three years ago. And while there’s been a period of adjustment, he’s a big fan of the community. “Most of us have a similar story. We still miss the great things about the city, but at the same time, I have more of a social life here than I think I’ve ever had,” he says. “There’s a lot of camaraderie and there’s a spirit to this SOMA thing. I think it’s real. I don’t know if it’s because we’re all not just bankers wearing khakis and loafers without socks.”
In addition, Watt’s 6-year-old daughter is loving Tuscan Elementary School, where she began kindergarten last fall. She’s especially enjoying her teacher, Mrs. Sinclair. “Our daughter is fully reading. It’s just amazing how quickly it all happens,” he says.
Although running has been primarily a solitary endeavor for Watt, he’s begun training with Maplewood neighbor Michael Steiner. “I’ve never really had a running buddy before,” he explains. “I have gravitated in my life towards solo act kind of pursuits.” In 2015, the two met at the North Jersey Pride Run in South Orange. “Mike is an excellent guy,” says Watt. “When we first met, he was just getting into running. Since then, he’s come on like wildfire...he is just crushing it.”
The Maplewood streets have not always been kind to Watt. In addition to struggling with the uneven sidewalks as well as the pitch-black nights, he suffered a bad ankle sprain last year while running on Summit Avenue. “I learned the hard way – you can’t run around here in the dark. I stepped on a stick and heard the snap when I came down on my ankle. It’s the worst injury I’ve had in 25 years. Of course, I finished my mile. And I didn’t take a day off.”
How is Watt going to celebrate the huge milestone on February 22, 2019? He plans on heading down to Baltimore to run with his long-time friend Pete Stine. “Pete showed up unannounced in Brooklyn on the twentieth anniversary run,” says Watt. “He coordinated with my wife and showed up with a trophy he made. He did that day’s run with me. It was a true friend’s gesture.”
While he’s certainly focused on continuing his daily running streak, Watt has other quirky stats that he’d like to improve on. He’s participated in and organized a series of Beer Mile events, a race that involves, well...a combination of speed drinking beer and running. Ever the statistician, Watt cites details about his best beer run. “It may be the running achievement I’m most proud of. My drinking time was 1:15 and my running time was 5:51,” he says with a big smile. “It’s an amazing, strange, and fun experience. I highly recommend it.”
Donny Levit is a writer, journalist, and Maplewood resident. He ran the New York City Marathon in 2002 and is the author of Rock n’ Roll Lies, 10 Stories. Follow him on @donnyreports.