RUNNING : Sutherland Still Chasing Covert in Battle of Consecutive Running Days

A challenge that began more than 20 years ago has turned into an integral part of life for Mark Covert of Lancaster and Jon Sutherland of West Hills.

Their goal in the late 1960s was to run every day for a year. More than two decades later, Covert and Sutherland have yet to miss a day.

Having taken periodic breaks in his training during high school, Covert wanted to see if he could run every day for a year as a Valley College freshman.

He reached his goal in July, 1969, which prompted Sutherland, who was working on a two-month streak of his own, to match his teammate's feat.

"Mark was an inspiration to me," said Sutherland, who graduated from Granada Hills High. "When he had gone a year, I thought it was great."

Covert, the NCAA Division II cross-country champion for Cal State Fullerton in 1970, hit the 22-year mark July 23; Sutherland's streak turned 21 on May 26.

According to their estimates, Covert has run more than 97,000 miles (an average of roughly 12 miles a day) during his streak and Sutherland has logged an astounding 125,000 miles (16 a day).

The most miles Covert has run in a day during the streak is 52; the least is three. Sutherland has a high of 45 miles and a low of 2 1/2.

Although no official records are kept, Ron Hill of England, the 1970 European and Commonwealth Games champion in the marathon, is generally acknowledged as having the world's longest running streak, spanning more than 25 years and 120,000 miles.

Covert and Sutherland, both 39, have run through a myriad of injuries (torn Achilles' tendons, cracked ribs, stress fractures) and illnesses (bronchitis, mononucleosis, flu) to keep their streaks intact, yet both deny feeling pressure to prolong them or outlast each other.

"I don't even think about it anymore," said Sutherland, a heavy-metal talent scout for Zomba Records in Hollywood and a syndicated rock columnist. "It's just something I do every day. It's just part of my life. When I get up in the morning, I always think, 'OK, what am I going to do today? Where am I going to run?' But I don't feel any pressure."

Covert, the recently appointed cross-country and track and field coach (men's and women's) at Antelope Valley College, echoed Sutherland's sentiments.

"It wasn't that big a deal when it first started," he said of his streak, which began when Lyndon Johnson was president and the American public was realizing that Vietnam was more than just a conflict. "But after it got to three or four years, it started ballooning. . . . At this point now, there's no reason not to run (every day). I mean, we've been doing it so long that it's going to take a pretty good reason, something other than an injury, to keep us from running."

Sutherland, who held every Cal State Northridge track record from two miles to the marathon when he finished competing for CSUN in 1973, said he expects his streak to last until he is at least in his 60s, and he even joked that he eventually will pass Covert because he'll live longer.

Covert, a Burbank High graduate, said it won't come to that.

"One of these days, he's just going to bag it," Covert quipped. "He's just going to give up. . . . He'll never pass me because I'm a better man than Jon. It's that simple."

Kidding aside, Covert admits that his dedication to the streak might have been detrimental to his career as a national-class runner in the early to mid-'70s.

"There were several times when I probably should have rested an injury but didn't," said Covert, who finished seventh in the marathon in the 1972 Olympic Trials. "I had some injuries that took three or four months to heal that would have only taken a week or two with rest. But I was still one of the top 10 or 15 people in the country then and I couldn't justify (taking a day or two off).

"I could now, but I'm no longer faced with that decision."

Glendale-bound: Obed Aguirre, one of the state's top distance runners at San Fernando High during the 1989-90 school year, will compete for Glendale College in the fall.

Aguirre, the San Fernando record-holder in the 1,600 (4 minutes 15.19 seconds) and 3,200 meters (9:01.11), chose Glendale over Pasadena City College. He did not meet NCAA Proposition 48 requirements and could not have run next season for a Division I school.

A native of Mexico, Aguirre established himself as a junior at San Fernando--placing fourth in the City Section cross-country championships and third in the 3,200 meters in the City track finals--and blossomed as a senior.

In cross-country, he won the City title and placed seventh in the state Division I championships. On the track, he won the City title in the 3,200, and placed fourth in the state meet.

The rich get richer: The Valley College women's track team doesn't need much help in the heptathlon--not with defending state junior college champion Melanie Clarke returning next season--but if Advantage Athletics Coach Charlie DiMarco is correct, the Lady Monarchs will be getting plenty when Notre Dame graduate Jennifer Stewart enrolls at the school next month.

Stewart, who placed second in the high jump in this year's Southern Section 1-A Division championships, has never competed in a heptathlon, but with personal bests of 5 feet 8 inches in the high jump and 17-2 in the long jump, DiMarco figures the event eventually could be her best.

Clinicians at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., agreed with him after putting Stewart through a series of tests during an elite junior training camp two weeks ago.

"They said she has the strength and speed to be a heptathlete," DiMarco said. "Now it's just a matter of convincing her of that. I think she's just a little afraid of the 800."

The 800 meters is the seventh--and last--event of the two-day heptathlon.

The first day consists of the 100-meter low hurdles, high jump, shotput and 200. The long jump and the javelin precede the 800 on the final day.

"I think she could score close to 5,000 points in her very first (heptathlon)," DiMarco said of Stewart, who is the sister of Walt Stewart, the 1989 NCAA Division II high jump champion for Cal State Northridge. "Melanie and her should definitely go one-two in the state meet next season."

Clarke, a 1989 graduate of El Camino Real High, totaled 5,080 points to win the heptathlon in the The Athletics Congress Junior championships in June after scoring 5,034 to win the state junior college title in May.

Record surprise: It didn't happen in the event in which they had expected, but the West Valley Eagles did set a national age-group record in the TAC Junior Olympics in Lincoln, Neb., last weekend.

Larry Phillips, Jalal Milby, Michael Granville and Armone Lochard won the midget (10- and 11-year-old) boys' 1,600-meter relay in 3 minutes 51.08 seconds, more than two seconds faster than the previous record set by the L. A. Jets in the TAC Youth Athletic championships in July.

The Jets finished second Sunday, timing 3:51.23.

"We were a little disappointed that we didn't set a record in the 400 relay," West Valley Coach Roger Lipkis said. "But the 1,600 relay was a nice surprise."

Phillips, Lochard, Steve Webber and Milby won the 400 relay, but their time of 49.93 was short of the age-group record of 49.56. West Valley clocked a season best of 49.65 to win the TAC Youth meet.

Granville's storming third leg (54.3) in the 1,600 relay made the record possible. He made up a large deficit on the L. A. Jets runner and gave the baton to Lochard in a virtual tie for first.

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