Originally posted January 10, 2010:
Two things come to mind when I think of Mr. Chuck Coats: his mustache, and how goofy he is.
Oh, sure, he is also a great runner with an unparalleled work ethic and one that always gives the competition a run for their money, but really, if someone asked me what he’s like, I’d say, “He’s a big goofball.”
Coats, who turned 50 in 2009, was born in Portland but went to high school at Crook County High School in Prineville. Besides running, Coats loves “being on the road and going places” and listening to music, including “Run Like Hell” by Pink Floyd and “Born to Run” by Springsteen.
Now, he lives in Sherwood, and works construction as a grade-checker and laborer. He works outside in all conditions, so it’s easy to see why his pet peeve is people who complain about the weather they have to run in here in Oregon. All that work keeps his core strong – very important for a runner – but can tire him out, so he’s more likely to finish work for the day and start his run immediately, because the sometimes long drive home can give his muscles reason to stiffen up.
Another secret to his success is what he calls “regular maintenance.” Dr. John Foland, his chiropractor, sees him every 2-3 weeks, and Christy Runde, LMT, his massage therapist, sees him at least once a month. He sleeps when his body needs it – more when he’s tired and less when he’s not – and tries to eat healthy, although he does like his ice cream.
Speaking of running, let’s talk about Coats’ well-earned spot at the top of a list of local competitors. Even though he often will place or win a race outright, claiming the open title, he’s nationally competitive among masters runners.
So competitive that he once broke the American master’s 45-49 age group 3,000m record twice in one week.
Coats is the first to identify the other local runner who was a part of that week. Danny Gonzalez was with him both times. The first time, at Hayward Field, Coats reached his goal of breaking the record, and just missed breaking 9 minutes; but the win went to Gonzalez. Then, later that week in another race, Coats lowered his own record and broke 9:00, but he was only able to better his time due to the teamwork of Gonzalez.
Running always came naturally to Coats. He knew he was faster than other kids in 6th grade, when he won a race in Estacada. He ran through high school and during his senior year, (1977, for those of you keeping track) he won the AA State XC title. but 1982 brought a race that would be his last for more than a decade.
The reason for the break was because of alcohol. Coats developed a dependence on drinking, and for many years, drinking took the place of running in his life. Addiction to alcohol took over and Coats stopped running.
However, running never left his mind. It was always there – something Coats loved and enjoyed. When he started receiving treatment for his addiction to alcohol, it was clear to him that he would be running again. “I just knew I wanted to run … just to use that extra energy,” he says.
Alcoholism isn’t something that can be “cured.” It can, however, be overcome. Some recovered addicts carry tokens to remind them of their journeys and accomplishments, others still choose not to talk about it with anyone outside of their support network. Coats’ first six months back to running, in 2000, was “a living hell.”
But it was worth it, which he knew from his first race back, the Seaside Beach Run. Even years after becoming sober, though, it is still a one-day-at-a-time effort. For Coats, he faces every day with confidence, because “he didn’t drink the night before.”
Despite the time off and the challenge of becoming sober, Coats maintains a warmth towards other runners – both those fighting him for a first place finish and those fighting just to finish. “Fast is relative,” he says, adding that anyone can run – we all did it as kids. He’ll promptly call “Bull—-” on anyone who says they “can’t” run. The sheer number of runners in Portland who agree with him is the very reason he thinks our running community is so great. He loves to see the support that is there for runners of all levels, and he enjoys “going to races just to stop and talk with other people.”
Since his return to the sport, Coats recalls the 2006 Austin Freescale Marathon as his favorite race. It was his first marathon, he was sick, fighting an injury, and the day brought freezing rain. He missed his goal of running a sub-2:40 by only 78 seconds. However, he wasn’t working at the time and could dedicate himself to his training, prepared with a great group of training partners, and enjoyed every mile just for the experience.
His favorite local race, the Shamrock Run, is often run in similar conditions, and he loves that for the same reason. In addition to runners who have trained specifically with Shamrock in mind, it also brings together weekend warriors who make the St. Patrick’s Day run their yearly race.
The current running scene reminds Coats of the competitive days of Seb Coe, Don Kardong and Frank Shorter. “The competition is coming back,” he says. He won’t name names of local runners, but he’s impressed with a large number of them. “It’s fun to watch people improving.”
The next big race on the calendar for Coats is the Masters Championship in Sacramento, where he’ll focus on the 5,000m. You’ll likely see him at other local races as well, like the CATnip Friday 5k in August. And don’t be afraid to cheer for him during a race – he loves it – or to chat him up afterwards. But be forewarned: once he’s had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, the next time he sees you, you’ll be getting a big hug!
1. Chuck at the 2009 CATnip Friday 5k, where he was there to cheer people on. Credit: Kelly Barten
This interview was originally posted on January 10, 2010 on OregonLive.com.