A photo of Norman Blair during the 1985 Boston Marathon reveals a look of dogged concentration as he strides toward an impressive 10th-place finish in just two hours, 25 minutes and 23 seconds. Meanwhile, his comrades on Team Etonic betray the haggard faces you’d expect on men slogging through 26.2 grueling miles of world-class competition to capture a team championship.
Blair’s unshakable focus has served the Buncombe County native well through a career that’s legendary in local running circles.
“My powers of concentration are a little stronger than most people,” admits Blair, who’s won numerous races over the years.
Fellow runner Adam Pinkston, who’d heard of Blair long before he met him, puts it this way: “Norman’s knowledge of running and pure toughness through running is more than I’ve ever seen. He knows more about the sport of running than every coach I’ve known combined.”
Growing up in Avery’s Creek, the 45-year-old Blair got turned on to running as a freshman at T.C. Roberson High School. He attended Appalachian State University on a track and cross-country scholarship, then ran for Team Etonic (a shoe company) before retiring in 1988.
“It doesn’t mean I quit running,” Blair explains. “It just means I quit training.”
Along the way, he logged a host of impressive finishes, including 20 straight years of competition in the Peachtree Road Race (a 10K that attracts thousands of runners).
To be sure, running is still a major focal point of Blair’s life. He logs 40 to 60 miles per week (“Not that impressive,” he insists), and on the day we spoke, Blair was planning to pass the 110,000-mile mark after 32 years of running. (That statistic is backed up by his meticulously maintained running logs, which document his mileage and other info.) And six months ago, he became owner of the well-known Asheville shop Jus’ Running.
Lean, fit (and a wee bit antsy), Blair is looking forward to competing in at least one event in this year’s Mountain Sports Festival — sounding partial to the demanding, 9-plus-mile Trace Ridge Time Trial Trail Race.
“Trace Ridge,” he says enthusiastically, “is a cool race.”
— Tracy Rose