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the rules of the road
Kenny Moore
February 27, 1978
An abrasive cardiologist named Jack Scaff guarantees that you'll complete the marathon if you follow his prescriptions—indeed, in last year's Honolulu event 95% of the starters finished the race
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February 27, 1978

The Rules Of The Road

An abrasive cardiologist named Jack Scaff guarantees that you'll complete the marathon if you follow his prescriptions—indeed, in last year's Honolulu event 95% of the starters finished the race

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In an hour, when the sun rises, you will notice that Dr. Jack Scaff has a dinky stride, but now in the spooky Hawaiian darkness, he is simply a persistent voice at your shoulder.

"My best marathon is 3:20," he says. "I need a year's good training to hit three hours. But I won't do it all at once. First I'll run 3:10, then a few months later 3:06. Then 3:03. 'Where will it ail end?' they'll say. That's how you become a legend."

You cross a bridge above the still, reflective reaches of the Ala Wai Canal, the moat that separates the massed castles of Waikiki from the rest of Honolulu. Waikiki is a fine place to run at six in the morning. It is well lighted, and without the streams of tourists one encounters by day. And at this hour Scaff and his companions enjoy visions of beautiful women. There are elegant Filipinas wearing lace and combs, splendid Chinese-Hawaiians in stiff silks, California girls in shorts and flowered T shirts. "Looking well this morning," Scaff says occasionally.

"And you, too," they answer, mutual admirers.

"Soiled doves," he explains in far too loud a voice, "on their way home from work."

You leave Waikiki, jog a mile through Kapiolani Park and mount the shoulder of Diamond Head. Light grows over the eastern sea and you find you are not alone on the road. A great ragged line of morning joggers stretches out ahead, hundreds of men and women, an astonishing number even to one acquainted with the running boom on the mainland. There are statistics that show that the number of runners per capita in Honolulu is three times that of any other city on earth. For example, from a population of 350,000, the Honolulu Marathon attracted 3,050 entrants last December—one out of every 115 citizens. If the New York City Marathon, the world's largest, were to lure one of every 115 New Yorkers, more than 65,000 people would report to the start at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Last year New York had slightly fewer than 5,000 entrants, of whom more than three-fourths finished. Ninety-five percent of Honolulu's entrants finished.

If you search for reasons for Honolulu's spectacular running vigor, you will find a city with varied, stimulating terrain and gentle tropical weather that is conducive to consistent training, if not all-out racing. Even the masses of runners have made it easier on beginners by educating the automobile-bound into grudging acceptance of the jogger's prerogatives. Yet, to discover the catalyst, you have to look no farther than over your shoulder at the upright figure of Scaff, his bristly copper mustache catching the first sun.

Scaff is 42, a doctor of internal medicine and cardiology, and he squints a lot, as one imagines a gunfighter would squint down a dusty street or a man of rectitude would squint at sin. In the last five years he has faced the doubters in the medical profession and offered an ironclad guarantee to all who will listen: "If you run marathons and don't smoke, it is absolutely impossible to have a heart attack." Then to make sure his disciples didn't kill themselves on the way to meeting the marathon qualification, Scaff developed a simple set of training rules, started the Honolulu Marathon Clinic to teach them, and offered another guarantee: "Do what I tell you and in nine months you will be able to finish a 26-mile, 385-yard marathon." Scaff has a flair for hyperbole. In fact, of the 2,000 members of the 1977 Marathon Clinic who entered the marathon, only 95% finished. "The rest were just dumb," says Scaff. "They didn't follow the rules."

Scaff is a descendant of Scottish Presbyterian missionaries, and the son of Jack H. Scaff Sr., who as head of Bell Laboratory's metallurgy department contributed to the development of the transistor. The younger Scaff was not serious about his studies until his junior year at Wooster in Ohio, and was accepted by Seton Hall's School of Medicine only after the dean of admissions recognized that he was "Bullet" Scaff, his son's legendary camp counselor. But if Scaff came to realize his medical calling late—and there are those who say he left it early, but we will get to that—he came with a mission. He was a legend at Camp Wawayanda in New Jersey not because of an ability to shoot left-handed bull's-eyes—which resulted in his nickname—but because of his zeal for driving city kids to exhaustion with long hikes and crushing packs. "They'd scream, 'You're the meanest man on the face of the earth. Jack Scaff!' " he says. "But when they got back to camp they'd run to their parents and say with amazing pride, 'You won't believe what we did!' "

Since then Scaff has built his career on challenging the infirm to heal themselves. His reputation as a Peace Corps doctor in the Philippines was that of an excellent physician with an outrageously unsympathetic bedside manner. Scaff has somehow escaped the mealymouthed tendencies of his profession. Taking no refuge in medical terms with the layman, he says things like, "Sixty percent of the time the first symptom of heart disease is sudden death." Scaff has told patients, "The gist of this electrocardiogram is that if you don't start running you're going to die."

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