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James Alston: Fit and focused

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | July 26, 2013

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James Alston is a senior program analyst and the first recipient of “The James Alston Achievement Award" from Blomeyer Health Fitness Center. Emory Photo/Video.

James Alston is a man on the move.  

As a senior program analyst supporting Emory’s massive payroll service through the PeopleSoft/Kronos systems, he spends his days quietly troubleshooting issues that can impact thousands of employees.  

But outside of his work for Emory’s Office of Information Technology, Alston simply has a hard time sitting still.  

Whether training for his next marathon — he’s done 38 so far — exercising at Emory’s Blomeyer Health Fitness Center — where he’s a regular — running with his high-energy Jack Russell terrier or catching a golf game after work, 57-year-old Alston is an exercise evangelist who embraces fitness as a fundamental way of life.  

Case in point: For the past 10 years, Alston has participated in “FitTrip,” a 12-week body transformation competition conducted through Blomeyer that rewards weight loss and muscle gain. And he’s won it, every year.  

This year, however, Alston decided to participate in the program but take himself out of the running for a prize. Yet he still walked away a winner.  

To honor his dedication, Corporate Sports Unlimited — which manages the Blomeyer fitness center — and the FitTrip committee introduced a new annual recognition, “The James Alston Achievement Award,” to be given to individuals who achieve top fitness gains year after year.  

The first recipient? James Alston.  

Emory Report “ran” to catch up with Alston to visit about his recent recognition and how he incorporates a passion for fitness into his work life at Emory:  

How does it feel to have a fitness award named after you?  

My co-workers can tell you that I’m not a man who is often at a loss for words, but I was speechless. I was definitely pleased and shocked, too. That was really touching to me.  

Have you always been fitness oriented?  

Growing up, I was always moving. In high school, you couldn’t tell me that I wasn’t going to play pro football. I went off to college (at Norfolk State University) weighing 175 and discovered that just didn’t cut it (laughs).  

When did you have an exercise epiphany?  

Roughly 15 years ago, I reached a point where I wasn’t in the shape that I thought I should be in. I had a co-worker here on the health care side — I came to Emory 25 years ago to work at Crawford Long (now called Emory University Hospital Midtown) — who was looking at running in the Chicago Marathon and challenged me to try one. Another co-worker was going to run the Marine Corps Marathon, so we trained for it together. From that point on, I’ve loved running. It’s a way for me to release my tension in the morning. When I come to work, I’m stress free! So far, I’ve done 38 marathons in 13 states. My goal is to make it to all 50 states. I joke with my co-workers: “The job gets in the way!”  

What do you enjoy about the marathon experience?

Crossing the finish line! When I do marathons, I’m basically competing against myself, my best time. My ultimate goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon. So far, my best time is a 4:02 and for my age group, I’ve got to run a marathon in 3:35 minutes to qualify for Boston, so I have some work to do. Am I going to get it eventually? If the man upstairs gives me strength!. It’s a matter of dedicating myself, so I know I’ll get there – no question.  

What’s been your favorite marathon?  

I’ve done the Walt Disney World Marathon probably 11 times. You’re running through all five parks with all the Disney characters out there. They give you cameras and along the way you have opportunities take pictures with the Disney characters along the run. Then you have a crowd of people out in the parks rooting you on. It’s just a great atmosphere with over 50,000 runners.  

Do you have a daily exercise schedule?  

I run four days a week — Tuesday and Thursday I’ll run twice a day. Saturday and Sunday are my long run days. I might do a 25-mile run out at Stone Mountain Park on a Saturday, then turn around and do a 10-mile run on a Sunday. Other days, I’m working on the elliptical machines, the rowing machines. Friday, all I do is stretch for one to two hours.  

But you don’t have to run a marathon. I tell people, “If you went out and ran a 5K, if you took 30 minutes a day and went out walking, you’re doing yourself justice.” You don’t have to be a knucklehead like me and run marathons, just take care of yourself, give it 20, 30 minutes a day three to four times a week. I guarantee in about a month, a month and a half you’ll be increasing it, because you are going to feel so great about yourself.  

Between work and exercising, do you have time for outside interests?  

I have a passion about taking care of the yard, and I like to travel. But when I do travel, it’s a matter of, “Hold on, do they have a marathon?” That’s the first thing I look at.