Remembering Member Lou Stern


Lewis Stern was a long time PPTC member until his recent passing. Fellow member Gerry Sun wrote the below remembrance that we would like to share with the club, below.

Running was one of Lou Stern’s greatest joys. He pursued this passion with such energy, intensity and excellence that we who had the opportunity to run with him all those years surely considered him a RUNNERS’ runner. 

Lou ran from his earliest days of his youth, right through his student days, and on to his senior days of adulthood. If one were to envision a film of Lou’s life, the soundtrack would have to include Born to Run.

In his early running days in the 1950’s, until the running boom that started with the inception of the 5 Boro New York City Marathon in 1976, running was an organized sport and one ran as part of a school team and afterwards with a club, whose membership generally consisted of ex-collegiate runners.

Lou was a product of that system. He ran for Alliqquipa High and afterwards for Yale. Now school newspapers typically refer to their track teams as “Thin Clads” and their cross-country teams as “Harriers”, so Lou in those days was both a Thin Clad and Harrier, which must have pleased him.

After law school and before joining the Prospect Park Track Club in 1977, he ran for a period with the legendary New York Pioneers, an elite multi-racial running club, formed in the 1930’s to create a home for former college runners who could not, or would not, join the membership restricted New York Athletic Club.

I first met Lou in the fall of 1977, weeks before the NYC Marathon, which Lou, I and numerous others were entered to run. Lou must have relished the sudden influx of new runners: more friends to share his passion, more friends to provide advice and support. Many of us were years younger than he. I was then 34, Lou 43. Given his obvious talent as a runner, and our knowledge of his background as a competitive runner, we welcomed his advice and the opportunity to run with him. It should be noted that many of us were only able to keep up with him because we were years younger.

It was Lou who drilled into us the idea that while mileage was important, it was the quality of the miles that counted. If you trained slowly, then you were likely to race slowly. Basically, you had to push yourself on your daily runs.

One of the things he emphasized was the necessity of speed work; specifically, intervals, short bursts at an increased tempo. During an interval conversation stopped. Most of us were hanging on for dear life. Lou was usually the instigator of an interval, but sometimes someone else would try to accelerate away from the group. Lou would immediately lead the chase group and close the gap, and before you knew it Lou and the others were next to you and sometimes they would blow right by. Those were fun times.

Lou usually joined the weekday group after it was completing its first circuit around the perimeter of the park, heading up the sidewalk along Flatbush Avenue toward Grand Army Plaza. His running form was distinctive: high stride, forward lean, foot strike more toward the toes than on the heels; the style of a middle distance runner. I’m not sure whether Lou’s later arrival was due to long hours necessitated by his law practice or a sense of mercy on his part to allow the group to warm up before the “real” running began. Seeing him bounding toward us was immediately perceived and word was quickly spread among the group that “Lou was coming.” The pace would soon be quickening.

Not to say there were not huge benefits running with Lou. For one, it was helping us run faster in the next race. More importantly, given his intelligence, his warmth and his sense of humor, it was an immense pleasure to run in his company.

Yes, he loved to tell jokes-most of them were quite good, but laughing while running was no simple matter. Sometimes a Lou joke bombed; the irony was that it was easier to groan while running than laugh.

The one joke I remember was long, complicated, involving word play, double entendres and multiple punchlines. It took at least half a mile for Lou to complete and requires a mind the caliber of his to remember in detail. It’s the kind of joke I laugh just thinking about, not knowing the specifics. In broad structure it involved an encounter between a farmer’s daughter and a travelling salesman with a male chicken under his arm. I remember how he relished telling this joke; he had a smile on his face. This must have been one of his favorites also.

Sometimes during those morning runs serious subjects would come up. I remember Lou talking about his father . What a remarkable man his dad was, a lawyer with a solo practice in Aliquippa serving his clients well into his 80’s. There was no doubt that Lou was, as they say, “a chip off the old block.”

Lou ran many marathons and shorter races. There were too many to recount here, but he usually won his age group or was in the top three with truly impressive times. Just one example: the Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust 5 miler in 1987, in which Lou at 52 ran 6 minute miles, placing first among 74 male runners in his age group.

There were many marathons that we both ran, but the one that stands out was Jersey Shore in 1979, an out and back course between Asbury Park and Sandy Hook. Lou must have had fond memories of the race: he ran one of his best times, 2:47. For me, this was one of the few races that I ran that I had the opportunity to actually observe him during the race. As we approached the turnaround at Sandy Hook we saw him coming back toward us, a slim figure in a red and white singlet, running confidently with not a sign of fatigue some 14 miles out, striding powerfully to the finish line. This is the lasting image of Lou burnished in my mind.