Each morning, whatever the weather and wherever he is, Ted Wragg goes for a run. The Exeter University professor of education and TES columnist is famous for his lively arguments and rigorous research, but his healthy obsession has been less well documented - until now.
Ted has been jogging every day for the past 25 years. Today, at the age of 63, and after more than 9,000 mornings on the trot, his remarkable record remains intact - despite the odd tweaked muscle that forces him to run "at about one mile an hour" from time to time. Ted's incarnation as the "running man" began in 1977, when his thrice-weekly football games were starting to take their toll, and he was looking for a way of keeping fit when his playing days were over. He happened upon a book by the US exercise guru Kenneth Cooper, the man who coined the term aerobics and kickstarted the jogging craze.
At Dr Cooper's suggestion, Ted soon settled into a daily pattern of dawn runs averaging about a mile a morning - and three to four miles at weekends. "I thought I must stick with this - it's no good just doing it for a few days. It was like a New Year resolution, and I was delighted when I got to the end of a month. I had no intention whatsoever of doing it for years. Running for a decade was amazing, and then I found that I had run the whole of the Eighties and the whole of the Nineties."
Ted even had the chance to see the guru himself when Dr Cooper visited Exeter in the Eighties to give a lecture to sports science students. The good doctor was impressed by the non-stop jogging habit and drawled:
"That's truly remarkable."
Indeed it is. Ted's long-running routine has taken him to some strange, and dangerous, places. While staying in New Orleans for an educational conference, he set off early one morning as usual. Spotting the legendary jazz address Basin Street, he took a detour. "My wife Judith was with me on this particular occasion, and when I got into the hotel and told her where I had been for my run, she said, 'Have you seen this?', and showed me the newspaper detailing how many murders had been committed on Basin Street."
When he was due to visit Northern Ireland in the late Seventies, with the Troubles at their height, his wife was concerned for his safety on the streets of Belfast so she hid his kit. Undaunted, he went running in his suit trousers, shirt and shoes "very slowly, so my suit did not get too sweaty".
He has run in dozens of countries and pounded the streets of many more cities, often incorporating sightseeing into his early morning exertions. "The most spectacular was in San Francisco, running across the Golden Gate bridge." Nothing is allowed to get in his way. Faced with a 22-hour flight to New Zealand, Ted wore his tracksuit and took advantage of a stopover in Hawaii for a quick jog around the departure lounge of Honolulu airport. While he was staying at a London hotel, the gales of October 2000 made a run outside too hazardous, so he made a few circuits of the hotel lobby instead. "People think you're mad, but who cares?"
His favourite route is a run along the cliffs at Budleigh Salterton towards Exmouth. "If it's sunny I'll do it again in the evening just because it's such a wonderful run." Ted has been a keen cricketer, is a qualified football referee and four times a week he still runs through the notoriously demanding Royal Canadian Air Force callisthenics routine. Nevertheless, he is not totally puritanical about his fitness regime. The best bit about his clifftop run is, he confesses, "ending up at the Harbour View cafe for bacon and eggs, or the fish and chip shop".
You could say sporting prowess runs in the family. His son, Chris, a sports science lecturer at Brighton University, plays football for Eastbourne United, and his daughters, Caroline and Josie, were both nationally rated discus throwers. But the strange thing is, for someone so addicted, he claims he doesn't even like running. "I only do it to keep fit. I'd much sooner play football. I hated cross-country at school, because we only ever did it when the weather was so bad that we couldn't play football. It's a good feeling when you get home after a long run and have a shower, but the rest of the time it's more of a routine thing."
A truer assessment of his obsession confronted him one morning while out running in his home town of Sheffield. "People used to gather outside the post office near my mother's flat, loads of 80 and 90-year-old blokes without a tooth in their heads, toddling off to collect their pensions. I came gasping round the corner and there was a great crowd of old fellas. As I jostled around them, one looked me up and down and, summoning up the experience of 85 years, said 'Tha' daft bugger'. If you ever wanted three words of Yorkshire wisdom to sum up the folly of running first thing every morning, there they are." Daft bugger or not, he'll be out again tomorrow.