Jersey City native James Leitz didn’t start running to become the leading racer in his age bracket in the state of New Jersey. He merely wanted to lose some weight.
“I started running when I was 63,” he said. “I’m 70 now.”
A native of Jersey City Heights, Leitz used to live near the Croxton rail yards in Jersey City, which is one of the regions for the CSX rail line. He moved to Bayonne in 1998 just prior to retiring.
“I lived in Jersey City Heights for about 50 years,” he said.
A retired railroad worker from CSX, Leitz was looking for a way to keep fit and decided to try distance running. The fact that he began to win races surprised even him.
“I started out as a recreational jogger.” -- James Leitz
He learned what he needed to do to get better times at these meets, and he talked to other runners for tips.
“I learned about what shoes to wear, and what kind of diet I should be on,” he said. “I began eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and cutting back on meat.”
Then he began to win.
“I’m winning races very late in life,” he said.
For the last five years, he has been one of the top finishers in the 65 to 69 age bracket in various races, and now, turning 70, he continues to run and to compete. He has even competed and won national championships.
He said he runs about five times a week and competes nearly every weekend in season – which is usually from March to the end of June, and from September to the end of December.
“On other months, I try to keep in condition,” he said. “Even when I’m not racing, I’m training to keep in tip-top shape.”
He works out routinely three or four times a week at the former YMCA and likes the idea that he is an accomplished senior athlete.
Sporting news raves about his times, calling his finishes “blistering,” and making note that he generally finishes in front.
“Each year, I get better,” he said.
His races have included everything from five kilometers to 20-kilometer runs, and he has met many of his own goals in each, managing to finish in times that rival men decades younger.
These are not short runs either, but half marathons and 5K races that require endurance.
Although he races throughout New Jersey, where he routinely finishes top in the field, he also travels as far as Florida and elsewhere and often participates in events in New York.
Over the last several months, he has ranked in his age group among the top five runners in a race. In September, he was ranked first, beating out fellow Bayonne resident Roland Ratmeyer, 72, who was ranked fifth. Since then, he has been ranked either first or second.
Starting competitive running in 2005, he has ran more than 183 races, finishing first in the 65-to-69 age group in 136, second in 34, and third in seven of those races.
Since turning 70 in mid-2009, he has ran in 36 races and finished first 34 times.
He has won state championships for long distance running from 2004 through 2009, and won national awards in races in New York, Florida, and Maine, finishing first for his age category in Saratoga Springs in 2005.