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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 15, 2016 4 years ago

The judge rules

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Michael McHugh, the chief judge for the 20th Judicial Circuit in Fort Myers, ran his first marathon so fast last year he qualified for the Boston Marathon.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Name: Michael McHugh

Title: Chief Judge, 20th Judicial Circuit, Fort Myers

Age: 48

Passion: Running

Early start: McHugh was a competitive cross-country and track runner in high school and college, but he never raced again until he joined his two sons' high school team training runs at 5 a.m. three years ago. The kids now call him “Big Mike.”

Fastest man: McHugh had always stayed in shape after college, but he says he didn't realize how fast he could still run until he entered his first 5K race in 2013 and came in first place out of 452 runners with a blazing-fast time of 18 minutes, 43 seconds. “I never expected it,” he chuckles. Since then, he's cut that time for that distance by two minutes for a personal record of 16 minutes, 40 seconds.

First marathon: McHugh entered his first marathon last year and finished second in his age group in two hours, 54 minutes. He maintained a six-minute mile pace throughout the 26.2-mile marathon in Eugene, Ore., fast enough for him to qualify for the elite Boston Marathon. To get a sense of his speed, consider the race's average finishing time was four hours, eight minutes.

Early runs: McHugh fits his weekday runs early in the morning before the sun rises. “Some days it's late at night,” says McHugh, who averages 50 to 60 miles a week despite his demanding job. He will run long distances on Sunday morning before anyone in his house wakes up. Fortunately, McHugh says he only needs five to six hours of sleep at night.

Lone runner: When he's not running with his sons' high school team, McHugh runs alone. “It's an opportunity to be introspective,” he says. Sometimes a run clears up a thorny legal issue he might face in court or it relieves stress. “It's a great place to think about everything,” he says. “It keeps you sane and affable.” Besides, he says, “Once you become a judge you get no new friends.”

Running family: “My dad ran marathons into his 70s,” says McHugh, whose father died five years ago. McHugh keeps his father's Runner's World running logs in his office and leafs through them to glean insights into marathon training.
Running gadgets: McHugh loves his Garmin 920 watch that tracks his distance and speed, even when he's swimming and biking. “It automatically downloads to my phone so I can see all my splits,” McHugh says. He listens to '80s tunes like Billy Idol, The Police and The Cure on an iPod with wireless headphones. McHugh wears Zensah compression sleeves on his calves, though he was initially wary about their benefit.

Speedy: McHugh loves speed. “You always want to be first,” he says. Even during training runs, McHugh finds it difficult to hold back. “It's hard to go out and run easy,” he concedes. “By nature I'm a competitive person.”

How he fuels: Breakfast is Greek yogurt with blueberries and walnuts or raisin bran with bananas. Lunch is usually a salad in the office and dinner is chicken with vegetables. He takes a vitamin C pill in the morning and snacks on Kind bars during the day. “If I want ice cream, I'll eat ice cream,” McHugh says. One weakness: Coke Slurpees. On longer runs and races, McHugh drinks water and slurps down gels made by Gu. His favorite gel flavors are salted caramel and watermelon.

Race calendar: McHugh says he avoids racing during the hot summer months. He's aiming for a winter marathon, either the Run with Donna in Jacksonville or the A1A Marathon in Fort Lauderdale. “I can't do well if it's 80 degrees and 75% humidity,” he says. His goal is to break the 2 hours, 50-minute mark and run the Boston Marathon in two years after he turns 50.

Injury management: McHugh says he has had to cut back on his miles lately because of a tear in his lower calf, which required physical therapy. He only takes the occasional Advil to relieve soreness. “I started riding and rowing,” McHugh says. “Now I'm going to train for a triathlon.”

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss

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