Dustin Hoffman played the title role in the 1976 movie, “Marathon Man,” but if you shot a remake today in Copiah County, Jerry Keywood would win the part hands down. That’s because the 52-year-old Hazlehurst native has completed a total of 62 marathons sine running his first one 16 years ago.
Keywood’s Copiah County roots run deep. He is the youngest of four children born to Betty Keywood and the late Joe Keywood of Hazlehurst. Older brothers include Bubba Keywood of Atlanta and Steve Keywood of Paris, Texas. His only sister is Betty Jo Johnson of Thibodeaux, Louisiana. He is married to the former Amy Dugger of Jackson. Their only child, Jay, and his wife Sarah are students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
In 1977 Jerry graduated from Copiah Academy, where he played baseball and basketball. He earned a business degree at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1982 and got a job in sales with Sanderson Farms in 1984.
“It was a highly stressful job,” he says, “and I started running in 1985 to relieve stress. At first I did mainly trail-running and cycling. I ran my first 5K race (3.1 miles) in Hazlehurst in 1990, but didn’t care much about competing.”
In 1995, Jerry participated in the 5K run at the Labor Day Festival in Crystal Springs. “Jay was eight,” he recalls, “and we did it together. Both of us fell in love with running, and Amy got involved later.”
Boston or Bust
That year marked the 100th anniversary of the Boston Marathon. After reading an article about it in “Runner’s World,” Keywood started wondering, “What would I have to do to qualify for the Boston Marathon?” He discovered he would have to run a marathon in 3:15 in order to be eligible in his age group.
Jerry set that as his goal and began training seriously. He began competing in local road races with the Leukemia Society Team in Training and ran his first marathon at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on the last Sunday of October, 1996.
Keywood ran his first Boston Marathon in 1998. Since then, he’s participated in two more: 1999 and 2003. His times in subsequent marathons have qualified him for Boston every year since, and he hopes to participate in next year’s race. Other out-of-state marathons have been in cities like Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Maui, and Birmingham.
“I prefer the smaller ones,” he says. “That’s just me. I guess it’s because I train in rural areas by myself.” In addition to the 62 marathons, he’s run nearly 300 5K and 10K races, along with 25-30 triathlons – and even one ultra-marathon: the Carl Touchstone 50K Run (31.5 miles) in Laurel.
According to Keywood, a typical triathlon in Mississippi includes a ½ mile swim, a 25-mile bike ride, and a 5-mile run.
“I ran my first triathlon in 1998,” he recalls. “I usually run a couple each year. It gives you something to do in the summer and helps you combat the heat. Plus it works different muscle groups.”
In 2008, Jerry showed how much he loves running by undergoing surgery to rebuild his Achilles tendon. “It (the surgery) sidelined me from running marathons for a year,” he notes. Without the surgery, his long distance running career would have likely been over.
“Billye Butler and Jimmy Moore were two of my biggest running inspirations,” Keywood declares. “They were amazingly supportive of me.”
Now he wants to offer the same encouragement to other aspiring runners. He also wants to complete 100 marathons. “It’s just something I want to do,” he says.
“Don’t feel like you can run a marathon from the start,” he advises beginners. “You have to be persistent and consistent. I thank God that He’s given me the desire to run. You have to have that desire in order to succeed. I give Him all the glory. He’s given me so much that I know could be taken away at any time.”
Fitness is his
Keywood’s passion for fitness has opened new opportunities in business. After working at Sanderson Farms for 9 years, he moved to Hudson Foods in Hope, Arkansas, where he worked for 3 years. He moved back to Copiah County in 1995 and took a job at Landmark Foods with Johnny Johnson, Dwight Riddle, and the late Sonny Barlow, a position he held for 12 years.
Ten years ago, he and Amy opened the gym in Hazlehurst, and then went full-time in 2006 when they formed Key Habits, Inc. and opened the gym in Crystal Springs. Amy serves as a dietician and diabetes educator and operates a diabetic supply company along with the gym in Hazlehurst. She’s also her husband’s running partner, having completed 20 marathons, including Boston twice.
Meanwhile, Jerry manages the gym in Crystal Springs. More than that, he is also a tremendous advocate for physical fitness, serving as a motivator, encourager, and advisor to many of the patrons who exercise there.
“It’s never too late to start,” he says. “Don’t feel like you have to run marathons to be successful. If you had to pick one form of exercise, I would suggest a 30-minute walk five times a week. It would do wonders for your blood sugar, your metabolism, and your blood pressure.”
This might be a good time to get started. The upcoming Tomato Festival 5K Run/Walk in Crystal Springs on June 30 and the July 4 Four-Miler in Hazlehurst will each offer a one-mile Fun Run/Walk. For more information, contact Jerry Keywood – if you can catch him.