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The Unusual Commute of Dr. Ted Houk

The long-haired, shirtless jogger is an internist in Towson who sets an example for exercise.

We’ve seen him in the rain. We’ve seen him running in the snow. We’ve seen him running whether it’s hot or cold or dark outside.

Ted Houk, a  who runs to work from his home in Lutherville, and back again, is a sweaty, shirtless mainstay of York Road and Charles Street commuters.

He runs with a briefcase-style bag in his hand, in which he carries his scrubs, stethoscope, phone and at least a pound each of fruits and vegetables.

The bag, full, weighs 10 pounds. He does switch hands, to keep his alignment in check.

“Some of [my wife's] friends have said they felt lucky when they not only saw me, but they saw me switch hands,” said Houk, who has four children with his wife, Pamela Jenkins.

He knows he’s locally famous for his twice-daily runs. The weather is never a deterrent, because he wants to prove that exercise can always be done.

He added, with a smile, “I’m not particularly lopsided, I don’t think.”

The direct commute from the family’s Kurtz Avenue home in Lutherville, to his internal medicine practice, is a little over three miles. But Houk also sees his own patients at and .

“What I’ll do in the morning, if I run all the way down Charles Street to Stevenson Lane, and then up to the office, that’s five and a half miles,” said Houk, who feels strongly a doctor should set a good example for exercise for his patients. 

Houk said he'll sometimes use York Road if he's pressed for time. 

When he arrives sweaty, before allowing him inside, some of the nurses at GBMC will stop him and give him a sniff. Houk typically rubs himself down with rubbing alcohol, but he isn’t concerned with sweat.

“The thing is, your sweat is clean,” Houk said.

Houk graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1985, attended medical school in Seattle, and completed his residency at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. He bicycle-commuted for the first few years of his Towson solo practice, which he opened in 1992, but realized the short distance was more suited to running when he began to gain weight.

“If you’re only on the road for 14 minutes or something, it’s just not enough,” said Houk, who at age 48 weighs a long, lean 180 pounds. “There’s this critical breaking point of 20 minutes.”

If Houk couldn’t run, he would walk. If he couldn’t walk, he would bike.

“I would find a way to do something,” Houk said. “We’re not really forgiven exercise just because one joint is out of whack.”

Houk is interested in health beyond exercise. He and Jenkins maintain a garden and keep chickens in their yard at home, eat venison and fish, and go canoeing, hiking and camping. Their kids, who range in age from 13 to 21, have been on board with the .

“They like to eat fresh peas—they’ll just shell them and eat them,” said Jenkins, who was Houk’s high school sweetheart.

The pair has been married for 26 years.

Houk added, “Not a lot of raspberries make it into the house. They’ll sneak out there and clean up for a while. We might make a little tart or something, but they do have two cups while they’re out there.”

The ideal amount of fruits and vegetables to eat, according to Houk, is four and a half cups a day. He uses a blender at work to liquefy much of what he packs.

“[I’ll] slurp it down before [seeing] patients,” Houk said. “You feel full, and you can go quite a while. If you feel a little pang of hunger, it’s going to go away, and anyway, that’s also helping reduce blood pressure, at any age.

"And the vegetables over age 50 help with memory, but fruits don’t. So it’s kind of an interesting phenomenon—I keep an eye on the literature so that I’m trying to do each thing right,” he continued.

Houk hasn’t cut his hair since med school, in a celebration of being his own boss. He marches to his own drummer, unless he’s keeping time with other musicians.

Houk teaches bagpipes to the students at . He also plays bagpipes with .

As for Jenkins, she plays piano, sings and writes poetry, but she prefers to walk for her exercise. She’s on call in case her husband needs a ride, though.

It’s only happened a handful of times.

“One time he did fall, and I had my niece and three of my kids in the car,” Jenkins said. “We were up at Oregon Ridge and we were getting ready to start hiking. So we jumped in the car.”

Houk appreciates the effort it took to for Jenkins to get to him.

“So the secret is, it’s easier for me to hop home, than for her to come get me,” he joked.

Erin Cranberry March 29, 2013 at 04:49 AM
I'm so sorry to hear this. My thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Houk and his family. I look forward to seeing him well and back to doing the things he loves. Soon! This world needs you Dr. Houk!!!
Steve Nelson March 29, 2013 at 10:07 PM
Best doctor I've ever had.
joslyn armorer-edwards April 01, 2013 at 05:04 PM
Praying for a speedy recovery. Joslyn Edwards
Ray Scurr April 01, 2013 at 10:44 PM
Wishing Dr. Houk a speedy recovery!
Joann Larrimore April 02, 2013 at 02:47 AM
The best doctor I've ever had, I'm 67 but he makes he makes me feel young. No pushing drugs .

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