It would be too simple, too easy really, to notice that a guy who was born in an iron lung to a mother immobilized by polio never stops running. His mom may have had something to do with his passion for marathons "” to date more than 80 "” but Joe Hale says it's more complicated.

Now chief communications officer of Cinergy and president of the company's foundation, he was teaching school during the 1970s at an Air Force base in Germany. "I was giving my first son a bottle and dropped a cigarette ash on him. Horrible. It wasn't hot, but still ... " An indelible image. He quit smoking and started running. At first, just around the block. One foot after the other. Slogging. Then twice around the block. Then, well, considerably more.

Back home in Indiana, he entered a minimarathon, running 13.1 miles. "I felt a little proud of myself." So he kept running, bringing his size 10 running shoes to Cincinnati after the merger in 1994 of Indiana's PSI Energy and CG&E, occasionally asking himself, "Why in the hell am I doing this?" That question, he says, usually comes in a marathon between miles 16 and 22. The rest of the time he knows precisely why.

First, the obvious. It's just plain good for a body to keep moving. Feels good, too, sometimes. He writes in his journal: "How do you describe the incredible experience of being eight miles into a 12-mile run on a cool, crisp, sunny April morning and seeing a big clump of lilacs, stopping and just burying your face in the dew-soaked blossoms, just breathing that clean smell for a few minutes? That has to be one of the finer moments life has to offer."

At 54, he looks 40-ish, trim in his well-cut dark suit. His white shirt is crisp, corporate. But the magenta tie is not exactly boardroom issue. And, indeed, his interests range toward the arts, sitting on boards for the Ohio Arts Council and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. "Running gives me energy, more focus during the day," he says. Good thing. He co-chaired the wildly successful Big Pig Gig public art project and the Contemporary Arts Center's $37 million capital campaign. Right now, he and his wife of 32 years, Linda, are co-chairing the $10 million campaign for the Carl Lindner Family YMCA in downtown Cincinnati and will be presented the Contemporary Arts Center's Visionary Award, honoring "their outstanding commitment to both the arts and the City of Cincinnati" in April.

That's right about the time he'll be halfway through his most ambitious running project to date "” seven marathons in seven months on seven continents, raising $100,000 for charity. That's nearly 200 miles, not counting the seven or eight miles he runs every day. And the terrain will be more brutal than the gentle hills of Cincinnati with its occasional potholes.

He'll begin in January, warming up with the Miami marathon, followed by an abrupt cool-down in February, running on ice in Antarctica. Then off to Argentina, Rotterdam, and the Great Wall of China. In Kenya, he'll be on a game preserve, where he guesses "you might run a little faster, depending on what's behind you." Brisbane, Australia, will cap off his "marathon project." Oh, and that's not counting the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon on May 1, another 26.2 official miles he'll put on his "no particular brand running shoes, whatever's cheapest."

The money he plans to raise on his global dash, not incidentally, will go to the March of Dimes, which today has aimed its formidable resources at the goal of healthy babies. Research money goes to things such as birth defects, genetic defects, and low birth weight. But, of course, Pres-ident Franklin Roosevelt founded the agency in 1938 to fight polio, creating a partnership of volunteers and researchers. Joe Hale, whose mother's life was touched by their work, is chair of the organization's National Office of Volunteers.

But he doesn't do everything from the top of the world or from the top of the Atrium II building on Fourth Street. When he runs at dawn or, during the gray months, before dawn, it's his time, he says, to think, to plan, and, maybe, a little, to decide what kind of person he will be the rest of the day.

The kind of person who once showed up with a tape measure to plot out a new kitchen for some women running an informal after-school program in the West End. The kind of person who spent an afternoon rustling up duffle bags after he heard about some kids traveling from abusive homes to foster care with their possessions in garbage bags.

Relaxed in his sleek, somewhat sterile corner office, warmed a bit by photos of his family "” he and Linda have three kids "” and the splendid view southeast to his Mount Adams home, he dons a pair of rimless reading glasses and flips through his journal, looking for a passage he thinks might explain his passion for the run. He reads:

"I hope the kids will always work to keep a sense of adventure in their lives, do things and go places that take them a little out of their comfort zone. It's easy to go to a resort and lie in the sun, and it's necessary occasionally, but what makes life interesting and creates the best stories and memories is experiencing the unknown, going where you've never been before, doing something new that challenges you."

It's that complicated.

And that simple.