Jim Flanagan, one of the fastest 74-year-olds in America, leaves his house in Haddonfield at 5:05 a.m. every Tuesday.

On Jan. 17, for instance, he bundled in layers, with a fluorescent green jacket on top, and an even-greener super-fluorescent safety belt over that. Jim picked up a flashlight, and set off into the darkness, footsteps as rhythmic as a metronome.

A few blocks later, he picked up the first member of "Jim's Angels." That's what a dozen women - his harem of harriers - call themselves. They even made T-shirts.

He shined his flashlight into an angel's dining-room window, she flicked the light switch to indicate she'd seen him, and out she came.

Jim headed down Kings Highway toward the Haddonfield Memorial High School track, and three more angels fell into line. Soon, he would have them all breathing very hard - but not yet.

After running 11/2 miles from his home, his warmup, Jim arrived at the track, his destination. Ten angels were there and ready.

Speed work.

800-meter repeats.

For five years now, week in, week out, Jim has led Tuesday workouts on the track at 5:30 a.m. He has helped these women lower their marathon times and avoid injury. He inspires them with his own dedication and durability, but his warmth and wisdom are what keep them coming back.

Jim made the sound of a starting gun. "Clish."

And they were off.

Great for any age

Jim Flanagan ran a 4-minute, 50-second mile in high school but trained at most 10 miles a week. That's what you did at Camden Catholic in 1953.

Then he joined the Air Force, went to college, and had a long career with RCA. He never stopped running, but never did more than 10 miles a week.

At age 48, he had eaten too many corporate lunches and weighed 175 pounds.

So he decided to run more, and joined the South Jersey Athletic Club, one of 10 Philadelphia-area running clubs.

"When they started talking about 5, 8, 15, 20, and 26 miles, I couldn't believe they were actually running those distances," Jim said. "I soon realized it didn't take long with a plan."

Jim is now one of the premiere age-group runners in America, training for his 21st Boston Marathon in April and his 40th marathon overall. He's won his age group at the Philadelphia Marathon and the Philadelphia Distance Run and finished as high as fourth in his age group in Boston.

"Jim is not just a great runner for his age. He is a great runner for any age," said Brandon Hamilton, president of the South Jersey Athletic Club. "He usually runs about 3 hours, 45 minutes for a marathon - which is incredible, considering he's 74 years old."

He also weighs 150 pounds, his high school weight.

Running with former college runners and coaches over the years, Jim learned about speed work on the track and tempo runs. He learned if you run hard every day, injury is guaranteed. If you run the same pace every day, times will barely improve.

He also learned moderation. Jim runs five days a week and never more than 40 miles a week. When he's preparing for a marathon, he'll work up to a 20-mile Sunday run - but then only 20 miles the rest of the week.

On long runs every Sunday, with members of the South Jersey Athletic Club, he is a firm believer the pace should be conversational. Perhaps to make his point, or just because he is happy, he will often break into show tunes.

If you hear a runner near the Cooper River Boathouse singing, "Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain," it's just Jim, moving at a steady clip, maybe an 8-minute, 30-second mile - not exactly sweepin', but smilin'.

Biggest inspiration

Five years ago, his daughter in Haddonfield asked him if she could offer a training session with Jim Flanagan as a prize to be auctioned at a benefit. He agreed.

Somebody paid $75, but didn't call. A year went by. One night, finally, the phone rang. It was Amy Weiner.

"Are you Jim Flanagan?" she asked.

"Yes."

"I own you."

Weiner had run two marathons but wanted to improve. Jim was doing Tuesday track workouts at 5:30 a.m. - he had retired but kept his routine - and invited her to join him.

"When I met Jim," said Amy, 45, the original angel, "he showed me how you can improve your time even though you're not really killing yourself. It really was eye-opening - to see I can put in some work, but not have to run seven days a week and run really hard. His knowledge and encouragement really kept me going."

Word spread. More women came.

Some are Type A.

"He's brought me off the edge if I had a race that wasn't so good," said Lisa Huber, 51, one of the earliest angels. "He's really supportive of me. He's my biggest inspiration."

Men are allowed. This summer, a meteorologist, Walt Drag, 61, joined. On running with all women, he said: "It's obviously a little extra adrenaline."

Ginger Ropka, 44, who made the Jim's Angels T-shirts, said, "Occasionally, we have had men come out for short steady periods, but they always fade."

In November, Ginger baked Jim a birthday cake (banana nut, no frosting - runners can be obsessive), and they sang to him in the dark.

An espirit de corps has truly emerged among Jim's Angels. They are a band of sisters. Few sleep in. "I sometimes worry about not showing up," Ginger said, "and Jim being alone."

For the record, they run in snow, but when the track is icy, they move to nearby Hopkins Avenue, which the borough plows promptly, and do speed work in the street.

Ropka noted that Jim's wife, MaryAnne, to whom he will be married 50 years in October, is a retired nurse who worked at 12 Boston Marathons and for years staffed an emergency treatment station between miles 7 and 8 on the Broad Street Run.

"Running addictions can drive a wedge into any marriage," Ginger said. "So your spouse has to either tolerate it or take it up in some way or another. MaryAnne is the greatest, and she gets involved by helping out."

'As long as I can'

On the track, the group runs 800 meters - hard enough to push the body at a faster pace but not a sprint.

Runners will spread out, running at their own pace. Often they will break into groups. Jim will run with one group, then another.

Between each 800, they jog an easy lap.

This is social but serious. They run, sweat, strip off layers, run again.

By 6:10 a.m. on Jan. 17, most were done.

Jim didn't know how many 800s he'd run. He doesn't count. He doesn't care.

He loves the people, the friendships, and understands that bad things happen when you stop moving. His granddaughter in Massachusetts, who goes to every Boston Marathon, asked him last April, "How long are you going to keep doing this?"

"As long as I can," he replied.

After the track workout, Jim ran home for his cooldown, with Amy Weiner and Toni Razzi Cummins, 33, who ran at La Salle and whom Jim invited out two years ago.

"Got your light?" Amy asked him. "You didn't have your glasses this morning, did you?

"I didn't wear my glasses this morning," Jim replied.

"Just checking," she said.

Off into darkness they disappeared, Jim and his angels.

Contact staff writer Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or mvitez@phillynews.com or on Twitter @michaelvitez.