A Life Lesson . . . from 70 year old marathon runner

“The marathon is not really about the marathon, it’s about the shared struggle. And it’s not only the marathon, but the training.”  ~Bill Buffum

Between the ages of 43 and 48 I got talked into running marathons.  Now, before you brand me as an easy mark and gullible for any type of self-inflicted torture, I must tell you that I had always been a runner up to that time.  My routine for years was to run about 3 miles every other day as a way of keeping fit and mentally balanced (mostly) during the times I was growing my business and travelling extensively.  But the idea of running 42.195 kilometres (26 miles and 385 yards) was not even an impulse in my brain.

Then my older brother, Don, started running marathons and, as brothers will, my ego got the better of me as he bet he could beat me.  So, the organised executive in me kicked in, I read everything I could about marathons and training, talked to the experienced runners at my local running store and subsequently developed a plan of attack.  Our first marathon would be The Big Sur Marathon from Big Sur to Carmel (a gorgeous but challenging course).

Well, to make a long story short, we ran the Big Sur Marathon together (I beat him by several minutes) and I got hooked.  In a period of five years I ran about 20 marathons all over the  US.

“If you feel bad at 10 miles, you’re in trouble. If you feel bad at 20 miles, you’re normal. If you don’t feel bad at 26 miles, you’re abnormal.”  ~Rob de Castella

At the Twin Cities Marathon one October in Minneapolis I had a profound experience and learned a great life lesson.  At that particular race, they pinned the age group, in five-year increments, on back of the runner’s jersey.  Not certain why (some medical or insurance reason I suspect) but it was fun to run in a group and see the ages.

Anyway, at mile 21, for me and many others the most gruelling part of the race when legs are nearly dead and brain is numb, I spotted a solitary runner about 100 years ahead.  One of my strategies for running a marathon is to pick out and try to overtake other runners.  This strategy kept me focused on a short-term goal so I wouldn’t be thinking about how long the race really was.  When I got a little closer I saw his age group on his back.  70-75!

This guy was somewhere between 70 and 75 years old and he had been ahead of me for 21 miles!  I was determined to catch up and talk to him.  Slowly I closed the distance and finally we were side by side.  I was definitely impressed with this fellow.

Not knowing what to say, exactly, I opened the conversation with:  “You are my new hero.  I hope I am still walking at your age, let alone running marathons!”

He slowly looked up, smiled, and said, “One foot in front of the other, young man. One foot in front of the other!”  He put his head back down and the conversation was over.  I moved on, focusing on another runner ahead. I never saw him again as the crowd at the end was swollen with friends and family milling around.

But I can still see him shuffling along and I hear his words in my mind every day:

One foot in front of the other, young man.  One foot in front of the other! 

Not a bad motto for living a full life!

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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1 Response to A Life Lesson . . . from 70 year old marathon runner

  1. Pingback: Sedentary Executives . . . Arise | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

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