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Chasing the 1,000 Race Milestone

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Chasing the 1,000 Race Milestone

Marion Childress is well on his way to running 1,000 races:

348 5Ks

172 10Ks

36 Half Marathons

31 Marathons

306 Other Distances

It all adds up to 893 total races so far, for exactly 4,811.7 miles.

The random distances include everything from double marathons to oddball events such as 8k or 12k or 10 milers.

Childress, 65, of Roanoke, Virginia, has logged miles and races for decades. He keeps a giant binder with all the details to prove it.

He started running while serving in the Army in the early 1980s and has kept at it ever since, even after beating cancer. He retired after 23 years of service and has logged 20 years with the Department of Veterans Affairs, where he still works.

Childress ran his first official race—the 101st Airborne 10 Miler in Fort Campbell, Kentucky—in October 1983. The goal to reach 1,000 races occurred to him a lot later.

“It was three or four years ago at number 650," he said. “I thought, 'I can reach 1,000.'"

While the 1,000-race mark isn't unusual for professional runners, it can be a challenge for amateurs.

“Finishing 1,000 is very impressive," said Bart Yasso, the chief running officer of Runner's World magazine and a member of the Running USA Hall of Champions. “It is very rare to find a runner that has been so consistent."

Childress runs 35 to 45 races per year. That's almost one every weekend, and occasionally two in the same week. That tally doesn't include fun runs or casual events without official timing.

“The good thing is that I don't need to train," Childress said, “because I am always running."

Childress has company now, too. He started a running club, C&C Runners, which touts more than 600 members, including Yasso. They look to Childress as an inspiration in the running “movement," as Childress calls it—the large number of people participating in the sport. According to Running USA, there were nearly 17 million road race finishers in 2016.

Michelle Whittaker, a member of the running club, said Childress is “very supportive.

"Marion brings people in to the group no matter their running ability," she continued. "Walkers, fast runners and slow runners. Because of Marion I have the best running family around."

That family extends to hundreds of runners who say Childress inspires them to keep running. One of them, Jimmy Moore, spent hours creating an elaborate pencil sketch of Childress that he presented to him at a pub run. Hundreds of others flock to races all over the East Coast wearing C&C logos on their gear. Childress has also attended multiple weddings for relationships that kicked off thanks to running.

He says seeing so many people run inspires him.

“Running is just a passion," he said. “The camaraderie and relationships you get out of it are like no other."

Yasso, who first met Childress at a race in 2013, said that his feat of finishing so many races is particularly unique because it wasn't a solitary pursuit.

"What I love about Marion's milestone is he accomplished this when helping lots of other runners reach their goals," he said.

In fact, Childress loves to tell stories about other people running just as much as he likes to finish races. Those stories of the personal triumphs of others “sum up a major reason why I keep going," he said.

In his earlier days, Childress was among the strongest runners—often medaling in his age group—and always started at the front of the pack. In 2012, however, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Now he records post-cancer personal bests because his body just isn't quite the same.

“I have new goals that I shoot for each year," he said, explaining that he constantly aims for new personal records. “That's my incentive to stay fast."

Marathons remain his favorite. He is a member of Marathon Maniacs, which requires a minimum of running two marathons in 16 days or three marathons in 90 days to qualify (you only have to meet the criteria for membership once).

“The marathon comes with a special challenge," Childress said. “Either you are prepared or not. As a runner, mentally and physically, you have to reach down deep."

To balance his race schedule with work and family life — Childress and his wife Irene have two children, five grandchildren, and have periodically hosted foster children — he primarily sticks to regional races. His favorites include his hometown race in April, the Blue Ridge Marathon, which is actually a sanctioned double marathon as runners complete the course twice in a row, and is known as "America's Toughest Road Marathon." For many, it's a bucket-list race because of the significant elevation change on the course and because it is the only marathon along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

He also especially loves the Richmond, Virginia, Marathon in November. At that 2017 event, Yasso was at the finish line to present Childress with his medal.

Childress also picks races that support causes he believes in, like cancer research.

“Anyone who has fought cancer and won the battle can do anything they set their minds to," Whittaker said. Finishing so many races "is special for him, and us that support him, because he reached a goal that most do not."

Childress expects to hit 1,000 races within the next four years. Then what?

“I hope to pick a huge race for Number 1,000," he said, noting that he has no plans to stop running or sharing his love of the sport. “I hope it will be Blue Ridge."

He knows for sure it will be one thing – fun.

Article by: Carrie Cousins

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