Humans are instinctively obsessed with living a long life, and many of our pursuits are aimed at achieving this goal. This is the story of a man who has reached the age of 94, and whose claim to fame is running. Don McNelly started his running career after a friend died of a heart attack at a young age. This spurred him, at the age of 48, to finish his very first marathon.
Only three years later, McNelly ran the Boston Marathon in under three hours. In his sixties McNelly ran roughly 20 marathons per year. He added ultramarathons in his seventies and eighties. These kinds of accomplishments are only dreamed about by your average Joe (or Jane), who may have the completion of just one marathon on their bucket list.
McNelly volunteered to be studied by the Veterans Administration lab for over two decades, starting at the age of 68. Every year he would go through a battery of tests to assess his health, which was chronicled as he ran his marathons. Over the years, McNelly suffered broken ribs from falls, went through a radical prostatectomy in his late sixties, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia in his eighties, but he never stopped running marathons. His reasoning was that he wanted to finish as many marathons as possible, and in the process, he actually managed to break several world records. In his seventies alone he completed 295 marathons and 58 ultramarathons.
Researchers did find that McNelly’s VO2 max declined significantly over the 23 years he was tested. The question remains, however, if his numbers went down because he ran fewer marathons, or if he ran fewer marathons because his VO2 max levels dropped. Researchers believe that he could have avoided such a big drop in VO2 max had he opted to run fewer full marathons, thrown in a few shorter races, and had spaced them out a bit more.
Regardless of this research, however, McNelly is a competitive guy who, at 94 years old, still goes for daily walks and is grateful to have lived such a long and happy life. In an interview with Runner’s World magazine, he said, “I want to keep going as long as I can. It seems to be working. I’ve lived longer than any relatives I know about, and I haven’t noticed any mental slippage. I’m very happy and content. I feel very fortunate.”
We have to hand it to him, he must have done something right — although running 627 marathons and 58 ultramarathons is definitely not for everyone. The secret to a long life may just be a combination of factors: a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, lots of laughter, exercise and a generally positive attitude.
Ute Mitchell is a Freelance Writer and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner located in Portland, OR, where she homeschools her kids, cooks healthy meals for her family, and hikes the forests and mountains around the Pacific Northwest. She is an avid CrossFit athlete, and loves to encourage others to live a healthy and active lifestyle