The transformative powers of running apply at any age.

Last April, I went to the Yakima River Canyon Marathon, a point-to-point race from Ellensburg to Selah, Washington. I was there to help 77-year-old Bob Dolphin celebrate the completion of his 400th marathon.

You read that right. A 77-year-old doing his 400th marathon, with Yakima being the 24th marathon Bob had run in the past 12 months. Perhaps even more amazing is that Bob didn’t run his first marathon until he was in his mid-50s.

Joining me in the celebration were members of the 50 States and DC Marathon Club, the 100-Marathon Club, the Marathon Maniacs, and Bob’s local running friends from the Hard Core Runners Club – clearly not your average group of midpackers. To put this particular gathering into perspective, at one table at the pasta party there were six men who had run a combined total of almost 2,000 marathons. You read that right, too. One table. Six men. Nearly 2,000 marathons.

Even though I’ve run 30 to 40 marathons, I didn’t really fit in with the celebrants. And these folks don’t just run marathons either. As often as not, they hit the lap button on their watches at 26.2 miles and continue on to complete 50-, 60-, or 100-mile distances – every few weeks. No, these men and women are at the far edges of our sport. And they all came to honor Bob for the way he’s lived his life both on and off the roads.

A high school dropout turned Marine officer, Bob has never let age or hardship deter him from anything. The same week his daughter graduated from high school, Bob received his college diploma after years of part-time study while working and raising his family. Still eager to learn, Bob ultimately earned a Ph.D. in entomology.

As with his studies, Bob couldn’t get enough of running once he got started. Like many adult-onset athletes, he initially viewed running simply as something to try. But then he found he could continue to redefine himself through running. For Bob, and I’d bet for many of his multimarathoning compatriots as well, every mile answered questions about courage, strength, hopes, and limits, but others remained that could only be answered with another mile, and ultimately, another marathon. Even with 399 marathons under his belt, Bob still had more answers to run down.

This became clear when I asked Bob if he thought he’d take some time off to savor his 400th marathon. “No,” he said. “I’ll probably run number 401 next weekend.” He went on to explain that he was hoping to run about 20 marathons per year so that he could run his 500th on this course again in 2012.

If he does, I hope I’m there. I hope I’m there to see him run into the arms of his wife, Lenore (who’s been at the finish line of every one of Bob’s races). And if I am, I’ll know full well that 500, like 400, will be a milepost, not a destination.

Waddle on, Bob.

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