Marathons are a numbers game. You’re racing against the clock, a personal best, and thousands of other runners. You're also racing against your biological clock. As any runner can tell you, few runs will take a toll on your body like a marathon.
Unless you're Larry Macon.
The 72-year-old just crushed his 2,000th marathon—a stupendous accomplishment made even more incredible by the fact that he ran his first 26.2-miler 20 years ago at 52. Macon has run at least one marathon in every state in America 23 times. His PR? Four hours and 15 minutes.
But for Larry, the numbers don’t really matter.
“I’m not consumed by my time,” Macon says. “I've been the last person, and, in one race, the first person. But I didn't enjoy that one particularly more. Being a lawyer, I have cases that go on for five or 10 years, so it's really wonderful to be able to finish something in five or six hours.”
His story is nothing short of spectacular, especially if you’ve always wanted to start running but never found the motivation to put one foot in front of the other.
Here’s how Macon got into marathons in the first place, some of his most memorable races, and his best pieces of advice for kicking ass well into your golden years.
The lie that sparked a running addiction
Throughout his career as a trial lawyer, Macon developed a Monday ritual. He’d meet with a few other lawyers to shoot the breeze, brag, and “lie a lot,” Macon jokes.
“One day one guy said ‘I played 36 holes of golf,’” Macon recalls. “Somebody else said ‘I swam two miles.’ Then they asked, ‘Hey Larry, what'd you do?’ I worked all weekend and hadn't done a damn thing, but I glanced over at the newspaper and said, ‘Oh, I'm training for the marathon,’ and they said, ‘Fantastic! It's in three weeks, we'll have a party for you.’”
So, Macon was forced—or, rather, encouraged—to hit the road. His first race was in his hometown of San Antonio, TX. And while he wasn’t a complete novice—he'd been running a formidable 50 miles a week—he’d never run more, especially not all at once.
“I was pretty beat at the end of it, and I thought, 'I don't think I'll ever do this again'—but it wasn't bad,” Macon recalls.
Obviously he did it again…and again. He had 12 marathons under his belt in a span of six years. Then he started running 59 marathons a year. Then 80. Then someone asked if he’d ever checked the Guinness World Record for the most marathons done in a year. That benchmark was 100—so Macon went to work.
He ran 105 marathons in 2008, which Guinness World Records recognized as the most marathons run in a year. In 2010, he one-upped his record and ran 106. In 2011, he hit 113, then 157 in 2012. The tide changed in 2013: Macon ran a mind-boggling 255 marathons, although only 239 "counted" toward his total, according to Guinness.
How Macon (literally) runs the world
It’s a huge undertaking. Aside from the sacrifices Macon makes (“I have no other hobbies”) to fit all the time it takes to train, travel, and traverse that kind of mileage, it’s also wildly expensive. You’re dropping a couple hundred bucks for marathon entries in major cities alone, then you’ve got to factor in flights, hotels, and food.
But Macon is strategic.
“My work takes me all across the country, so I try to connect and see if I can have a meeting in some city either on a Friday or Monday so I can do my first or last marathon close to where I've been working.” (His top three marathon destinations: Madison, MT; Monterey, CA; and "anywhere in Maine".)
Of course, his marathon travel schedule isn't always so seamless. He’s flown to California for a Saturday marathon, then traveled back to the East Coast for a Sunday marathon. And while he's covered plenty of miles on foot in the process, he's also racked up quite a few in the air.
“I had like six or seven million miles on American Airlines, I've got a couple million on Delta, and just 500,000 on United Airlines,” he says nonchalantly.
Periodically he’ll use the miles for vacations with his wife, Jane. (They’ve traveled to Africa six times.) But he mostly uses the miles for more marathons.
How Macon has achieved athletic longevity
“I've run at least two marathons every weekend, and I run more on holidays,” Macon says. “I ran four in Seattle over the Thanksgiving weekend. It doesn't make much difference if I run one, three, or eight in a row.”
Miraculously, Macon doesn’t suffer from shin splints, aching joints, or inflammation. He’s an anomaly in a sport that causes such wear and tear on the body. In many ways, he’s as biomechanically perfect as a runner can get, especially for his age.
“I'm blessed with some pretty good genes because I've never had an injury, my knees don't hurt, and I feel no worse when I finish the race than when I started,” he says. “Sometimes I get a little tired, but that's all.”
Macon’s only ailment is a “gigantic” bunion on his left foot. That doesn’t seem to faze him, though: Macon just cuts a hole in his trusty super-wide 6E New Balance kicks to make room for his problem toe.
I ran a marathon outside of Las Vegas when it was 115°. That was fun. I assume if I go to hell I'll be very comfortable.
He’s never had a trainer to program a regimen or perfect his form. And he doesn’t always have the luxury of plenty of sleep or a massage to recuperate his muscles. Half the time his recovery from a marathon is another marathon. So, yes, Macon is biomechanically lucky, although it's worth mentioning his nutrition is dialed in: “I'm virtually a vegan except I have a vice that I have to confess to,” Macon says. “I love chocolate milk at the end of a race.”
But among marathoners, he’s also a rare psychological find: Even though he’s infatuated with running, he’s not trying to be the fastest guy on the road or in the race. He finishes in six to seven hours, always chatting to other runners along the way.
“Did you run Boston?”
Not all of Macon's marathons have gone smoothly—particularly not during the fateful Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.
“I was in a big group at about mile 25, when all of a sudden there were 12 police officers with shotguns,” Macon says. “They weren’t pointing them at us, but we all screeched to a halt and they said ‘The race is over.’”
The officers couldn’t tell Macon and the other runners what happened—only that some buses might arrive to pick them up in three or four hours. Macon found himself stranded on the race course, unable to return to his hotel.
“I started knocking on doors, and finally a synagogue let me in and explained what happened,” Macon said.
Macon called his hotel, but he couldn’t retrieve his belongings. Police had the entire area blocked off until the next morning. He called a taxi, but he was in the “prohibited zone,” so he tried a car service that said they could pick him up if he could get a couple miles outside of the race area.
Macon ostensibly “finished” his marathon by running the miles to the car, and was transported to the airport, where he talked his way through TSA wearing a singlet and shorts carrying nothing but his ID.
Starving after having run the marathon, Macon walked into a restaurant. “I know this is unusual, but I don't have any money or credit cards. Would you feed me? I'll send you a check. They asked, ‘Did you run Boston? Well, come on in.’”
Macon eventually made his way onto the plane, still dressed in his singlet and shorts. “The flight attendants announced what happened and people started sending me drinks,” Macon says.
Eventually, after more negotiating with a taxi, Macon made it home safely. And about a week later the hotel sent him all his clothes and billfold.
Macon’s (other) most memorable marathon moments
North Dakota: Entering the danger zone
“I was the only one doing the early start—and I quickly understood why,” Macon says. “The snow was coming down, getting colder and colder, and I couldn’t see the path. Of the 400 total people that were supposed to run, there were only 18 fools who got out there and tried. At mile 17, they pulled us off the course. The wind chill was -15°. We piled on a bus and they took us to hot showers.”
Boston: Mid-race conference calls
“I was running Boston, and I had an hour-and-a-half conference call during the race,” Macon recalls. “Every once in a while they’d say, ‘Larry are you OK?’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, I'm fine,’ then put them on mute.”
Colorado: Race like a Bronco, run like a girl
“In Denver, I saw there was extreme weather, so I got a cotton hoodie of the Denver Broncos football team in the airport,” Macon says. “The next morning I got up and it was snowing like crazy, and all I had were shorts and this cotton hoodie, which was quickly soaking wet. I asked somebody if I could borrow some clothes. A guy gave me a windbreaker and a girl gave me some pink tights, which I proudly wore. They said, ‘You run like a girl.’
“During that same race, I was running with another girl and she asked, ‘Are you getting screws in your shoe?’" Macon says. “And I looked at here like, ‘Huh?’ Turns out at every 5K they had a guy with a drill, and he’d put screws in the bottom of your shoes to keep from slipping. Except as we came into the 5K watcher section, she stepped on a rock, fell, and broke her leg. I decided to keep slipping along without the screws and finished that race like a popsicle.”
Las Vegas: Reaching the melting point
“I ran one outside of Las Vegas when it was 115°,” Macon says. “That was fun. I assume if I go to hell I'll be very comfortable.”
San Antonio: Macon’s 2,000th marathon
“It was a glorious day and the people were way too nice...I counted 145 selfies,” Macon says. “There were people at every water stop cheering for me, and at the end I got a police escort. I had four motorcycles—usually they’d be chasing me, but this time they were with me—guiding me to the finish. They had a confetti canon that flew everywhere. The celebration was far more than I deserved, but it was really nice.”
For 52,400 miles covered on foot, we think it’s exactly what Macon deserves.
“Somebody made me a shirt that says, ‘2,000 down, 2,000 to go.’" Macon says. “I don't think so, but I'm going to get out there and I'm going to probably end up running 10 to 20 marathons this month, so I haven't quit.”