While at a used book store, I came across a book titled Young at Heart: The Story of Johnny Kelley, Boston’s Marathon Man. I’m surprised I never heard of this great runner, but apparently he’s very famous in the Boston area and there is even statue of him along the Boston Marathon course. I think his most amazing accomplishment was his longevity. Johnny Kelley ran 61 Boston Marathons into his mid-80s, having won two and placing 2nd seven times in the 1930s to 1940s. He was also ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
The book provides an interesting background of the early years of the Boston Marathon and goes in depth on many of the characters and rivalries during the early 20th century, such as Les Pawson, Tarzan Brown, Stylianos Kyriakides, Pat Dengis and Gerard Cote. These were blue collar athletes who ran for the pure joy of running who had full time jobs and were struggling to make ends meet. But Johnny seems to stand out among them given his incredible longevity and spirit.
Johnny had a remarkable life, growing up in a large Irish Catholic family, but never having kids of his own. He married a few times, served in WWII, had a long running career, worked as a maintenance man most of his life, ran in the Berlin Olympics, became an accomplished painter, and passed away at the age of 97. It was a life lived to the fullest.
During all his decades of running, he had very few injuries and never been in a hospital. He is quoted as saying, “Train sane. That’s my motto. All these runners that do 120 miles a week, they eventually run into trouble. Jeepers. They run every day. I believe if you’re tired you should take a day off.” I couldn’t agree with him more. Even when he was winning Boston Marathons, he was running no more than 50 to 60 miles a week.
So if you are looking for a good history book on the marathon along with an inspirational life story, I highly recommend this book.