For any individual, running 25 marathons in a year is quite a feat.
But when the runner is 78 years old, it’s even more of an accomplishment.
Mel Preedy has been tackling marathons with gusto since age 50, and 28 years later, he shows no signs of slowing down. He has racked up 402 marathon finishes so far, and aims to run a marathon at age 100.
Of course, Preedy doesn’t take anything for granted.
“A lot of people don’t make it to their goal, and I might not either,” he mused over a caramel macchiato at Starbucks on a recent afternoon. “But I’m sure going to try.”
Preedy, a Ravensdale resident, has become a beloved and recognized face at marathon courses around the Pacific Northwest. He’s a member of the Marathon Maniacs, a group whose members rack up long-distance races, and trains with the Cedar River Runners. His fellow runners know Preedy for his trademark black dress socks that he pairs with his running shoes. In fact, at his 300th marathon, in Olympia, his entire team waited for him at the finish, all clad in black socks. They presented him with an old bowling trophy that had been turned into an award especially for him.
“They take good care of me,” Preedy said.
Preedy’s obsession with marathons dates back 28 years. With his 50th birthday approaching, Preedy heard about Seattle hosting its first spring marathon. Though he’d never completed a race longer than a 10K, Preedy thought a marathon would be the perfect midlife challenge. He figured he would tackle one 18-mile training run, and with that under his belt, give the whole race a shot.
Preedy’s wife, Sonia, first realized his new obsession during his birthday party at the Everett Yacht Club. Many of the guests wanted to dance all night long, but Preedy headed home to bed, figuring he needed to get up for a training run the next morning. Sonia had never seen her husband pass up an all-night party.
“I was totally shocked,” Sonia said. “I’d never been able to talk him out of not staying up all night.”
That year, the Seattle Marathon finished at the Kingdome. Preedy recalls reaching the home stretch of Royal Brougham Way and feeling “just plain tuckered out.” He saw a mark on the pavement that read “Mile 26” and stopped running. It wasn’t until a spectator yelled, “You can do it! Keep going!” that Preedy realized a marathon is actually 26.2 miles, and he still needed to run to the finish line.
Preedy has completed the Seattle Marathon every year since. In addition, he has steadily increased the number of marathons he enters each year. He ran an average of nine marathons annually until 1995, when he retired from his job as an electronic technician for Boeing. In 1996, he filled his new free time with 25 marathons.
“I tell people who are running their first marathon, ‘Be careful,’” Preedy said. “It’s addictive.”
Even though Preedy no longer commutes to Boeing each day, training doesn’t always come easy. The Preedys own a tree farm, meaning Preedy is often climbing 30-foot ladders to remove tree limbs. He is so tired by the end of the day, he often doesn’t feel like running.
No matter. Preedy runs so many races, he hardly needs to put in ample additional miles. He plans to run a marathon in every state in the country. Once he tackles Wyoming, he’ll have knocked off every state west of the Rocky Mountains (including Hawaii) save for Alaska, which he plans to do.
Locally, he returns to races again and again. Preedy especially loves the Yakima River Canyon Marathon, as the pine trees and cheat grass remind him of his youth in Eastern Washington. He and Sonia, who grew up in Yakima, always make a long weekend of the race. Sonia supports him from the sidelines but doesn’t care to join him, telling him, “This is your thing.”
Preedy’s explanation for his marathon addiction is simple. “They make me feel good,” he said.
Of course, the euphoria of the finish line doesn’t entirely eliminate the suffering that takes place on the course. Preedy acknowledged that there are some “very unpleasant moments” during a marathon. He recalled a fellow senior runner, Lary Webster, always saying, “Mel looks pretty bad out there during the run, but he always perks right up after he finishes.”
“That’s about right,” Preedy agreed with a grin.
Though Preedy has no thoughts of giving up marathons as he grows older, aging does take a toll. Based on his doctor’s advice, he is considering getting a pacemaker to regulate his heart. He sees a chiropractor and physical therapist regularly for back pain and other aches.
Preedy has gotten slower as well. Twenty years ago, he broke three hours. These days, he is more likely to run a six-hour marathon. Preedy admitted he feels bad at times that the volunteers have to wait so long for him to come through.
“It’s really my own fault that I’m in such poor shape,” Preedy said with typical humility. “I should be running faster.”
After all, for Preedy, age is no reason to stop moving.
“I tell folks, ‘You are never to old to start running,’” Preedy said.