Don McNelly, known worldwide for powering through marathon runs and running up record totals into his 70s and 80s, died Sunday at age 96.
A retired paper company executive from upstate New York, McNelly didn’t start running marathons until he was nearly 50 after a close friend died of a heart attack. He ran his first marathon in Boston in 1969. Forty years later, he had completed 744 of them, running 26.2-mile races in all 50 states, every Canadian province and on every continent, including Antarctica.
McNelly was 86 in 2006 when he completed his 700th marathon, eventually reaching his goal with marathon No. 744, the same number of his Navy destroyer in the Pacific during World War II. His race total included 117 ultra-marathons, races that are longer than the traditional marathon distance.
“I’m 90 and I feel like I’m 50, 60 tops,” he told The Associated Press in November 2010, a week after he had to pull out of a marathon in Pennsylvania after making it about midway through the race. “I’m a lucky, lucky, lucky guy.”