Wally Herman is one of Canada’s most prolific runners. He’s completed 730 marathons, multi-day ultras and his own one-man challenges in 99 countries. At 91, he’s retiring from running
The extraordinary running career of Wally Herman has come to an end without any fanfare. But Herman, who turned 91 on Nov. 11, is one satisfied road warrior now that his 40-year craving for marathons and ultramarathons has ceased. “I didn’t consciously say the desire is out of me. I thought maybe next year, I’ll get back at it,” said the native of Ottawa, who closed his running diary with 730 marathons and ultras in 99 countries. “But at the same time I don’t feel bad it’s done. I’ve had a good run at this and feel OK.”
When he ref lects on his racing experiences, it’s a unique travelogue filled with an eclectic mix of major marathons, solo runs and multi-day ultramarathons. Herman ran the Boston Marathon 13 times, including his second-ever marathon back in 1976. The London Marathon was one of his 25 races in 1986.
He went to the bottom of the world in 1995 for the inaugural Antarctica Ice Marathon, finishing in six hours, seven minutes, 21 seconds. Conversely, he has approached the top of the world three times at the Nunavut Midnight Sun race, running the 84-kilometre ultramarathon in 1980 (10:57:51), the 1986 marathon (4:13:42) and the 100-kilometre ultra in 1998 (19:56:51).
He used one word to describe the first Sahara Marathon in southwest Algeria: “sand.” But he survived the stone- and f lagmarked course of compact earth, sand and rock in 7:00:02.
When you’re in a country with no official marathon, you create your own. In the fall of 1997, Herman set up and ran a 42.2-kilometre course along a sea front promenade in Doha, Qatar, for his 500th marathon.
Two other solo marathons saw Herman circle a high school track in Cayman Islands and a city track in Andorra in 2000 and 2001 respectively. Pope John Paul II may have also seen Herman run his 537th marathon around St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City over and over for the full 42.2k.
When he liked a race, Herman was a faithful supporter. He has run 34 of the 42 Ottawa Marathons, and 21 Sri Chinmoy marathons and ultras. He also feasted on multi-day races, anywhere from two to six days. During the inaugural Rocky Mountain six-day race in Boulder, Colo., in 1984, he logged 560. 4 kilometres.
Herman has meticulously logged all 730 races he’s completed on a physical spreadsheet in tiny writing and brought each journey to life in his three-centimetre thick, green diary. “I was not fast. The marathon happened to be a good race for a slow guy,” offered Herman, whose best time of 3:14:56 was achieved at the 1978 National Capital Marathon.
“I got caught up in it. You’re with this crowd and you feed off them. It inspired me. You feel a sense of satisfaction.”
Running taught Herman lessons of patience, forgiveness, thankfulness and being kind to others, which further strengthened his 64-year marriage and devotion to Marie-Therese, who died May 8, 2016.
“It was a wonderful journey that helped make me a better person, especially in my relationships with others,” said Herman, who continues to move forward by walking 45 minutes each morning. Martin Cleary has been a journalist for over 40 years. He lives in Ottawa.
BELOW Herman finishes the Ocala Marathon in Ocala, Fla. on Feb. 5, 2006 in a time of 4:45:59