Runner Billy MacEachern completes 100th marathon — the Johnny Miles
Eighty-five thousand miles or approximately 136,795 kilometres. That’s the approximate distance Billy MacEachern has run in his lifetime. So far.
To put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of running 24 hours a day for two and half years.
Father’s Day wasn’t the event he dreamed it would be. It may, in fact, have been better.
MacEachern ran the 45th Johnny Miles Marathon on Sunday. He was officially the only registered runner.
When the outbreak of COVID-19 meant the marathon had to be cancelled, many runners were disappointed. Probably none more so than MacEachern: it was to be his 100th marathon and a full circle for the marathoner since the first one he ever ran was the Johnny Miles (26.2 miles, 42.2 kilometres). He placed 21st at that event and was first local runner.
On Sunday, MacEachern completed his 100th marathon, just two months into his 65th birthday. A small crowd of fellow runners and supporters gathered at the usual start line on Provost Street, New Glasgow, to support MacEachern on this milestone occasion. He was accompanied by David Hood, Jimmy Lays and Walter Linthorne from the start and others throughout the course.
Race director Terry Curley presented MacEachern with his bib, number 100, and started the race.
Prior to the race Curley said, “We’re happy to do whatever we could do to help Bill realize his dream of running his 100th marathon with the Johnny Miles. We had been planning to do something special for him to celebrate his 100th before COVID hit.”
Curley, who has been running with MacEachern for years said, “He’s always supported the Johnny Miles Marathon. I think Bill’s only regret is that Glen Chenell won’t be there to see it.” MacEachern is a member of the Glen ‘Big Dog’ Chenell Runners Hall of Fame.
Advocate reporter Steve Goodwin, who has covered MacEachern’s achievements for as long as he’s been running, has only accolades and praise for him.
“It is wonderful that Bill has this 100th marathon run as a goal to complete here, with or without the Johnny Miles Marathon. I have seen the long list of sub-three-hour marathon times he achieved and they were remarkably consistent. He could pace himself without hurting himself. He has not run so many marathons lately, but the polar dips, running shirtless in all but the most extreme weather conditions and the running form he has maintained are truly remarkable. As a person he is a triumph of joy over fear and it is infectious.”
MacEachern started running in 1977 when he was 22 years old and entered the Joe Earle road races. His first Johnny Miles marathon was in 1978. He really hasn’t stopped.
The affable runner laughed when asked why he started running.
“I was always quite active and then I had my appendix out, I was really quite sick. Two friends of mine heard about the Joe Earle races and five miles seemed like such a long distance at that time. We challenged each other to do the race. To this day I remember crossing the finish line at the Joe Earle and just thinking, ‘I’ve got to do this again’. One race and I was hooked completely. And here I am today.”
One hundred seems to be a magic number for the Lorne runner: He competed in the Boston Marathon in 1996, on its 100th anniversary, and placed in the top five per cent. In total, he has completed six Boston marathons.
Marathons for MacEachern are not all about coming in first or beating his previous time. “My biggest goal is to give 110 per cent on my best day, and probably 115 per cent on my worst day. I don’t worry about times as much as, ‘Did I do my best’? I believe that’s actually what keeps me going, always trying to do my best.”
MacEachern’s measure of success is simply something he feels. “I feel like it’s something that’s inside of me, to know that I went out, and even on my hardest day I probably pushed harder than on a good day. And I try to keep in perspective who I am and where I came from, you know? I’m not going to the Olympics, so I just try to be my best. And more than anything I tell people: Have fun. Because that’s what it is for most of us, recreation and fitness, and let’s not put too much emphasis on the competition part of it.”
Running, MacEachern philosophized, is almost like therapy for him and the running community is a close, tight-knit community all its own. He was heartbroken when fellow runner Vernon MacIntosh passed away recently. Dave Hood, Ryan Leil, Jim Lays and MacEachern ran the 10th annual Yarmouth “Bean There, Ran That” Marathon Event in May, held virtually. “We got a T-shirt from Vernon’s daughter and cut strips and wore them as arm bands and took Vernon with us. And when we were done, Jim Lays and I tied the strips around Vernon’s mailbox.”
And the stories he can tell — about sleeping in his vehicle before a race in a community where there were no accommodations, about simple acts of human kindness while running, and the time a hiatal hernia sidelined his running career in 2016 and almost took him out. However, a couple of months after surgery to repair the hernia he ran the Johnny Miles Marathon.
Life on the pavement is a lifestyle for Bill and his wife Andrea. He attributes his activity to his positive outlook on life.
“Active people are positive people, positive people are active and productive,” he shrugged.
MacEachern stays positive with more than running. He can frequently be found on the beach every New Year taking part in a Polar Bear Dip with daughter Kayla.
But running is his passion. “I just love to run. Any road, anywhere is OK with me.”
He said, “My favourite little saying was, ‘I want to run 100 marathons and 100,000 miles and … I’ll run to the post office get my first old-age pension cheque. And when I come out I’ll decide whether I’m going to walk or run to the bank.”