For the 10 days leading up to Saturday’s Baltimore Running Festival, Bob Gralley hasn’t added to his ledger. The 93-year-old has run 42 marathons, and Saturday will mark his 19th half marathon, and before most of them, he’s taken a week-and-a-half reprieve ahead of race day.
It’s a stark change from Gralley’s regular routine, where even at his age he manages to run five days a week, covering about 20 miles total. And in that ledger, he’s tracked every mile. Saturday, he’ll add another 13.1 to the 58,000 he’s already collected.
He once aspired to run twice the Earth’s circumference, a mark of 49,802 he hustled past. Gralley’s goal now? Just keep adding to the ledger.
"My main goal is to keep going, keep living," Gralley said before unleashing a hearty laugh. "At 93, every day is great, but my goal is to do the half marathon this year and hopefully the next year.”
Gralley will run in Saturday’s half marathon alongside his sons, Craig and Kevin, and granddaughter, Sara Petry, as the oldest of the projected 20,000 runners who will participate in the Baltimore Running Festival, a title he’s held almost every year he’s run in it. Although Gralley will be far from the pace he had when he set a personal best of 3:04:26 in both the New York and Boston marathons in 1982 as a 56-year-old, he and his family will all cross the finish line together.
“I know at their tender ages, compared to mine, that is, they could do better, but they don’t want to,” Gralley said. “We stay together as a running family.”
And Gralley, of course, is the patriarch of it. He didn’t start running until his mid-40s, when he decided badminton and swimming weren’t doing enough to shed a few extra pounds he had gained.
Gralley, who was on the University of Maryland basketball team in 1943 before joining the Navy, began to make his way around Westport, Connecticut, on foot at a time running wasn’t a popular activity.
“He was a singleton,” remembered Craig, who was a teenager at the time. “He was out there when nobody else was running, and then on occasion, he’d spot somebody else that was running, too, and he would kind of glom onto them. Before you know it, they were enjoying themselves and they were competing among themselves.
"It seemed kind of like our house became Grand Central Station, with all of these running people."
Gralley found his progression into competitive long-distance running to be a natural one, running in 5K and 10K races and still seeking more.
“Before you know it, you’re into half marathons, and then you say, ‘Boy, the full marathon is what I’m really after,’” Gralley said.
In time, Gralley got Craig into the sport, promising to buy him a pair of running shoes if he ran 50 miles in a month. Craig hit that total, adding another element to his relationship with his father.
They have run about 30 half and full marathons together, with dad at first slowing down to help son finish. Now, the roles are reversed.
“I must admit,” Gralley said, setting up one of his favorite jokes, “as I look at my times, every year for some strange reason, I'm getting a little slower. Can't figure that one out."
That’s led to Gralley seeking other advantages. After one training run years back, he tied Craig’s shoelaces together. In a Baltimore half marathon a few years later, he gave Craig some Tylenol to quell pain in a race that ended with his drowsy son a step behind him, only then revealing he had been supplying Craig with Tylenol PM.
“I kiddingly tell people, ‘I came in first in my age group, and I came in last, too,’” Gralley said. “You’ve got to have some fun in this world."
Hijinks aside, running has helped bond Craig with his father. Gralley also regularly bikes with Kevin on weekends.
“It's always been an opportunity for us to communicate,” Craig said. “The special thing about it is we've been communicating that way for the past 37 years. It's amazing the way the relationship has matured over the years, just incredible."
The opportunity to still be running with his dad means a lot to Craig. Gralley credits his longevity to running, something he says others view as work while he simply enjoys it. He’s thankful for his retirement community, Oak Crest Village in Parkville, for providing a health club where he can train should the weather not allow him to run his 20 weekly miles outdoors.
Of course, he also takes great care of himself.
“He weighs himself every morning,” Craig said. “If he gains an extra pound, he knows what he ate the night before that gave him the extra pound.
“The fact that he's able to put one foot in front of the other at age 93, when a lot of people his age, they're on walkers if they can walk. It's an inspiration, and it's unbelievable."
Gralley believes it, saying running “gives you something special.” That belief is at the crux of advice he would give to anyone else out to become a 93-year-old half-marathoner.
"I think it's important to appreciate the importance of exercise in life,” Gralley said. “You don't have to run marathons. Just walking a good bit, doing something four or five times a week if you can, getting your mileage in a little bit is so vital to life.”
Take it from someone who knows a thing or two about mileage.