Marathon man: Former chain-smoker on brink of joining world’s running elite

Dick Felton holds medals from five major marathons he’s already completed. This week he’s in Tokyo to become the 11th person in Canada to run all six major marathons in the world. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

It’s all or nothing with Dick Felton.

Of course, the 30 half-marathons he’s run are arguably the exception. But then again, he’s countered that with 19 full marathons in the past decade.

“I’m a Type A personality,” says the 69-year-old retired owner of several industrial-based businesses in Sarnia.

That helps to explain Felton’s amazing track record since starting to run marathons at age 60.

He arrives in Tokyo this week for his 20th marathon, which he’ll run with 36,000 others on Feb.22.  When he completes it, Felton will become only the 221st person in the world to have run all six major marathons around the globe.

That includes 42.2 km runs in Boston, New York, Chicago, Berlin, London and now Tokyo.

And he’ll become one of an elite group of 11 Canadians to finish all six majors.

“Running is a way to satisfy yourself,” said Felton, explaining the motivation that gets him out on the streets or a treadmill virtually every day.

“Running makes me feel good. Right away, the endorphins kick in. It’s also a way to compete with myself and I like that,” he said.

His personal best at a marathon was in Chicago in 2006 when he finished in 3 hours and 41 minutes.

“I know I’ll finish in Tokyo,” he said. “But what I’m really going for is something close to my personal best.”

For the past four months, Felton has been making sure he’s in top marathon shape. He’s been running about 140 km a week, sometimes as many as 36 km at a time.

But that kind of athleticism hasn’t always been part of his life.

For many years, while he ran his businesses and frequently dined in restaurants with clients, Felton never exercised.

At the age of 40, he was out of shape and smoking more than three packs of cigarettes a day.

“It was tough on my body and one day I decided to quit smoking,” he said. He took up running as a way to give up cigarettes.

“Every time I wanted to have a cigarette, I went for a run instead.”

Right away, it became a passion. When he retired at age 58, Felton headed to the YMCA for more exercise and training. Two years later, at the urging of his youngest son, he ran his first marathon in Vancouver.  Today, he’s certified as a master in Chi running, a technique for runners to go farther and faster with less energy and fewer injuries.

“I regret that I didn’t start earlier,” Felton said. “Obviously, good health is a big benefit. I’m 69 and I take no pills. I need nothing when I run or bike.

But the real reason that he is driven to compete in marathons lies in the sense of accomplishment.

“I really thought about this and I can tell you I run now because as a kid I sucked at sports. I wasn’t good at anything,” he said. “But I’ve discovered I can run and it is very satisfying.”