The 100-marathon man

Ken Butler is a 74-year-old car salesman. He’s also a runner.

Luke Leighfield
Jul 19, 2016 · 5 min read

Ken and I first met at the Chester Marathon in October 2015, where he was taking part with my brother. I was instantly fascinated by his story; Ken’s a perfect gentleman with impeccable manners that remind you of a bygone era. And he’s far from a running nerd, never looking to engage in a discussion about gels or splits or PBs.

Despite that, he’s run well over 100 marathons since taking up running 37 years ago. I asked if I could pick his brains on his experiences with running and he agreed to a chat.

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Post-Stockholm Marathon, June 2016

When do you start slowing down?

It’s been a very slow decline really because I’ve never been all that competitive. If I do a marathon or a half, I just want to get around. My best time ever was at the New York Marathon in 2004, which was 3:42. I used to average around four hours for a marathon and now I’m up to the five-hour mark. Eventually, it’ll be five and a half or six hours, but that won’t really come into it. Getting around is the most important thing. I got into the London Marathon on a good-for-age time last week!

Does running ever get easier?

I think it’s always been much the same. Years ago, I joined the Evesham Running Club and went for nine months. I found that being at work until six o’clock and then getting changed and being at the running club by seven o’clock and doing about five miles or more was very enjoyable — it made me a lot more competitive — but I’ve never really been a competitive runner. I’ve just done it to enjoy myself. I don’t think about personal bests, anything like that. I just enjoy doing what I do. When I was in the running club, I met some nice guys, really nice people, but they don’t run anymore. I think it’s because they put too much into it, got too competitive and it caused problems in their joints.

For example, when I ran the Stockholm Marathon a few weeks ago, I get to the start and I don’t really think about it. We get started and off we go. I don’t worry about the start and I don’t worry about the finish. I don’t get nerves or anything beforehand, I just do it. I know it sounds a bit bolshy but that’s it. I’ve never taken it seriously and I think that’s one of the reasons I’m still going.

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Post-Chester Marathon, September 2015

How do you avoid injuries?

I’m sort of a natural runner. I’m very lucky because even now, I don’t have any leg or knee problems. I fall over occasionally and that’s about it! I’ve never read much about running, I’ve just got on and done it.

I have a pretty good diet. I’ve got a juice extractor and I have fresh carrot juice and orange juice at least three or four times a week. I take loads of cod liver oil, I’ve been drinking it out of the bottle for well over thirty years. I drink quite a bit of water if I think about it. My dad used to have a juice extractor and I guess I got it from there. I put broccoli in there and juice that — it’s terrible stuff, it smells, it really does. But I think that and possibly genes help a lot. I'd say it’s a combination of diet and not being too competitive.

Are there any obstacles that stop you from running now?

The biggest obstacle now is time to train but I’ll go out in the mornings at about 5:30, 5:45 — with a torch when it’s dark — and I’ll do a five- or six-mile run with a torch, all down country lanes so there are no kerbstones to fall over. I’ll take my mobile phone as well. It’s a bit scary at first but you realise that country lanes are probably the safest place to be because there’s no traffic. And where we live, the running area is wonderful.

I don’t do loads and loads of training before a marathon because I find now, as I get older, I have to try to keep my energy in reserve, and if I take too much out of myself, it takes a long time to get it back in again.

Do you see a finish line on the horizon?

No, I don’t. I really don’t. I’m very aware that one day, maybe I’ll do a marathon or half marathon and might sustain an injury and that may be it. But I would hope it’s a long way away. Running is like eating. It’s just essential to me, more so as I’ve got older. I still work and if I couldn’t run, I think everything would degenerate very quickly.

I think what running’s taught me is that if you can keep physically fit most of the time, and you’re mentally fit, then you can make decisions. I don’t get too depressed about things either — I tend to have a fairly optimistic outlook on life, which as you get older is much harder to attain.

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