Marathon Man: Wade Leonard completes 50th race

Published 10:46 am Friday, June 2, 2017

One thousand three-hundred and ten miles.

That’s roughly the equivalent of a trip to Chicago, Illinois and back, and that’s how many miles Wade Leonard has run…in races. Marathons, to be exact. Leonard just completed marathon number 50, the All-American Marathon, held in Fayetteville, March 26.

Calculating how many miles he has run in those 50 marathons is easy; calculating how many other miles Leonard’s feet have traveled is another story.

Leonard has been running for 37 years, which is half as many years as he has been alive. He started walking for health reasons, blood pressure and weight, but had in mind that once he had what he believed was a good base, he’d move from walking to a run-walk pattern.

At first, he just ran for fun and for companionship, joining others in the community who were doing the same thing, but a friend convinced him to do a marathon in Charlotte when he was 54. The friend ended up not going, but Leonard decided to go ahead with it, and the experience was so not-horrible that Leonard decided to do another, and another, and another.

When asked what his favorite one was, he struggles, saying they were all great, for one reason or another, and while his favorite one was the Suzuki Rock n Roll in San Diego in 2001, his most treasured medal and memory was running the Boston Marathon in 2003. He said he couldn’t believe he was there and running what is considered to be the race of races, especially since much of his training did not go as planned.

“I had a broken bone in my foot and had to train for Boston in a boot on an elliptical. It wasn’t the best way but it worked,” he said. He ran Boston again in 2006.

Leonard has run over 15 marathons in Myrtle Beach and enjoys running any in the Rock N’ Roll Marathon Series.

He remembers running with friend Ron Bruffey at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, just six weeks after terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center buildings and into the Pentagon. Under large amounts of security, including soldiers holding machine guns, Leonard, Bruffey, and more than 14,000 others ran the 26.2 miles in dedication to the memories of those who died in the 9/11 attacks, the survivors, and those who worked to save lives that day. Many of the participants carried American flags, and Leonard remembers as they ran within 50 yards of the damaged Pentagon, “everyone got very quiet.”

He also cherishes the memory of carrying the Olympic torch in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Torch Relay and was able to purchase the torch he carried, which is on the wall in the conference room in Leonard’s law office in Mocksville, along with other mementos – plaques, photos, and medals from his many races.

Some of the photos show his team of supporters, also known as his family, anchored by wife Linda. He said she is always waiting for him at the finish line with a cold Pepsi and a few ibuprofen tablets. He remembers the time the whole family, son Chip, daughter Sandy, their spouses, Linda and he went to Las Vegas for a marathon, staying at the Luxor Las Vegas, right beside the race route. Lined up for the early morning race, he said, a man in a tuxedo who must have been just getting in from a night of fun decided to weave his way through the racers to get back to his hotel. The thought of that still makes Leonard laugh.

Leonard also laughs thinking about the Grandfather Mountain Marathon (known as one of one of America’s toughest marathons, due to the steep climb through the Blue Ridge Mountains), when he remembers running it with Gary Prillaman, who finished before Leonard. When Leonard got to the finish line, Prillaman greeted him with the news that one of the post-race treats was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The March marathon was special to Leonard not only because it was his 50th, but also because, as an Army veteran, he was especially touched by a mile-long tribute that began at mile eight of the race, which featured photos of fallen service members and family members holding American flags with streamers with the name of the service members on them.

Leonard said he started a conversation with a fellow runner at the beginning who was from Salt Lake City. When he asked why she’d come so far for the run, she told him it was to honor her father, whose pictured would be one of those posted along the memory mile.

Although Leonard likes to run alone, and early in the morning, usually around 4:30, he is occasionally joined in local races by his granddaughter, Brady Wade Sheek, who he calls “Sugar Bear.” Sugar Bear will be 10 this summer, and Leonard has enjoyed sharing his love of running with her.

Except for the broken bones in his feet, Leonard has been fortunate to have enjoyed few running injuries, aside from the occasional aches. He is quick-witted and limber, moving around more like a 40-year-old than a 74-year-old.

“Running has kept me healthy,” he said. “I am firmly convinced you have to take care of your body by eating right and exercising. And it’s never too late to start.”