Getting to starting line can be toughest stretch

Running: At 76, Robert Gralley - who has run 37 marathons - won't let a hamstring injury keep him from Saturday's race.

Baltimore Marathon

October 16, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

It's possible that an injured hamstring would trip up a long-distance runner like Robert Gralley. It's possible that a runner like Gralley might skip this weekend's Baltimore Marathon, particularly when he's trying to heal within two weeks, and especially because he's 76.

But Gralley, who has lived at the Oak Crest Village retirement community in Parkville for the past year after coming from Connecticut, is a good bet to show up and finish the race. After all, he has done 37 races of that distance, including 14 New York City marathons, as well as eight JFK 50 ultra-marathons.

So he has been trekking to Union Memorial Hospital from Parkville for daily therapy sessions, stretching, icing and heating that hammy so he can make it 38.

"By the 19th, I believe I should be fine," said Gralley, who will run with one of his sons, Craig. It will be the 15th time father and son have run a marathon together. "He hangs with me. He wants to make sure I finish."

Gralley has been running for 31 years. He keeps a history of his running in a den at the apartment that he shares with his wife of 53 years, Betty. In the den - which Betty Gralley calls "the vanity room" - a dozen plaques hang on the wall, as well as a series of photos within a large frame.

He shows the binders that contain the running diary he has kept from the first day he started running in 1971. Inside are neatly detailed charts.

"It's been my way of motivating myself - by the week, the month and even the year," said Gralley, who has surpassed 43,000 miles. "It only dawns on me now. As the years go on, I say, `I've put on a few miles.' But that gives you incentive to do more."

The Round Bay native was an active youth, playing badminton and basketball while he also attended the University of Maryland, where he met his wife. The couple moved to the New York City area, where he worked for Mutual New York, before he joined the Navy toward the end of World War II.

He and Betty eventually settled in Westport, Conn., and as middle-age approached, Gralley realized that he was starting to get a bit out of shape.

"He wasn't doing much of anything - he was doing a 90-minute commute," Betty said.

When Gralley started running, it came just before the sport's brief boom of the early 1970s.

"When you went out in shorts, people thought, `Who is that crazy guy' " he remembered. Yet, he went from running with only one or two people during workouts to a group of 25 or 30 who showed up at the house every Saturday at 7 to begin and stayed through the afternoon to enjoy iced tea.

Meanwhile, Gralley's running constantly improved over the first 10 years, peaking at age 56 in 1981. That was the year when he ran the Boston Marathon in 3 hours, 4 minutes, 28 minutes in April, then ran that exact same time for the New York race in November.

However, he had nearly had enough of long-distance races by the time he'd completed the New York City Marathon in 1996. He was 70, and no one was really going to ask him if there was anything to prove.

Moreover, he didn't like his times. He remembers the spectator down the stretch who said, "Go get him, Bob," a cheer heartening to the average runner, but patronizing for the competitive one.

"He doesn't come off as being competitive, but he is," Craig Gralley said of his father. "Low-key, but determined."

Craig said that his father had a change of heart. It's possible to pace yourself and finish the race, and that it's not imperative that he achieve a superlative time.

Gralley joked about his expected time Saturday, as compared to what it was 20 years ago.

He chuckled, "It'll be five hours to six, if I'm lucky."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.