88-year-old Bill McChesney is forever an athlete
written by Vanessa Salvia | photos by Kjersten Hellis
When Bill McChesney sat down and figured out he had run 1,000 road races in his nearly ninety years of running, he couldn’t believe it. “I’ve been tired ever since!” he joked.
In 2015, McChesney, now 88, ran his forty-second Butte to Butte 5K race in Eugene, and he walks or jogs up to 4 miles a day, then returns home and does twenty chin-ups. He and his wife, Marcia, 86, were founders of Oregon Track Club’s Masters program, which provides competitive events for seniors. Bill has run seventeen marathons, including Boston and New York, and Marcia has run five.
McChesney is the oldest man in the world to run a sub-5-minute mile, running a 4:50 at the age of 59—a record he believes he still holds. Even though he’s slowed down since then, he still considers himself an athlete. “Why not?” he asked. “I’m the only one left in my age group because they’ve all died off. That isn’t my fault!”
Although he jokes a lot, there’s nothing funny about his and his family’s running credentials. McChesney ran through high school and college in Montana before moving to Oregon to attend dental school. The McChesneys had four boys, Tom, Steve, Bill Jr., and Ken, all of whom were All-American runners. Bill Jr. broke many of track legend Steve Prefontaine’s records and became an Olympian who would have competed in the 1980 Olympic Games had the U.S. not boycotted them because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Steve and Ken are now celebrated track coaches, while tragedy struck for Tom and Bill Jr., who both perished in separate automobile accidents.
When Steve ran a marathon in Japan, he passed out at mile 25. Race officials had to remove his shoes, because he was so determined to finish. Later, at age 76, McChesney ran the same race. “I knocked 10 minutes off the world record for a guy my age running a marathon,” he recalled. “I ran 3 hours 50 flat when I was 76.”
After hanging up his shoes post-college, McChesney didn’t run at all for nearly forty years, until he looked in the mirror and didn’t like how his weight had crept up. He started running to keep the weight off and never quit.
“I can think better when I’m out there running,” he said. “The cares of the day fall away from you. I still feel the runner’s high.”
Bill McChesney, Retired Dentist
Born: Glendive, Montana 1928
Walk-jogging 3 to 4 miles each day
20 chin-ups daily
McChesney eats nothing before a run, or very little, and after a run he’s not hungry. “I eat anything I want. I just eat lightly when I feel like it,” he said.
“I don’t feel good unless I get a work out in, that’s my motivation. Plus, years ago I lost over 100 pounds and I never want to get that fat again.”