PROFILE--Bill Thorn just finished his 50th Peachtree in a row.

(July 2019) Bill Thorn ran the inaugural Peachtree Road Race in 1970, which has now become the world’s largest 10K. Now 88, Thorn and his family, holding life-sized printouts of his face, celebrated his 50th running of the race on July 4 (in a modest, celebratory 2:17:58). Thorn's the only person to have run all 50 Peachtrees. He also just stepped down from a 56-year career as a track, cross-country and football coach with a winning record of 44 state championships.  Thorn is not resting on his many accomplishments and settling into retirement. He’s too busy working out 90 minutes every day and figuring out his next phase of life.

Career/Profession? Growing up in Birmingham Alabama, I worked in the steel mills but realized I would die if I didn’t get out. So I went to college and majored in
phys. ed. and have been a coach since 1952. Best job in the world! I just retired. I also started a school, the Landmark Christian School, where I coached for 30 years. 

When did you start running and why? I started running in 1968 when I was 36. I read Dr. Ken Cooper’s book, Aerobics, and started running a mile a day, five days a week. Once I discovered road racing, I fell in with a bunch of dedicated runners that led to the running of the first Peachtree Road Race.

Running mileage in peak years? There were few books on running back when I started, so I winged most of my training. I ran on an old cinder track with my friends. When we started training for the Peachtree, we increased the distance to 6 miles per day. On weekends we’d increase our mileage to 10. I was never a long distance runner [although he did run two marathons – the first in a time of 3 hours 37 minutes].

Top races or proudest achievements?  That would have to be completing my 50th Peachtree Road Race this past July 4. But I am also grateful for helping start Landmark Christian School and coaching those wonderful kids for 30 years. I am blessed. And I also have to mention my 7 grandkids and 4 great-grandkids.

How much are you running and cross training now?  I work out 7 days a week. Never take a day off.  I begin every day with a series of static exercises then do 3 sets of 120 bounds on a mini-trampoline followed by a series of 2 sets of pushups, 2 sets of dumbbell lifts, some ab work and after all that I do 30 minutes of cardio - usually a run, walk, stationary bike, mini tramp or rowing machine. The entire routine takes about 90 minutes. I’m thankful to say I’ve never had a potbelly! I’ve never smoked or drunk alcohol.

Any serious injuries or health problems? None! There was one Peachtree Road Race I did with my granddaughter, Kenzie Bayman. By mile 3, I was beginning to lean too far over and people were telling her to get me off the course, to call an ambulance. I must have looked really bad. Thank goodness she didn’t, as she knew how important my streak was to me. I finished the race accompanied by Kenzie, and a race official.

Does getting older and slower bother you? I’m old and slow. So what? I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my life. You’ll never have sanity and peace if you can’t accept your age. I know what it’s like to experience life and I’ve got news for you – thank the Lord for your youth and healthy body because it all fades away. I’m just thankful to wake up to another day and another year.

Favorite quote? “Run hard when it’s hard to run.” I tell my kids that they have to put in the effort if they want to win. My other coaching mantra is: “Smart work combined with hard work will defeat talent.”

What 3 short tips would you offer to prospective lifetime runners?
1--Everyone has the opportunity to get better. Just don’t quit on yourself.
2—Strength and endurance training will help develop speed and allow you to do more – longer.
3—Consistency is key.

How does running & fitness improve your life on a daily/weekly basis? Well, as I mentioned above, I don’t have a potbelly and I’m in great shape for my age. I have strong abdominal muscles. I’ve reached this age and this level of fitness by following my routine and running. And I’ve been blessed by being around some great kids that I’ve had the pleasure to coach.

What are the biggest lessons (life lessons and running lessons) you have learned from running? Everyone has the opportunity to get better in whatever they pursue. There is no magic bullet or mystery ingredient. It would be great if everyone had a program that was structured and measured. You must create the desire and drive.  Record every workout and do not miss a workout.  You must learn to run hard – don’t waste a heartbeat.  You only have so many.