Marion Childress doesn’t want to talk about things like having run all seven Blue Ridge marathons, about being north of cancer, or about a nationally distributed video about him coming this fall. No, he wants to talk about how your running is going.
A selfie with Marion D. Childress is a badge of honor in this town.
You can find the ambassador of Roanoke running races in somewhere in the region on any given weekend, taking pictures and sharing words of encouragement. Countless runners across the region credit Childress with their connection to running and their successes.
“The Roanoke running community has a lot to be thankful for, and first and foremost is Marion Childress,” says Ed Shepherd, managing owner of Runabout Sports Roanoke.
For Childress, running is a way of life. It’s something he’s been doing since his Army days; he ran his first official race in 1983. Now, in his mid-60s, Childress has a pretty big goal ahead of him. He plans to finish 1,000 races.
“Running is like life,” he says. “What you put in is what you get out. It’s very rewarding.”
Childress has more than 825 races in the books and is adding more each week. He’s tallied more than 4,000 miles in races alone over his life. He logged more than 40 races in Fall 2016 and is on pace for a similar number this year.
Distance doesn’t matter. Childress runs 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon distances interchangeably through the year. He admits that the marathon is his favorite distance: “It takes you to a place you can’t get to any other way. To finish something so difficult ...it’s the perfect distance to test yourself.”
But it’s not just about the number of races and it’s definitely not about bragging rights of bling for Childress; running is a way of life.
“It becomes a passion,” he says. “You don’t really want to do without it.”
For Childress that includes coming back to the sport after battling cancer and juggling an active family life as a husband, father, grandfather and foster parent. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, and after 44 treatments went into remission in Fall 2016. Childress says it changes your body and mind (he counts pre-cancer and post-cancer PRs).
“He is one of those people that just makes a difference,” says Patrick Woodford, one of the area’s elite runners and member of C&C Runners, the group Childress founded. “He’s a leader and role model. You just admire him.”
And Childress’s inspirational story will reach a national audience this fall. He is one of five Power of Running to Inspire award winners in the country. A video featuring Childress as part of the national campaign is in the works and will be featured in Fleet Feet and Mizuno campaigns later this year.
“He’s got so many inspirational stories himself,” says Monica Mannio, training program coordinator at Fleet Feet Sports Roanoke. “Running is not just about him; he’s done so much for the running community.”
The challenge is getting him to tell those stories. Childress would rather share the successes of others than his own goals.
“I just enjoy the people,” he says, noting that his proudest accomplishment when it comes to running is the formation of C&C Runners. He doesn’t even mention a few other elite running accomplishments and memberships —he’s finished all seven Blue Ridge Marathons and is a Marathon Maniac and Half Fanatics member.
While Childress uses an objective-based approach to his personal training—he keeps a log of every race he’s ever run, including the date, location, distance, time, pace and specific comments about the race—his humble nature is what draws people into his circle.
“From the first time I met him until now, Marion welcomed me and has helped me become the runner I am today,” says Kimberly Wilbourne. “For Marion it’s not about if you are the fastest runner but rather that you love the sport. Marion has not only given me a lot of running tips, but also is just a great friend, inspiration, and all around person to be around.”
Runners all over the region have stories like this —about how Childress has influenced them, and helped keep them on pace. He waves and offers words of encouragement along the race course. He checks in when people are injured. He sends notes when there’s stress in your life.
And he teaches people to run for the love of running, from the person sitting on the couch just thinking about it to elite runners from across the state.
“The people who he touches, he melds together,” says Sam Lafaye, who leads the C&C Walkers group. “We love to do this. You meet people that are so like-minded.”
In the time since Childress founded C&C Runners (with a partner who has since left the group) in 2010, the running community has grown by leaps and bounds. While you can find a race in the region on almost any given weekend, it wasn’t that way when the group started.
And runners all over the region give Childress a lot of credit.
Woodford, who leads the Body by Parkway run each Thursday (6 p.m.) at Parkway Brewing, notes that the event has been growing thanks to Childress.
“When he’s not here, you can really tell,” Woodford says, and then jokes: “I can not be here and no one notices.”
Mannio, who coordinates weekly pub runs with Fleet Feet, says Childress has helped the event grow because of the number of people he brings out—often upward of 25—for the weekly event on Tuesdays at 6:30 from Wasena City Tap Room.
“I’m so inspired by how he brings so many C&C Runners to pub runs and makes it so welcoming,” Mannio says. “And he always has the camera.”
That’s literally true. A camera is an essential piece of running gear for Childress, who carries it—ready for action—at almost every event from pub runs to races. Snapping photos of the team and other runners is a big part of how he works to bring people together.
So where will running take Childress next? What happens if he meets that goal of 1,000 races?
“I just want to keep running,” he says. “Share the passion. And promote a healthy lifestyle.”
And capture those moments with a selfie.