By Martin Cleary
Wallace Lloyd (Wally) Herman completed his final marathon Sunday or maybe it’s more accurate to say his ultimate ultramarathon.
There was no medal at the end of this endeavour.
There was no cheering from supportive people lining the finish chute to bring him home.
There was no time or placement to be recorded in his aging green diary of running results.
For 47 years, all in the second-half of his life, Herman was a man in motion, a non-stop runner and in later years a walker, as well as a humble figure, who set goals others would never think of, let alone attempt. When he started something, he finished it and always with class.
On Sunday, Herman peacefully passed away at the newly branded Perley Health, signing off on his marathon life as a dedicated navy telegraph operator in the Second World War, a loving husband of 64 years to the late Marie Therese and father to Rob, Christine and Richard and a runner extraordinaire. Herman was 97.
A former federal Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce employee with a master’s degree from Oxford University, he stopped running at age 87 with a remarkable resume. But he continued to stay healthy by walking 45 minutes each day starting at 6 a.m.
In 1975, Herman tied on his athletic sneakers and joined the running boom, which had been sweeping across Canada and the United States. He never stopped until his final event at an Ottawa walkathon in 2012. His mind was willing to continue moving quickly, but his body never took that important first step to add on a few more years.
Herman retired from the federal government in his mid-50s and used a small inheritance to fuel his obsession to travel to races around the world.
“I didn’t consciously say the desire is out of me,” he told me for a Canadian Running magazine article six years ago. “I thought maybe next year. But at the same time, I didn’t feel bad it’s done. I’ve had a good run at this and feel OK.”
A “good run” indeed as he reeled off 730 marathons and ultramarathons (longer than the traditional 42.195-kilometre marathon) in 99 countries.
Marathons are difficult challenges because runners must log high volumes of kilometres to prepare properly, eat well and stay healthy. And that’s just to do it once, not 730 times.
Herman was truly dedicated to his task. He found various ways to motivate himself to keep on going and make it interesting without expecting any outside honours or praise.
He wanted to run a marathon in every Canadian province and territory and he accomplished that feat. If you strung all his 730 marathons and ultramarathons together (38,500 kilometres), it would have taken him across Canada almost six times.
Heading south, Herman completed a marathon in every one of the 50 states in the United States of America.
If that wasn’t enough, Herman became a world traveller in running shoes. He ran a marathon in a country starting with every letter of the alphabet, which accounted for a record 25 marathons because there isn’t a country starting with the letter ‘X.’
And he was rather innovative as well.
He was able to find a sanctioned marathon in most countries, but Qatar presented him with a challenge. Herman solved that problem by measuring a 42.195-kilometre course along a sea-front promenade in Doha. That turned out to be his 500th-career marathon.
His other solo marathons were on a high school track in Cayman Islands in 2000 and a community track in Andorra in 2001. His 537th marathon was achieved by running around St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
For 10 consecutive weekends, he ran back-to-back marathons on a Saturday and a Sunday, but in different cities.
Herman logged every one of his marathons and ultramarathons in a three-centimetre-thick diary, providing full details of his experiences. Flipping through the pages and viewing the small handwriting was a stay-at-home trip around the world.
He qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon 13 times, 34 of the first 42 Ottawa Marathons and 21 Sri Chinmoy marathons and ultramarathons.
If you asked him what it’s like to be near the top of the world as well as the bottom of the globe, he could provide some interesting insight.
Herman ran in the Nunavut Midnight Sun race three different times over gruelling distances – the 84-kilometre ultramarathon in 1980 (10 hours, 57 minutes, 51 seconds), the marathon in 1986 (4:13:42) and the 100-kilometre ultramarathon in 1998 (19:56:51).
He also was a participant in the inaugural Antarctic Ice Marathon in 1995, where he finished the marathon in 6:07:21.
In 1984, he pushed his limits at the inaugural six-day Rocky Mountain race in Boulder, Colorado. When he stopped, he had run 560.4 kilometres, which is 15 kilometres shy of travelling from Ottawa to London, ON.
For Herman, running was not about the finish time, but rather about using his time to be a runner. At the fourth National Capital Marathon in 1978, however, he did run his best-ever time of 3:14:56.
He never boasted or spoke too often about his running achievements, but had a soft spot in his heart for this sportswriter because he appreciated that I wrote about amateur sports in Ottawa. Awards, at least the ones beyond race medals, weren’t his thing. But he is a member of the Country Marathon Club for having completed a marathon in 30 countries or more.
“I was not fast. The marathon happened to be a good race for a slow guy,” added Herman, who was known to get the most kilometres out of his shoes, which were sometimes held together with glue. “I got caught up in it. You’re with this crowd and you feed off them. It inspired me. You feel a sense of satisfaction.”
Herman was born on Nov. 11, 1925 or six years before Remembrance Day (formerly Armistice Day) became permanently celebrated on the 11th day of November.
Today would be an appropriate time for a moment of silence for one of Ottawa’s finest runners and a humble gentleman.
“It was a wonderful journey that helped make me a better person, especially in my relationships with others,” he added.
NAKKERTOK’S JASMINE LYONS 17TH IN WORLD U23 CLASSIC NORDIC RACE
Nakkertok Nordic Ski Club’s Jasmine Lyons was 17th in the women’s U23 interval start, 10-kilometre classic race Friday at the world junior and U23 cross-country skiing championships in Whistler, B.C.
The University of New Hampshire student/athlete was timed in 27 minutes, 17 seconds and finished 64 seconds behind winner Helen Hoffmann of Germany.
At the Eastern Canadian cross-country ski championships at Nakkertok, organizers hope warmer afternoon temperatures will allow them to stage short sprint races on Saturday.
Friday’s race schedule was cancelled because of the bitter cold temperatures in the minus 25°C range and the feels-like temperature close to minus 40°C.
Organizers need a temperature warmer than minus 20°C to stage a FIS-sanctioned race.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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