By Melissa Seuster
Joe Schlereth has come full circle. Yet after completing his 360th marathon/ultramarathon in December 2019, he is not quite done yet.
“There’s no finish line to running,” says Joe, who turns 70 in March and traveled to Disney recently to complete the Goofy Challenge. It has been his motto for the past 10 years as head coach of the Run Far program affiliated with Run For Your Life.
His enthusiasm has reached thousands of runners, including the 420 members of last season’s program and endless other runners throughout Charlotte. “Joe is a legend,” says Arun Kallikadavil, a Charlotte Marathon Ambassador who got his start with the Run Far program in 2015. “He has inspired me to set a new goal every year, and to make running a lifestyle rather than just a hobby.”
Joe started running after his supervisor at Equitable Insurance (now AXA) challenged him to participate in the United Way Corporate Cup 5K in 1982. Joe didn’t win that race, but he “drank the Kool Aid,” so to speak. The next year, he ran the same race but upgraded to the 10K. In 1985, he ran his first marathon, here in Charlotte.
“I didn’t think I ran very well, but at age 35 I ran a 3:28, which is not too shabby for a first marathon,” he recalls. He continued to train for additional marathons, reading and comparing notes with other runners. Then in 1988 he ran his first Boston qualifier, the Avenue of the Giants in California.
“It was a spectacular race! I needed a 2:50 and was able to get just under that. Later that year in Boston I ran a 2:44,” he said, adding “it’s not like today where so many people are trying to qualify. There were only about 9,000 people running Boston that year.”
After that, Joe spent 13 years focusing on ultras, including Badwater, dubbed “the world’s toughest foot race” and the Western States 100, where he was a top 10 overall finisher for six of the 10 years he competed. In 2002, he was back in Boston, and has run the Boston marathon every year since.
Through ups and downs, Joe keeps pushing forward. 2019 was a particularly challenging year, as he was diagnosed with a heart valve defect which required open heart surgery. On May 1, just four days after Joe ran the Big Sur Marathon, Dr. Tom Theruvath at Novant Health performed the operation. Joe was released a few days later and expected a long recovery.
“The doctor said that I needed to start back slowly, walking a few miles and keeping my heart rate under 120,” he recalled. “If all went well, he said I should be able to run a marathon in October or November.”
Recovery did go well, and Joe ran his first post-surgery marathon in Chicago on October 13. Next came MCM, the Charlotte (Novant) Marathon and Kiawah Marathon. He is back to running BQ times for his age group.
“Every run is a blessing” has become Joe’s new motto. “I just want to share my love of running, to inspire more people to do something awesome, which is why I believe so strongly in the Run Far program.”
You can find Joe running at Four Mile Creek Greenway, where a headstone and bench are dedicated to him, our local running legend.