At 81 years old, Leonard Block is a veteran of 1,000 races. And he’s nowhere near done running.

To partake in a foot race, and accept the accompanying uncertainty and pain, requires character and ambition. To do so over 1,000 times in five decades requires something extraordinary.

Leonard Block, an 81-year-old Bay City man, possesses the extraordinary passion to have run more than 1,000 certified races in his lifetime. If he includes the races that have not been officially certified, Block estimates he may be at upwards of 2,000 races completed.

Block did not intentionally set out to hit such milestones. Instead, the milestones are simply a byproduct of pursuing his hobby for years on end.

At 81 years old, Leonard Block has run 1,000 races. When picking up his materials for the 2023 St. Patrick's Day Races, he took time to pose for pictures with volunteers.The numbers also indicate that running is not just a hobby. Block’s relationship with running is a more of love story.

He fondly recalls his childhood, where he played games on his street and at school. The games also involved a great deal of running. There, he developed an affinity for putting one foot in front of the other.
'My body tells me I’m 81, but sometimes I don’t act like it. And that’s OK. I know I’m 81, I don’t have to act like it.'

- Runner Leonard Block
But Block did not officially become a road runner until he was 28 years old.

“I had made up my mind that when (my youngest child) got old enough, I was going to get together with my two kids, and we were going to run,” says Block.

He picked the 2-mile Pinconning Cheese Run for his first official race, unknowingly setting into motion decades of dedication.

“That was the very first race of this last stint, which I’ve continued on today,” Block says.

While the numbers and figures behind Block’s accomplishments are impressive, the most inspirational part of Block’s story may lie elsewhere.

“I looked around and saw guys even older than I am now, running the way they were, and I made up my mind then and there that I would continue running, if I could, because I wanted to be like them.”

Over the decades, Block’s dedication and competitive nature made that goal a reality. That same spirit also drives him to explore the limits of his athletic abilities.

“I decided I was going to start going to some significant runs to see how I stack up against my peers,” he says. “That’s the real proof. You get into a competitive race if you’re interested in seeing how you stack up.”

Block is quick to acknowledge the cost of his curiosity. “Every time we run, we shake hands with pain.”

As Block ages, he adjusts his focus. Today, he concentrates less on competing against his fellow runners and instead focuses on besting himself. For example, the year Block turned 69, he set a goal of running 69 races. He ran 71 that year.

He's backed away from setting similar goals, though, as he realized running in more than a race a week took too much time away from everything else. “In my opinion, it was taking up too much of my time. That’s all I was doing.”

He may have slowed the number of races he joins, but Block keeps setting new goals and meeting them.

One consistent goal is to make the run fun.

Block recalls a time during the Detroit Marathon when he and hundreds of other runners were crossing back into the U.S. from Canada via the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. When Block noticed their voices echoing off the tunnel walls, he began to whoop. Soon, other runners were doing the same – much to the bewilderment of the border guards at the tunnel’s exit.

“That’s something that I’m most proud of. I and the group around me had fun. I am for having fun on the run,” he says.

Block believes running is responsible for his ability to age gracefully and stay active.

“[Running] keeps me younger at heart. I am a young 81 year old. My body tells me I’m 81, but sometimes I don’t act like it. And that’s OK. I know I’m 81, I don’t have to act like it.”

This attitude has allowed Block to stay active and enjoy the other aspects of his life that don’t involve running. But running also revitalizes and sharpens his mind and body and Block has no intention of stopping.

“I’m going to run until I can’t run anymore. Until I absolutely cannot jog anymore. Until I absolutely cannot walk anymore.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.