Jim Tornes' participation in marathons will come full circle when he runs his 50th and final marathon in New York City on Sunday.

Jim Tornes' participation in marathons will come full circle when he runs his 50th and final marathon in New York City on Sunday.

Tornes, 79, of Bexley, participated in his first marathon, also the New York City Marathon, in 1979 when he was 49 years old. He chose the marathon because his daughter, Beth, was living in NYC.

Running the 26.2-mile marathon was a personal challenge, Tornes said.

"I was so thrilled that I wanted to try another one, so I did," he said. "About that time the Columbus Marathon began. I ran in several Columbus marathons. I got hooked, so I kept running and have participated in at least one a year since then."

Tornes, the father of seven children and the former owner of Burwell's Nursery and Garden Store, has traveled around the world to run marathons. He followed his children when choosing marathons, participating in the London Marathon when his son, David, was in school there and running the Niagara Falls Marathon when the family vacationed there.

Other marathon locations include Scotland, Virginia Beach, Dallas, Boston, San Francisco, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and Cleveland.

His favorite marathon: New York City.

"You get an enormous thrill in that magnificent city," said Tornes, who liked the spirit of the spectators as he ran through all five New York City boroughs: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan.
"There are people all along the way cheering," he said. "It is an enormous thrill."

He said his most challenging marathon was in Athens, Greece, in October 1981, because of the heat and air pollution. The final six miles of the marathon were on a busy street.

"It is like running down High Street from Worthington to the Ohio Statehouse," he said. "Along the way there are trucks, buses (and) black diesel smoke. There was a lot of air pollution on that hot day. It was punishing."

The most challenging part of a marathon is the final six to eight miles, he said, because around mile 18 or 20, runners have used up most of their body's strength. For the last six to eight miles, runners have to rely on whatever mental and physical strength they can muster in order to finish, he said.

After 30 years of running marathons, Tornes said it's time to retire from competition.

"Marathons take so long, I realized I have other things in life that I would like to do," he said.

Tornes plans to participate in half-marathons, watch marathons and occasionally volunteer. He said he has a hip that is telling him it is time to slow down. If he doesn't retire, the hip will need to be replaced sooner rather than later.

He used to run every day of the week except Monday, but now his training has been greatly reduced and his running has become more of a shuffle. He uses walking sticks because of his bad hip and an inner ear condition that affects his equilibrium.

Tornes anticipates it will take him about 14 hours to complete the NYC Marathon. His fastest marathon was in St. Louis, finishing in three hours, 53 seconds at age 55 in 1985. His longest marathon was the Columbus Marathon in 2008 - it took him 12 hours, 28 minutes.

Sons David (49) and John (36) have participated in several marathons with their father and will run in the NYC Marathon with him on Sunday.

Tornes and his wife, Josephine, have seven children: David, John, Stephen (55), Ginger (52), Beth (54), Angie (48) and Joanna (37).

Ginger Tornes said she and her siblings are happy their father has been running marathons over the years, but now they want him to take it easy.

"We would like to see him come down to quarter marathons, and most importantly stay hydrated," she said. Her father had to be taken to Grant Medical Center after the Columbus Marathon on Oct. 18, she said.

In addition to running marathons, Tornes maintains a topiary garden at his home on Preston Road and manages a 205-acre forest in Knox County. In his spare time, he enjoys kayaking and biking.

Bexley resident Perrin Peacock, who met Tornes on a 20-mile run that serves as part of the Columbus Marathon training series, admires Tornes' spirit and dedication.

Once on a training run, Peacock saw Tornes walking in the rain at mile 15. Tornes was wearing a tank top and a huge smile on his face, Peacock said.

"I was instantly struck by the fact that he was smiling," said Peacock, who has participated in 19 marathons or ultra-marathons (anything over 26.2 miles). "I saw him walking with those walking sticks that he uses. I was impressed by that."