The man who’s run more than 500 marathons: “My family think I’m crazy”

Jack Brooks agreed to run a half-marathon with his friends years ago and he hasn’t stopped since.

At a party in 1990, Jack Brooks — then in his thirties — agreed to enter a half-marathon with his friends. Little did he know that the epic running journey he was about to embark on would take him across the globe for the next 30 years.  

His running adventures would see him dodging polar bears in Canada, representing Great Britain at the World Masters Athletics Championships in the USA, and running in 41 different countries — clocking up 562 marathons (and counting) by his seventies.

Runner Jack Brooks with a medal around his neckCredit: Jack Brooks
Marathon number 529 – Brooks at Greenham Common Peace Camp Trail

From a half to a full marathon

Brooks trained for his first half-marathon by running around the block of his home in St Albans, Hertfordshire, and slowly building up his distance.

“I started training with some friends, taking it one mile at a time,” the 71-year-old tells Exceptional. “I was going through a relationship break-up and running gave me time to clear my head.”  

After conquering the half-marathon on April 26 1992, he decided to challenge himself to try the London Marathon the following year, which would give him time to train for the 26.2-mile (42.2 km) event.  

Brooks gradually built up his running distance with a friend over the next few months. Then, on April 18 1993 — just under a year after running the half — he completed his first full marathon, crossing the finish line in 4 hours 9 minutes 40 seconds. “It was hard work,” Brooks admits. “But once I’d done it, I felt a great sense of achievement. However, I didn’t think I’d do another one.” 

Runner Jack Brooks in prisoner fancy dress in front of a marathon finisher signCredit: Jack Brooks
Marathon number 300 – Brooks in prisioner fancy dress in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2012

Hitting the 100th marathon mark

“I fell in with a bad crowd,” Brooks laughs, when asked how he started his journey to his first 100 marathons.  

After London he found himself looking for another race, admitting: “It was a slippery slope.” He started doing marathons aboard, including in New York and Chicago, where he bumped into some people he knew from his local running clubs.  

“One of them had organised quite a few running trips and asked if I wanted to go on one or two of those. So I went to a Disney one, then to one in Tulsa.”

It was at this point that Brooks set himself a major running challenge. “That led to seeing if me and my running friends could finish a marathon in each of the 50 states.”  

They didn’t give themselves a timeframe to achieve their goal. Brooks explains that the first 15 marathons were widely spaced apart, which gave him time to train properly (alongside his full-time job as a chartered surveyor) and build up his strength.  

Along the way, he was asked if he wanted to take part in other marathons across the world, including representing Great Britain as part of a three-man team at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Buffalo, USA in 1995. Brooks came 47th out of 132 runners in the 40-44 age group, and he was the first Great Britain runner to finish in his category. 

He continued travelling the globe completing marathons, for instance on the Spanish island of Majorca and in the US cities of Baton Rouge and Nashville to name but a few. “Before I knew it, I’d committed to 20 or 30 a year. It just ballooned and hasn’t stopped since.” 

Runner Jack Brooks with a medal in front of the Wrangler marathon finish lineCredit: Jack Brooks
Marathon number 527– Brooks at Wrangler Trail Marathon, Horseheath, Cambridgeshire

Running with polar bears

Squeezing in up to 30 marathons a year takes a lot of planning — especially when most of them are in different countries.

But Brooks was determined to see the 50 states plan through – even if it meant jumping on a plane on a Friday, completing a marathon or two over the weekend, and then flying back home straight afterwards. 

“We’d squeeze them in,” he says. “When we got to the last few, they started getting harder — Hawaii and Alaska particularly because of awkward flight times — but we did it.”

With the 50 states completed (which equates to running more than 1,300 miles, or 2,110km), Brooks wanted to see what else he was capable of. “Once I’d done the 50 states, I thought I might as well see if I could do Canada too.” 

That meant another 13 marathons, one in each province or territory. Although that might sound straightforward compared with Brooks’ US achievement, parts of some Canadian territories are inhabited for only three months of the year. And Canada is also home to some 16,000 polar bears.  

Runner Jack Brooks at the finish of Jubilee Trail marathon with medalCredit: Jack Brooks
Marathon Number 539 – Brooks at the Jubilee Trail Marathon in North Yorkshire

To give protection from the bears, an all-terrain vehicle with gun-bearing crew accompanies runners on the more dangerous stretches of the path. At least, that was the theory. “The vehicle that was with me broke down, so I was on my own for a good chunk of the race,” says Brooks.  

“It was blowing a gale, as it’s right alongside the Northwest Passage. For quite a lot of the marathon, I had an ice shelf opposite me as I was running along the coast, which is where the bears come on to the land. But I was too cold to think about being scared, I just got on with it.”  

He managed to avoid polar bears, and he finished his Canadian marathon challenge in July 2018. “As far as I’m aware, I was the first person from the UK to complete a marathon in all 50 US states, plus [Washington] DC, and all 13 provinces and territories of Canada.” 

Brooks’ top tip for runners 

Stop worrying about your speed and distance – just relax and enjoy yourself. Understanding that you get slower as you get older seems obvious, but once you accept that it’s inevitable, it becomes much easier to enjoy events for what they are – a bit of fun.

Reaching the 500-marathon milestone

Brooks stayed closer to home for his 500th run. “It was on August 31 2019, at my local running club’s stampede race. It was a continuously run, four-mile loop, and I chose to run 44 miles in the end. 

“Unbeknownst to me, my club had asked members who were not marshalling that day to be at the finish to cheer me in. I was overwhelmed that so many of them had taken the time to be there for me, but that’s the sort of running club it is.”  

Runner Jack Brooks completing his 500th marathon surrounded by cheering supportersCredit: Graham Smith
Marathon number 500 – being cheered to the finish line in 2019

Running marathons is an impressive test of physical and mental endurance, so what motivates Brooks to keep doing them?

“Stupidity or dogged determination — I’m not sure which,” he jokes. ”But there’s always a sense of achievement when I do finish one. I’ve got a lot of friends that do them too, so it’s nice to get out and see them. 

”There’s no way I’m ever going to be breaking any sort of [speed] records or anything. I might win the age category if I’m the only person in a race who’s over 70, therefore first in the age group. But I don’t do them to a timing. 

”I’m not worried if I stop and walk for a bit to regain my breath, then start running again. Pretty much everything is harder these days, as I’m getting older, but I’ll keep going while I still enjoy running events.”  

And the big question — where does he keep all his medals? “Well, it’s a cause for concern at the moment, because they’re everywhere. Most of them are on the landing, some are in the living room, and some are just hanging in the front porch.” 

At the time of talking with Brooks, he’d completed 562 marathons and 116 half marathons, with more booked in the coming weeks. “They just creep up on you,” he laughs. “My family think I’m crazy, but without doubt, running has kept me healthy over the years.” 

Will he ever stop running?

With only another 38 marathons to go to reach 600, Brooks claims he’s just taking it one run at a time. But he adds: “It will get to when I’m 20 or so off the target, then I’ll start thinking maybe [I could do 600] – but it’s not in my mind at the moment.” 

”However, I’m considering Prague this year, then I’ll probably do Lanzarote — and maybe a few US states. We only live once, so I might as well do what I enjoy and get the most I possibly can out of it. 

“Woody Allen once said: ‘I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying.’ That is very much my attitude to running. I don’t ever want to stop.” 

Runner Jack Brooks with medal and trophyCredit: Jack Brooks
Marathon Number 562 – Brooks at Big Island International marathon, he came first in his age group

Brooks’ running history 

  • 1st race was Lincoln Half Marathon on 26/04/1992 
  • 1st marathon was London on 18/04/1993 (Time 4:09:40) 
  • Represented Great Britain in the 40-44 age group three-man team in the marathon in the World Masters Athletics Championships in Buffalo, USA in 1995 
  • Fastest marathon was Chicago on 19/10/1997 (Time 3:12:52) 
  • 100th marathon was Majorca Marathon on 14/12/2003 
  • 200th marathon was Nashville Country Music Marathon, USA on 25/04/2009 
  • 300th marathon was City of Oaks Marathon, North Carolina, USA on 4/11/2012 
  • 400th marathon was the Louisiana Marathon, Baton Rouge, USA on 15/01/2017 
  • 500th marathon was at the St Albans Stampede 12-hour race on 31/08/2019 (44 miles completed) 
  • Completed marathons in all 50 states of the USA at Nashville Country Music Marathon on 25/04/2009 (2nd person from the UK to do this) 
  • Completed marathons in all 13 territories and provinces in Canada at the Northwest Passage Marathon in Nunavut on 22/07/2018

Inspired by Brooks’ story? 100 marathon club has lots of races which are in the UK and Ireland, so there’s plenty to choose from if you want to give one a go. 

Rebecca Frew

Written by Rebecca Frew she/her


Becky Frew has written various articles for newspapers and magazines focusing on fitness, is a qualified run leader, and a certified sleep talker trainer who loves to help advise people how they can nod off easier.

When she is not writing or reading about fitness, she is at hot pod yoga, bounce class, training for an ultra-marathon or booking anything with a medal and free food at the end.

Outside of work Becky is practicing her Finnish (Hei!) for her dream holiday to Finland next year, and writing her 3rd book while cuddling her cats Giggles and Rebel- the latter of which really lives up to her name!

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