December 01, 2011Tom Coles M.D. did something this year no one else his age did. He completed the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon.
Coles, 80, was the only person 80 or older to complete the marathon.
"There were 50 males behind me who finished and they were all younger," he said.
Tom Coles during this year’s Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon at the 8-mile mark.
The health-conscious Coles didn't run the marathon for health reasons alone. He did it to raise awareness and funds for mental illness research. A family member was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1977.
Interest in fitness
The Grosse Pointe Woods resident's interest in fitness began in earnest in the 1960s after learning about aerobic exercise. He ran his first mile at age 34 at the YMCA in Detroit. He ran in the 1978 Free Press Marathon only intending to run about 15 of the 26.2-mile race. The course went through Grosse Pointe and Coles lived in the City.
At the 13-mile mark.
"The marathon had been on Belle Isle, then for a number of years it came through Grosse Pointe," Coles explained. "My longest training run was six miles. I did not intend to finish that marathon. I said if I could get to my street, that would be it. So I made it that far and I was very tired. But then knowing I could go 15 miles on six miles of training, I trained more and did the next six Detroit marathons."
He completed his first marathon in 1979, at age 48, and, at 50, his fastest race. After the sixth marathon, he thought he was done.
At 22-plus miles. Coles admitted, “I
wasn’t always smiling during the 26.2 miles.” Photos courtesy of Tom Coles
Running for a cause
In 1986, Coles became involved in the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a support, education and advocacy group for families of those suffering from mental illness. The following year, NAMI helped create the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, a charity to raise money for research on mental illnesses. NARSAD was recently renamed the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.
Coles served 22 years as president of the NAMI eastside affiliate and two six-year terms on the board of NARSAD — and began running marathons again to raise awareness and funds for research.
He has completed 13 marathons for NARSAD. He doesn't ask for pledges, but hopes by making others aware of his cause and commitment to it, people might donate to the charity. He also has participated in five century bike rides (100 miles in a day) for NARSAD.
"I want to make people aware of these organizations so that people can attend a support meeting and get the help a support meeting can offer families going through these crises," he said.
"In the 1940s, I had an aunt with breast cancer. The family never talked about breast cancer. There was no good treatment for it. It had the same kind of stigma then that mental illness has," Coles said. "Research will help make the future better for those who become ill with the mental illnesses, too.
"Education is important. With less stigma, people will go for earlier treatment, and earlier treatment for any illness helps the outcome. Delay treatment for any illness, and the results are poor."
It isn't easy to research mental illness. "You can easily take a breast cancer biopsy out, look at it under a microscope and see the cancer cells. You can't do that with the brain for the mental illnesses at this time," he said.
Roadmap to 100
Coles isn't sure when he will do his next marathon, but continues to stay fit and promote his cause. He jokes that the marathon might have created the 80 and over category this year to accommodate his advancing years.
He recently read the book, "Roadmap to 100," by Walter Bortz M.D., which discusses healthy lifestyle choices to improve longevity and quality of life.
There may be a new category at the marathon for Coles in another 20 years.
Information about NAMI can be found at nami.org
Donations may be made to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation at bbrfoundation.org/events/TomColes.