Kenny Ball: Pounding pavement

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Photo: Eric Kelley Photo: Eric Kelley

“Nothing has ever been planned in my life,” said Kenny Ball.

When Ball arrived in Charlottesville in the 1980s for a job working with and showing horses, he never dreamed that 30 years later he’d own a successful antiques shop and be training with the area’s top marathon runners. He’s passionate about everything he does, he said, so it’s not terribly surprising that he qualified for the Boston Marathon after running his first-ever long race.

Aside from horseback riding, Ball said he was never athletic growing up.

“I was the one picked last for the team in school,” he said. “I couldn’t run a lap around the track—at least, I didn’t think I could because I wasn’t encouraged to do it.”

Running 26 miles for fun was never something that crossed his mind, until a couple years ago when he watched his daughter run a 5K. Inspired by the race day energy, Ball laced up a pair of running shoes himself, entered a short race with his daughter, and was hooked.

“I found it to be quite rewarding and easy, for never having done it or trained,” he said.

In tandem with his newfound appreciation for running was the realization that he was approaching the same age his father had been when he began suffering heart problems.

“When you’re approaching 50, you start to think about the rest of your life,” Ball said. “I decided right then and there that if I was going to live, I was going to do it in a healthy way.”

Ball laughed when he recalled how much fun he had during the first half of his life, and vowed to live out the next 50 years without some of his prior indulgences. He hasn’t touched alcohol since his running career began, he’s wearing the same size clothes he wore in high school, and he said old temptations like junk food no longer faze him.

“I’m so much more in tune with what’s going on in my body,” he said. “When you realize how hard you have to work to burn off a doughnut, you tend to not have them.”

Ball noted that because of the extreme calorie burning, runners do have the option of eating more freely. It’s “not a license to eat a box of doughnuts,” he said, but he gets a kick out of watching his running comrades reward themselves with frozen coffees and giant pastries at Greenberry’s, the unofficial Charlottesville runners’ hangout spot.

Much of the passion Ball has for running is fueled by a sense of community around the sport. At least once a week he trains alone, to prepare for the oddly isolated nature of long races, but Ball said he couldn’t imagine putting in the hours and miles without his fellow athletes by his side.

“It’s not just about the running,” he said. “When you run with a group, you form lifelong bonds with those people.”

It’s been a couple years since Ball’s life as a runner began, and he doesn’t intend to slow down anytime soon.

“I have never once regretted putting on my running shoes and getting out the door,” he said.

He’s traveled everywhere from Chicago and New York to Berlin and London for races, and has a new marathon in Tokyo on his radar. When asked about ultra-marathons—any race longer than a standard marathon, up to 100 miles—he said he didn’t have much interest.

“Well,” he said, shrugging. “Maybe I’ll do a 50-miler. But that’s probably how all that gets started, huh?”

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