On Dec. 30, 1981, Fred Murolo went for a run. He has continued to do so daily, without missing one day, for more than 37 years.
In addition to that everyday run of at least 2 miles, Murolo, now 62, has competed in about 18 marathons (26.2 miles) and at least 50 ultramarathons, which often are 100 miles long. Over his lifetime, he has clocked more than 100,000 miles.
The word “obsessive” comes to mind. And when I ask Murolo, as we speak at the kitchen table of his Cheshire home, if it’s fair to put him in this category, he smiles and admits, “I think you would have to be obsessive to do it that many days.”
On the day of our interview, April 18, he had reached 13,624 consecutive days of running. That morning, around 7 a.m., he was out on the Farmington Canal Greenway near his home, logging about 3½ miles. Usually he runs longer, but he had a hectic day ahead of him. “If I don’t run in the morning, I get a little antsy,” he says. “I do love the feeling of running.” But he adds, “The winters are getting harder. Ice storms are tough.”
Murolo is not as unusual as you might think. An organization called Streak Runners International keeps track of these daily runners, who abide by an honor system, although they might occasionally be asked for some documentation.
Murolo is No. 35 on the national list, in the category of “grand master,” who have streaks of more than 35 years. Murolo is tops in Connecticut. No. 1 nationally is a 68-year-old California writer named Jon Sutherland, who will hit 50 years at the end of May.
Friendly and relaxed in person, Murolo is a lawyer who handles civil cases and is raising two kids with his (very understanding) wife, Karen.
Murolo also found time last year to write a self-published novel, Running Home, whose main character, Harmon Willow, is a runner who, by the end of the book, has logged 10,797 successive days and competed in a long series of grueling ultramarathons. The final line of the novel: “He would run tomorrow.”
Murolo tells me Running Home is only semi-autobiographical. “But my 14-year-old daughter says, ‘Dad, you are Harmon!’ ” He concedes that he has actually run in “every one of those races” that Willow does in the book.
At the end of the novel, much of which reads like a runner’s journal, Willow writes that he had put himself through an excruciating 314-mile competition (taking seven days and 23 hours, which was Murolo’s actual time) because he was seeking “some greater meaning of existence.”
The character didn’t have such an epiphany, but Willow says: “I did learn something, something simple. I like to challenge myself to be a better version of myself as a runner. But it’s really more important to challenge myself to be a better version of myself as a person, a husband, a father.”
Murolo says: “I don’t think of this as a book about running. I think it’s about finding something important to you, showing up every day and having it add some meaning to life.” He expands on this during our interview: “You set your mind that you’re going to do something and then you refuse to quit, even in adversity. You will endure whatever it takes to get that one thing done. I think that’s the best thing I’ve gotten out of it.”
Murolo knows that many people consider him and other long-distance runners to be masochists. “There is a virtue, an honor, in enduring to get something done,” he says.
He also enjoys “the camaraderie” of the other runners who participate in ultramarathons. They get to know each other because they show up at a lot of the same events. Also, because their paces are necessarily slower than in shorter races, they often talk along the way.
Murolo shows me a photo of himself and a half-dozen of his running buddies sitting beneath a tent canopy during a break at the New Jersey Three Days at the Fair ultramarathon. They all look happy. But then Murolo tells me, “I did 365 miles in a six-day version of that race. That’s the most I’ve ever done.” He adds, “This year I’ll probably do their 10-day event. My goal is 500 miles.”
Murolo says all this in a straightforward, sensible, even logical manner. Then he remarks that the 365-mile run wasn’t his biggest challenge. In 2011 he ran those earlier-mentioned 314 miles in a course stretching from Kentucky, across Tennessee and Alabama, ending in Georgia. “That was the hardest thing I ever did. It was in July. The temperature ranged from 95 to 100 degrees. You know going in that every day will be like that.”
Amid the heat, severe blisters and muscle aches of those seven days, Murolo had some moments when he considered quitting. “I thought to myself: ‘What am I doing? This is terrible.’ But you become obsessed thinking about getting to that finish line.”
If you’re still wondering what drives Murolo, you should know that his father, Fred Murolo Sr., died of a heart attack at age 48; Fred Jr. was 17. In Running Home, Willow’s dad dies at age 48, when Willow is 17. Willow writes of his streak: “He would run forever and live forever. Not be Dad.”
When I ask Murolo about this, he says his father’s death “was definitely a factor in making me getting this going. He was a big guy, overweight; a golfer, not a runner. For him to have a massive heart attack at 48 was a wake-up call that life can be fragile if you don’t pay attention.”
Of course there have been a few close calls during the streak, days when Murolo had the flu or a badly sprained ankle and yet managed to get in those required 2 miles. When I ask if he has ever regretted putting himself through that daily run at such times, he quickly replies: “No regrets at all. Not for a second.”
Always there is that next challenge down the long road ahead. Sometimes he muses about entering the Florida Skydive Ultra, which begins with a 120-mph free fall from an airplane, followed by a run of up to 100 miles. But the main thing is the daily streak. “When I got to the 25-year mark, I asked my wife: ‘You think I can do another 25?’ She said, ‘No way — something will happen eventually. Your luck will run out.’ ”
“It’s true,” he tells me. “Something will happen eventually. But now she thinks maybe I can make it to 50 years. We’ll see. It’s not easy.”