Walk This Way

Marc Roach decided more than a decade ago to start putting one foot in front of the other in pursuit of better health. Now, the 75-year-old covers between 10 and 12 miles each day, rain or shine.

by Kari Apted

Marc Roach grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, but after he graduated from Georgia Tech in 1971, he decided to settle in the Conyers-Covington area. In the spring of 2010, just one month before the electrical engineer was due to retire from AT&T, he injured his back in a car accident. His doctor told him he had to start exercising to regain his strength. 

Roach decided to take up bicycling. However, he felt unsafe sharing the road with drivers and opted to jog instead. He started slow but steadily progressed to running eight to 10 miles each day. Roach dropped a whopping 70 pounds, and his sleep apnea and high blood pressure also disappeared.

Roach kids that his daughter tricked him into getting serious about getting into shape. 

“She decided to come to Atlanta to run a half marathon,” he said. “She said I should increase how far I ran each day and do the marathon with her.” 

Roach worked his way up to jogging 13 miles per day. However, his daughter discovered she was pregnant and could not run the race after all. Roach nevertheless decided to keep jogging around 13 miles a day and clocked considerably more sometimes. 

“I got started for my grandkids, and they’re still my motivation to stay healthy.”

Marc Roach

In 2018, his knee began giving him trouble. “It doesn’t hurt unless I bend it too far,” he said, “but the doctor said there was no cartilage; it’s bone on bone. When he told me I would need to have knee replacement, I thought he meant right away, but he said that it could wait until I couldn’t handle it anymore.” The next day, Roach walked 17 miles. He jokes that he keeps finding excuses to postpone the surgery. “I don’t want to take the time to go through that rehab,” he said. “In July, I’m going to Disney with the grandkids, so I can’t do it before that.” 

Roach also does not want anything to interfere with his goal of walking 55,000 miles; he reached 52,000 miles on May 20, 2023. Roach still walks around 300 miles each month, mostly on level ground. He almost always walks alone, although his grandchildren have accompanied him on occasion. His favorite place to walk? The Kroger parking lot at Brown Bridge Road and Ga. 20. While that may sound like an odd location, Roach feels safer there than walking along Covington’s roads. 

“I find that people are on the lookout for pedestrians in a parking lot more than they are when driving down the road,” he said. Roach admits a change of scenery can be important, so he sometimes drives to Snellville or Lawrenceville to earn his daily miles. “I’ll walk parks and trails sometimes, or at the Monastery. I’ll walk Denny Dobbs Park, but parks and trails tend to be hilly, though they are nice for shade.”

Chance meetings with snakes and hidden holes in the ground keep Roach away from most nature trails these days. He also avoids walking in neighborhoods because of a few interesting dog encounters. 

“One day, I was walking through a neighborhood and these kids were playing in the front yard,” he said. “This big old dog comes bounding out straight towards me. He jumped at me and hit me. He didn’t bite me. He was just saying hello—and letting me know not to get near those kids.” 

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Covington’s Walking Man has been relatively lucky when it comes to facing potential hazards on his strolls. He does not mind rain, unless his shoes get wet and heavy, but lightning is the one weather condition that will keep him at home. Roach confesses to having fallen down a few times through the years, but he has never been seriously injured on any of his journeys. 

“I’ve probably fallen flat on my face five or six times. One time I tripped on kudzu; another time I tripped over coat hangers,” he said with a laugh. “One day, I tried to walk on an ice-covered street and slipped and fell three times. Another day, I kept feeling something between my toes. When I took off my shoe, I saw a nail had come up between my toes.” 

Roach goes through three to four pairs of Asics trail shoes every year and has worn out six iPods since he started walking. He enjoys listening to tunes from the 1970s and 80s. 

“I like rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Doobie Brothers—songs with a fast beat,” Roach said. “It makes me walk faster.”

The retired engineer admits to being somewhat obsessed with numbers and has used various Garmin GPS devices to track his steps. At one point, he had to wear two tracking devices because the battery on the first one would die before he completed his long walks. 

“If you track your progress every day, you see what’s keeping you going,” he said. “It keeps me competitive with myself.” Roach also quipped that walking has become a second source of income during his retirement years. “I have filled two water jugs with pennies I’ve found on the road,” he said. “Once, in McDonough, a 100-dollar bill came blowing up to me. That’s happened to me twice. It breaks up the monotony.” 

While Roach does not have Facebook, Instagram or TikTok accounts, he can be found all over social media anyway. 

“People often stop to ask me things or take a picture with me,” he said. “One time, someone sent my wife a picture of me walking with a cane and somebody had commented [that] ‘nothing stops him.’ That’s when I gave up using the cane. I realized it was more of a mental crutch than a physical one.”

People often tell Roach they wish they could do what he does. 

“I tell them, ‘You can. Just get started. Set yourself some small goals,’” he said. “I got started for my grandkids, and they’re still my motivation to stay healthy.” 

Click here to read more stories by Kari Apted.

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