Conley ready to walk News and Sentinel half marathon

Roger Conley, of Vienna, will walk his first ever Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half Marathon on Saturday. Photo by Jordan Holland.

PARKERSBURG — This summer’s been a busy one for 61-year-old Roger Conley.

The Vienna resident, who owns Conley Fabrication in Mineral Wells, has logged in countless miles walking in preparation for his first ever Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half Marathon on Saturday.

“I’ve done about 20 5K races so far this summer,” Conley said. “This will be my first half marathon. This is all new to me.”

Conley only started walked competitively within the past year when he learned he had diabetes.

“I started because I went to my doctor and he said, ‘You’re diabetic.’ He put me on a diabetic pill and told me to come back in three months and we’d talk about further options,” Conley recalled. “When I left I told my wife, ‘You know what? I’m going to see if I can’t do something about that myself.’ So I immediately started changing my lifestyle– my diet big-time, and I started walking. Prior to that I probably couldn’t walk around the block.”

Now, not only can Conley walk around the block and much, much further, but his health is trending upward.

“I went back three months later and I’d lost 30 pounds,” he said. “My A1C dropped from nine-something down to five-something, which is normal. And not only did I not do the insulin but he took me off of the pill. He said, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing.’ So it works.”

Now Conley, who admitted to not liking medication, is using walking as his medicine. By competing in races regularly, he’s kept himself in shape and avoided slacking off.

“I started doing the races as an incentive to make me go out and walk every night,” Conley said. “Without doing the races I’d probably find an excuse not to go walk, but the competitive spirit kicks in and you don’t want to go out there and look bad. I pretty much go out and walk every night so I can be competitive when I do the races.”

Conley said he typically comes in around the 36 or 37-minute mark in 5Ks, and is hoping to finish in less than three hours in the half.

“My expectation is to finish it, and I want to do it in under three hours,” he said. “That’s my goal. I don’t know about being competitive in this one. I’ve been pretty competitive in the 5Ks, but this is a step up.”

Many people who follow the races say the walking races are even more competitive than the running races. Conley agreed, saying there’s always eyes on you while walking so it’s important to follow protocol.

“Around the course you’ve got judges watching you and you’ve got people with cameras,” Conley explained. “There’s just a lot of technique involved with it and I’m a long way away from having that technique all down. In April, they offered a beginners clinic and I did do that and it helped tremendously, but prior to that I was just out there walking as fast as I could walk. Had no idea what technique was.”

Conley said the people he’s raced with have been very supportive when he’s had questions or needed advice.

“I’ve got to try to figure out how to pace myself at the beginning so I’ve got something left at the end,” he said. “The camaraderie is fantastic. Even the ones you compete with in your own age bracket. They’re all so willing to help you and give you advice. It’s just refreshing.”

Another support system for Conley has been his grandson, Shawn. Conley said Shawn walks with him in most of the races he’s done which has given them a chance to bond.

“He loves it,” Conley said. “He’s 13 and I think of the 20 races I’ve done this year, he’s done 15 of them. I’m proud of him. He’s done very well.”

Conley has no plans of slowing down anytime in the near future. Now that he’s witnessed the rewards of staying active firsthand, he wants to continue doing so for as long as possible.

“I wish I would’ve started doing this 20 years ago and not when I’m an old man,” he said. “But there’s people competing in these races in their 60s, 70s and 80s. I think if you continue doing this, I think you can do it for a long time just because of the improvements in your health and in your lifestyle that you see from it.”

Conley lives with his wife in Vienna. They have three sons and five grandchildren, with a sixth on the way.