The origins of the ING Philadelphia Distance Run are in the original “running boom” in the United States that was launched by Frank Shorter’s gold-medal performance in the 1972 Olympic Marathon and fueled by the publication of Jim Fixx’s The Complete Book of Running in 1977.
The first Philadelphia Distance Run was held the following year. The half-marathon distance was not a popular one at the time. But over the last few years, the half marathon has been gaining popularity faster than any other road race distance, and the Philadelphia Distance Run surely deserves some credit for this trend.
The inaugural race was won by local runners Julio Piazza (1:07:35) and Nora Johnson (1:24:34). The event management scored a major coup in recruiting Olympic legend Lasse Viren to compete in the second running of the Philadelphia Distance Run. Virren won and kicked off the event’s unparalleled tradition of attracting the world’s best runners.
The great Rod Dixon of Australia, then the marathon world record holder, won the race in 1980 and 1981, lowering the course record to 1:02:12 in his second attempt. Joan Benoit Samuelson came, saw and conquered from 1983 through 1985, establishing a longstanding American record of 1:08:34 in 1984, fresh off winning her Olympic gold medal in Los Angeles.
The very next year, Mark Curp set a new American record and event record of 1:00:55, which stood until Ryan Hall ran 59:43 in Houston in 2006. Hall will compete in this year’s ING Philadelphia Distance run and will take aim at his own record. If he achieves it (and indeed, if he comes even within 16 seconds of it), he will become the first person to break the hour barrier in the event.
Among the other hallowed names that have stood at the top of the finishing results over the 32-year history of the race are Steve Jones, Khalid Khannouchi, Sylvia Mosqueda, Coleen DeReuck, and Catherine Ndereba, who scored five consecutive wins between 1998 and 2002 and will return in search of a sixth title this year. And of course we mustn’t forget Deena Kastor, who won in 2005 with a still-standing American and course record time of 1:07:53.
Also in 2005, management of the Philadelphia Distance Run was taken over by Elite Racing, which was purchased by Falconhead Capitol two years later and became part of the Competitor Group.
Last year, financial services company ING became the title sponsor of the event, signing a multi-year agreement and taking over for longtime title sponsor Jefferson Hospital. ING was attracted to the event largely as a vehicle to extend the company’s Run for Something Better program, which promotes children’s health and fitness by funding free community and school-based running programs.