Mahon Has The Magic Touch

Meseret Defar won her debut half marathon on Sunday with a little help from Ryan Hall's coach, Terrence Mahon (pictured right). Photo:

Terrance Mahon. Photo: New York Road Runners

The Mammoth Track Club coach helped Meseret Defar get to the starting line on Sunday.

Written by: Duncan Larkin

Seconds after watching Meseret Defar cross the finish line victorious in her debut half marathon yesterday in Philadelphia, I watched the multiple time world champion run up to Terrence Mahon–better known as Ryan Hall’s coach–and give him a big hug. Walking over to where they stood, I overheard Defar thanking Mahon repeatedly.

“No problem,” a smiling Mahon told her. “I’m glad it helped.”

Glad what helped? What had Mahon done to deserve all this praise from an athlete he didn’t even coach? I know the running world is a tight-knit community, but seeing an Ethiopian track specialist hug an American marathoner’s coach seemed a bit incongruous.

I knew Mahon was from the Philadelphia area and had run the course many times as a competitive athlete and while working at the Bryn Mawr Running Company. Did he share some secret tips about the course with Defar? Since it was her debut at the 13.1-mile distance, I wondered if Defar received some sage half-marathon racing strategy from Mahon beforehand. He wasn’t her coach, so what could he have possibly done for her?

I had to get to the bottom of it.

I tried Defar first. After throwing her a few softball questions about the race, which she fielded in perfect English, I inquired about Mahon. “Why did you go up and thank Terrence after the race?” I asked.

“What?” she replied.

I tried again, this time speaking slower and motioning over to Mahon, who was standing nearby talking to one of his own athletes, Ryan Hall. “Terrence Mahon, Ryan’s coach over there: Why did you hug him after you won the race? I heard you thank him for something. What did he do for you?”

“Sorry,” she said. “I don’t understand.”

I’ve heard about East African runners pretending not to understand difficult or undesirable questions, so I got suspicious. The plot was thickening.

Mahon had the answer. “She had a problem with her leg the night before,” he told me. “It was tendinitis. She needed therapy on it. They asked me to help out since I had worked on Ethiopians before.”

“I guess it paid off,” he said grinning.

Since Defar had just used her legs to outkick the best Kenyan road racer in the world, it seems Mahon’s magic touch paid off indeed.


Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first book, Oxygen Debt, was recently released.

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