With the 40th American Association for Cancer Research Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon approaching on Sept. 17, 23 men and women who have finished all 39 previous editions of the race plan on rounding it up to 40 this weekend.
They range in age from 58-year-old Stan Cooper, the baby of the pack, to 87-year-old Lorraine Cephus.
“Once you cross that finish line, you just say, ‘Thank God I finished that one,’” said Cephus.
Most still live in the Philadelphia area. Two, though, have flown the coop to Florida but still show up to the City of Brotherly Love come the third Sunday in September.
They’re comprised of 19 men and four women. They range in occupations from financial planner to vet to PE teacher. Some still run. Others are walkers now.
Tina Johnson has had both hips and both knees replaced but no way she’s not lacing up her running shoes. “I’m the bionic woman,” said the 71-year-old Johnson, who lives in Winter Garden, Fla.
Prostate cancer didn’t stop Al Worthington from keeping his streak intact. “Besides my wife and my family, it’s one of the constants in my life,” said Worthington, 65.
Mary Pat Ezzo, a 59-year-old veterinarian who raises border collies for show competition, broke her left leg last April when she was practicing herding sheep with her collies.
“They get stupid occasionally,” Ezzo said of the sheep, “and the flock charged me. One of them hit me square in the tibia and cracked it with its head. It hurt about as much as when my appendix ruptured.”
But Ezzo will be on the start line come Sept. 17.
Regarding the 23 legacy runners, Ezzo said, “It shows what kind of grit and determination the 23 of us have to maintain a streak like this for as long as we have.”
Originally, the race was called the Philadelphia Distance Run, and the Philly 23 still often romantically refer to the race by that name.
“I need to get to the Distance Run,” said Worthington.
It is a race with a remarkable past. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Lasse Viren of Finland won the second race in 1979. Olympic medalist and New York City Marathon champion Rod Dixon of New Zealand won the race.
So did Joan Benoit Samuelson.
Four world records, including two by Samuelson, have been set at the race. In 2011, Mathew Kosorio of Kenya set the course record at 58 minutes, 46 seconds. That same year, New Zealand’s Kim Smith established the women’s course record at 1:07:11. Both times are still the fastest half marathons ever run on American soil.