Mark Sullivan has completely over 175 marathons. He has run the Boston Marathon 32 times. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Marathon, a race which Sullivan has run since the beginning. With race day in Philly around the corner, iRun Radio’s Mark Sutcliffe recently spoke with Sullivan and learned why the avid marathon runner and running coach, is looking forward to running it. Sullivan also explained how it has become on of his favourite races along with why every runner should add it to their goal races at least once.
iRun: What are your memories from the very first Philadelphia Marathon?
Mark Sullivan: You know it’s funny I had no intention of running the Philadelphia Marathon all of these years. I had lived in Philadelphia and I went to school there, so I thought, I’ll go back and run the race. Prior to this, the last marathon Philadelphia had was a multi-loop course in Fairmount Park. The Philadelphia Marathon is a city-wide race, and I wanted to see what it would be like. At the time, races were not nearly as large as now. Back then Boston had 10 to 12,000 runners in the marathon and that was considered a mega race. At that time, the Philadelphia Marathon had a cap of 1,500 runners and it seemed like a large crowd.
One thing that is interesting that they have held onto is that it feels like a hometown race. The organizers maintain this feeling despite that they now have 30,000 runners between all of the events and partially that’s because Philadelphia is a sports town. The local people take pride in maning the water stations. I’ve met a cross country coach who takes his team to volunteer and it’s inspiring for these yong people who are bringing water to marathon runners and thinking they may like to give it a try too.
iRun: What brings you back to run this race each year?
MS: There’s a lot great things about Philadelphia. For one, the city has a lot of great restaurants, you can’t get a better cheesesteak than in Philly. Then, it’s the course which is so diverse. You run in the downtown area and then you run in the parks so it really gives you the best view of the city. I enjoy running by the Liberty Building, the downtown market and through the University of Philadelphia and the zoo. It’s also very pretty through the parks and along the river it is very picturesque and there is always a rowing crew. They have also learned what to improve every year and because the race has had a controlled growth, it has become a very runner-friendly event where everything is within walking distance.
iRun: Is there a memory that stands out personally?
MS: The former mayor took an active interest in the marathon. He would come out before the race started and be there the whole day. He would stand at the finish line giving people high fives, he didn’t wear a sash, he was out there just enjoying the event. I have a friend who had run marathons previously, but hadn’t in 13 years and I trained him. He had a picture coming across the finish line getting a high-five and he didn’t know it was the mayor. I have friends who I see each year and have dinner the day before the race and after with. So lots of good memories of great people.
iRun: You have run every year, has anyone else done it?
MS: Only one other person, Bob Koen, who is from New Jersey. We started the Legacy runners group for the Philadelphia Marathon and we have several tiers to recognize its members. There are a number of members who have run 15 years or more. We wanted to have something that signifies them and we now have many who have run eight marathon or more, and they are motivated to be a part of this group.
iRun: You’ve done a lot of different events in Canada. Where would you put Philly on your faves?
MS: Its tied for my favourite because I really do like Ottawa a lot. I love Philly. There are similarities between Ottawa and Philadelphia, like the fact that you can walk to the start line from your hotel. In Philadelphia, if your friends are watching, you can have them right there to greet you at the finish line the way it is set up. You are encouraged to stay with family and friends. There’s a huge park where you can stay and hang out for the rest of the day.