The exclusive club is now down to about 20.
That’s saying something when you think about all the runners who have participated in the annual Philadelphia challenge of running a half-marathon over the past 40 years.
Three of those esteemed runners – Mary Pat Ezzo, Larry Waldman and Mark Fite – hail from Bucks County.
They’ve battled through injuries, illness and, yes, advancing age, to complete every one of these 13.1-mile events.
No matter that both the course and the race’s ownership have changed hands this year, No. 41 will happen this Sunday in Philly for Mary Pat, Larry and Mark.
That’s because the streak has become more than a tradition, it’s almost an obsession; in a good way, we might add.
Example: Ezzo broke her leg last year and had only several weeks to recover in time. This year, Fite’s training has been somewhat restricted by a balky knee.
Officially, the race, which started out as the Philadelphia Distance Run way back in the ‘70s and changed to the Rock ‘n Roll Half-Marathon in 1998, still goes by the Rock ‘n Roll title.
But ownership has been taken over by IRONMAN, which operates all those famous triathlons, including the World Championships in Hawaii.
This year, the course has been modified to spend more time within the Philadelphia city confines, rather than spending so many tedious miles running up and down the Kelly drives alongside the Schuylkill River.
Whether this translates into a smoother, faster course remains to be seen.
To Waldman, it doesn’t matter that the “last 20’’ didn’t receive special “41’’ bibs like the corresponding numbers survivors got to wear for the past 25 years or so.
Just finishing and then sharing a few laughs in the VIP area will be satisfying enough.
“I think we’re at the point now where, unless there’s something really bad, the three of us are going to keep running it,’’ Waldman said during a telephone conversation.
“I don’t know if ‘albatross’ is the right word,’’ he added with a chuckle. “But for me it is. I’ve always said, if I didn’t have the streak going, the longest I would probably run is seven miles.
“But to get a couple longer runs in for this race is no big deal.’’
Waldman is an original member of the Bucks County Roadrunners Club, which started back in 1978.
Currently, he’s the driving force behind getting a much-needed water fountain installed at the west side of Tyler State Park, a quite popular running venue in the Newtown-Richboro area.
Many of Waldman’s training miles take place in Tyler. There are good days and then there are those 95-degree furnace days when 10 miles can feel like 20.
“I think we (Waldman, Ezzo, Fite) are just going to keep running until we can’t,’’ he said.
The tradition of running a race in historic Philly and the convenience of having it so close by factors into the equation of keeping the streak alive as well.
“If this race was somewhere else and it wasn’t closer, I don’t know if I would have the streak,’’ Waldman said. “We ran the first one around the time we all first started running (on the roads).
“It was the right place at the right time. If I had the first one in, say, Baltimore, would I have gone back again? I don’t think so. Philadelphia is so close. On Sunday morning, it’s just a 20-minute drive on 95.’’
Going into last year’s No. 40, there were just 23 folks (19 men, four women) left in the exclusive club. A few called it quits at 40.
Who knows? The Bucks threesome could be the last runners standing years down the road.
Dare we say 50?
“I know Mark told me he’s going to run until he’s 100,’’ Waldman chuckled. “It would be sweet if we were the last three running.’’
Saturday, September 15
Run Over Cancer 5K, 10 a.m., Tyler State Park, Newtown. Contact www.runsignup.com
Sunday, September 16
Garden of Reflection 5K, 9 a.m., Yardley. Contact www.gor5k.org
15th annual Rock ‘n Roll Half-Marathon, 8 a.m., Philadelphia. Contact www.runrocknroll.com