There were injuries and illness and more than enough bad weather conditions to go around but nothing could stop Mary-Pat Ezzo from completing all 42 fall Philadelphia half-marathons.
Nothing, that is, until a pandemic.
Understandably, the 2020 Rock ‘n’ Roll 13.1-miler was canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The Richboro resident acknowledged the prudence of such a decision.
But what took her, and a number of local distance runners, aback was race sponsor Ironman’s choice to also drop the 2021 event.
For many, that call only doubled the disappointment.
It truly leaves a hole in the Philadelphia running scene and makes people wonder what the future holds. Many have been running this race since it first started in 1978 as the beloved Philadelphia Distance Run.
For now, Ezzo says she’s probably going to run 13.1 miles on her own next month and then wait and see what happens.
Ezzo, a veterinarian, holds membership in a rather unique club. Just a little over a dozen runners have competed in all 42 of these races and she’s proud of her streak.
To see it put in limbo like this figures to be a letdown, to say the least.
She notes Ironman will keep 10 half-marathons open around the country but won’t be traveling to any of them just for the sake of her streak.
“I am not traveling anywhere to run a Rock ‘n’ Roll race since who knows if they will be held next year anyway,’’ she said. “I registered for the virtual run for September and I am calling it 43 years in a row.
“I think that this will be the end of the PDR as we know it. Not sure why this wasn’t one of the 10 that they deemed good enough to continue. It is a shame that Ironman got too big for their britches and had to start canceling the runs. I think they should sell the run to another organization.’’
Newtown’s Larry Waldman and Ivyland’s Mark Fite both completed streaks of 41 years but chose to end them in 2019 due to injuries and advancing years.
Both were elite runners in their day, recording outstanding times of 1:20 and 1:12 respectively.
They fondly recall the days of the PDR, first sponsored by the Philadelphia YMCA when it was still a local, grassroots race, and wonder if that atmosphere can ever be recaptured.
“If I were still running the race as an all-year runner, I’d be upset they canceled it so far ahead,’’ Waldman said. “There’s nothing in writing about turning over the race for another company to manage. I would like to see some group to take over for 2021, as long as it’s feasible.
“The runners affected most are Mary Pat and the other 15 or so all-year runners. Everyone else can find a half-marathon somewhere to run.
As we age, each year gets harder to train and run. Waiting another two years to run another could be the end of some of those runners’ streaks.’’
Accomplished runners/cross country coaches Mike Clarke and Terry Permar offered their thoughts.
“Cancellation of the 2021 and beyond Rock ‘n’ Roll Half in Philadelphia would seem to me to be a disappointment for those half runners participating in a streak of some sort in Philadelphia,’’ Clarke said.
“I would think someone or some organization will revive a fall Philadelphia half-marathon in the future.’’
Permar says the idea of bringing back the race for 2021 in a limited format (5-10,000 runners, entry fee in the $50-60 range) just wouldn’t be practical.
“Nobody else is going to pick up this race and certainly not for 50 or 60 bucks,’’ Permar offered. “Like so many races from the ‘70s, ‘80s and even well into the ‘90s, the Philly half had its glory days. That time is over. You can never go back.’’
Bucks County Roadrunners Club veteran members Joe Boyce and Bill Schaffling both ran the Philly half before it turned into a 30,000-runner circus, but stopped, so they won’t miss it as much.
“Personally, I stopped running it several years ago because it had become such a large event, making both parking and running a challenge,’’ Boyce said. “We used to have a large BCRR presence and even a tailgate afterward. The logistics just became too challenging.’’
Added Schaffling: “I would prefer if someone else took over similar to Broad Street (10-miler) and the cost would be much more reasonable. I think the half is a much more popular distance and would have no problem filling up. I would definitely go back to a PDR-type race.’’
Fraser Marlow agreed with the BCRR runners.
“I stopped attending because the entry fee was going up faster than the Apple or Amazon stock price,’’ he said. “When you are paying $15 a mile to run around the streets of Philly, you do have to wonder.
“If we want to make this race accessible to more people, bringing the price of races back into an affordable range would be a great place to start. Broad Street still does this well. Why not let the city run its own half-marathon and collect the proceeds using the infrastructure from Broad Street? It could be a more pared-down affair, with a more affordable entry price.’’