Don’t ask Jim Mahony to make plans for the first Sunday in November. He’s been booked for the past 37 years, and if his calculations play out, he plans to be busy that day for another 13.
Mahony, 62, is a real marathon man, running the TCS New York City Marathon every year since 1981. He’ll be at the starting line for this year’s run on Sunday, Nov. 4.
The first time Mahony ran, he was 25 and a recent Fordham University graduate. Running seemed like a good way to stay in shape, especially since college intramural sports were a thing of the past.
So, he signed up to run his first New York City marathon, all 26.2 miles of it. As he recalls, he may have been a little too pumped up for his own good.
“It was tougher than I thought it would be,” he said of the race, which he completed in a minute over four hours.
“I came out too hard, I was too excited. I didn’t realize the magnitude of it. I learned fast,” Mahony said in an interview in CNY’s offices last week. “Slow and steady wins the race.”
Well, Mahony has never actually won the race, but his personal best of 3:39, set in 1984 or 1985, is downright respectable. For the first 20 years, his finishes were generally under four hours. These days, he’s closer to 4:45, but he always crosses the finish line in Central Park.
“I didn’t think I’d be doing it at this stage of my life,” said Mahony, a husband and father of two adult children. He’s also a 16-year archdiocesan employee who works as director of financial systems.
He’s got his own marathon rituals. One is that he carries a flip phone so he can call his family about every five miles to let them know how he is progressing. “It gives me something to look forward to,” he said.
Of course, there is plenty to see in a race that begins on Staten Island and traverses the five boroughs. Running over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge the last two years, Mahony has had the unlikely good fortune to bump into Msgr. Robert Ritchie, rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The priest’s friendly demeanor gives him a real jolt of energy. “It’s a great way to start,” Mahony said.
The course, as someone famously described it, is akin to “a 26-mile block party,” like at Mile 9 near Bishop Loughlin High School in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, where the school band plays the “Rocky” theme.
One spot where he usually makes a family call is on the 59th Street Bridge connecting Queens and Manhattan, Mile 16. It’s a one-mile uphill trek across the span. “You’re pretty much on your own there,” he said.
Once he’s off the bridge and on First Avenue, Mahony said, “You’re feeling pretty good.”
The Mahonys are parishioners of Holy Name of Jesus in Woodbury, L.I., and residents of Syosset. His marathon training is surprisingly modest, stacking up 20 miles a week for most of the year and gradually building to about 30 near the race. Two weeks out, he does a 20-mile run.
Mahony also enjoys running other distances, competing in the summer series in state parks on Long Island with his 23-year-old son, Tim. “These days, he can run faster backwards than I can forward. We start together, and he finishes and then comes back and runs the rest of the way in with me.”
His son has done a couple half marathons, but has not run the big one yet. Mahony thinks it’s just a matter of time. “He’ll be ready to do a marathon soon.”
He’s watched his dad run them for a long time, and not just in New York. Mahony has run a total of 47 marathons, including eight out-of-state races.
If he can stay healthy, his goal is to run a marathon in all 50 states. The way Mahony has it figured, he’ll complete the task when he’s 80 years old.
Of course, he’d also like to complete 50 New York City marathons. If he stays on track, he’ll reach that milestone at age 75.
His family, including his wife Ginny and daughter Meghan, 27, will be there at the finish line. Another person he would like to see waiting for him is William Whiston, the archdiocese’s chief financial officer. Each year, Whiston secures a ticket for Mahony on one of the buses that transport runners from Manhattan to the starting line on Staten Island. The lift is a big help on marathon day.
Having run other marathons outside New York, including Boston, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Providence, R.I., Mahony says there really is no place like home.
Getting 50,000 runners through the streets without incident and with overwhelming support is a job that relies on many people, from police officers to race volunteers and a wide swath of New Yorkers.
Once they reach Central Park, Mile 23, a frenzy of excitement and enthusiasm pulls runners toward the finish line. The scene is “unlike anyplace else I’ve seen,” Mahony said.