Jon Mahoney, The Marathon Man

At 550 marathons and counting, runner Jon Mahoney knows a thing or two about marathon running

Sherry and Jon Mahoney
Sherry and John Mahoney have run a combined 800+ marathons. Photo: Ronald Lee

Twenty-five years ago, Jon Mahoney was a corporate pilot in Vancouver who spent a lot of time sitting. He sat during flights and he sat waiting for flights to take off. When he turned 40, he realized he was tired of sitting.

“I wanted to do something,” he said. “So I decided to run a marathon. At the time I didn’t know anyone else who did marathons.”

Mahoney says he didn’t consider himself to be a runner at the time. He had run short distances, 5 and 10Ks but nothing more and nothing serious. However, his first marathon in Seattle in 1994 triggered something in Mahoney and began a love affair with running marathons. Today he’s ranked 31st in the world for most marathons in a lifetime and is a Hall of Fame member of Marathon Maniacs which tracks the results of multi-marathoners.

“The first year I did one marathon, the second year I did five, the third year I did 10,” Mahoney says. “There’s something about the challenge of running 42 kilometres that’s very fulfilling. The runner’s high is too much fun!”

Within a few years, Mahoney was running a marathon every two weeks for an average of 22 per year. That pace lasted for more than 20 years, but Mahoney has slowed down a little these days. Today at 67, he’s doing about one marathon a month – not a lot for a marathon enthusiast like him!

“I’ve actually been doing more hiking now,” Mahoney says. “Last summer my wife and I did a 10-day, 170K tour around Mt. Blanc in France. You go from one lovely Swiss hotel to another lovely Swiss hotel.”

Mahoney says making the switch to hiking from running is inevitable as you get older as the joints take a pounding.

Over the past 25 years, Mahoney has had some significant moments at marathons. He was married 15 years ago to wife Sherry at the end of the Hawaii marathon, a race they’ve both completed numerous times. [Sherry has completed nearly 300 marathons herself.] And he’s run marathons of every size and shape on every continent except Antarctica. 

In addition to marathons, Mahoney has completed more than 40 ultra races and countless trail races. His favourite is the Knee Knacker right outside Vancouver. It’s a 50K race from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. 

His second favourite trail race is on Catalina Island near San Diego which moves from one side of the island to the other. He also highly recommends the Eco Challenge trail marathon in France that proceeds from Versaille to the Eiffel Tower along the sandy paths of the canal system.

As he’s racked up marathon after marathon, Mahoney developed a pretty clear picture of the kind of races he enjoys. Marathons that follow a circular route, have undulating terrain and something interesting to see top his list. He dislikes early start times (think 4 a.m. on a bus heading to the start) and late start times. 

“A lot of marathons in Europe start at noon!” he exclaims. “I want it to be over by then!”

“I don’t particularly enjoy flat routes like Rotterdam, although I’ve done it 10 times,” he laughs. “On that route, the bridges are the only hills! At the other end of the scale is Pike’s Peak in Colorado,” Mahoney explains. “It starts at around 6,000 feet and you run uphill exactly to the turn around point at 14,000 feet then you go back down.”

His favourite marathon in the world is Paris which attracts a crowd of about 45,000 runners.

“I’ve done Paris about half a dozen times and the route shows off the city really well,” Mahoney explains. “You run from one side of the city to the other and pass by every major monument from the L’Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Also, anyone can get into that race if you apply early. I’ve applied for years to London [which uses a lottery system] and never gotten in.”

Mahoney has an affection for running in big cities. New York is his second favourite marathon.

“If you want to do a big city marathon, do New York,” he advises. “The race is televised live and there are two million spectators along the route who chant your name as you go by. It gives me goosebumps. It’s a really exciting race that goes over five bridges and through five boroughs with the finish line in Central Park.”

His personal best marathon time is a respectable 3:24. That’s slipped to around 4:00. Mahoney says he doesn’t like the young upstarts in the races these days who treat him like he’s an elderly athlete, instead of a runner with 500 plus marathons under his belt.

Mahoney doesn’t plan to stop running marathons any time soon. This past November, he returned to Seattle, to the marathon that started the obsession, to mark his 25th anniversary of marathon running.

And now, with Covid-19 forcing races to either cancel or go virtual, Jon is switching to virtual events to keep increasing his marathon tally. In May, he and Sherry ran the BMO Virtual Vancouver Marathon then did the Virtual Banff Marathon in June. His next race will be the Lululemon Virtual SeaWheeze Half in August and after that he’s got a few small, live trail runs planned with 25 or fewer runners.

He’s currently training about 40 km per week, but that varies and he says he’s just been lucky his body has been able to take the wear and tear of so many marathons over the past 25 years.

“I’m just a little Irishman,” Mahoney laughs.  “I’ve been really fortunate.” 

Lead image by Ronald Lee

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