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40 Philly half-marathons? 'I think we lost our brains a long time ago'

Chris Palmer, Staff Writer

Updated: Sunday, September 17, 2017, 11:30 AM

These are some of the people that have run in each of the last 40 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathons in Philadelphia. Twenty-three runners ranging in age from 58 to 87 have reached the milestone.

Tina Johnson — her friends call her Titanium Tina — has had two knee surgeries, two hip surgeries, and three operations on her back.

These are the runners that have run in each of the last 40 Rock and Roll Half Marathons in Philadelphia. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Tina Johnson, right, who now lives in Winter Garden FL, and Nancy English, of Swarthmore, PA, center, clap for their fellow runners that have competed in every Rock and Roll Half Marathon for the past 40 years. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Gary Gordan holds up a photo of himself as a runner in 1978, the year he ran his first Rock and Roll Half Marathon. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
A runner for the Rock and Roll Half Marathon, dressed in a luche libre wrestling mask and star spangled spandex, warms up his legs doing bicycle circles, on the Ben Franklin Parkway before running the 13 miles on Sunday September 17, 2017. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
As the National Anthem is played before the running of the Rock and Roll Half Marathon Matt Bellina, who has ALS, center, who was competing in the wheelchair division, is held up by his friend and wheelchair pusher Jim Worthington, right, and his right hand over his heart is being held by his wife Caitlin Bellina, on Sunday September 17, 2017. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
The elite runners take off at the start of the Rock and Roll Half Marathon on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Sunday September 17, 2017. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Tina Johnson, center, begins her 40th Rock and Roll Half Marathon as she and her fellow runners take off from Eakins Oval and run 13 miles on Sunday September 17, 2017. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Runners take off from the start of the 2017 Rock and Roll Half Marathon , on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, early Sunday September 17, 2017. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Gary Gordon, right, takes off from the start of his 40th Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Philadelphia on September 17, 2017. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Over 11,000 runners participated in the Rock and Roll Half Marathon on Sunday September 17, 2017. They started on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the course wound its way into the city and back out on the Parkway to Fairmount Park. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Photo Gallery: The Rock n Roll Half Marathon

Prince Knight has snapped an Achilles tendon.

And just five weeks ago, Gary Gordon had successful surgery for prostate cancer.

But none of that has ever stopped the trio from lacing up their sneakers and putting one foot in front of the other for 13.1 miles in what is now called the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. For 40 consecutive years — in spite of whatever excuses they could’ve mustered — Johnson, Knight, and Gordon have shown up, making them part of a group of 23 people known as “all-year runners” who have never once missed this event.

Why?

“I think we lost our brains a long time ago,” Gordon, 71, said with a laugh.

About 15,000 people were similarly missing their brains Sunday morning, turning the Benjamin Franklin Parkway into a sea of half-marathoners. There was a man dressed as Elvis — without shoes, another wearing a full wrestling costume, and a guy carrying an American flag as he ran.

One runner wore a shirt saying he had participated in 100 half-marathons. He was running too quickly to be interviewed.

The race may not have the throngs of the Broad Street Run, in which 50,000 people traverse the spine of the city. And those masochists seeking a full 26.2 miles need to wait until November’s full Philadelphia Marathon.

But for the “all-year runners” of this event, this race has special appeal.

Lorraine Cephus ran the inaugural event at age 47. Now 87, Cephus said she wasn’t sure how fast she’d go Sunday — but speed wasn’t the point.

“Once you get out here you feel better,” she said. “I am not a couch potato.”

Vincent Cloud, 70, lives in Palm Beach, Fla., but comes back to run every year with friends, including Peter Longstreth, who has also never missed a race. Cloud said he’s written into his will that some of his ashes get sprinkled into the Schuylkill during the run.

And Gordon, who lives in Fairmount, was thrilled and moved to be participating so soon after his cancer surgery. He barely trained, he said, but that didn’t matter — finishing was his only goal.

Nancy English, 70, had never run a race before she signed up for this half marathon — then called the Philadelphia Distance Run — in 1977. Now it’s the only race she even considers.

As she approached mile three Sunday morning, a spectator yelled out congratulations.

“Not done yet,” she yelled back, continuing on her path toward the finish line.

Chris Palmer, Staff Writer

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