John Mohler ’73: Marathon Man

At age 67, one alumnus finished 51 marathons, one in every state and Washington, D.C., while keeping his day job.

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John Mohler ’73 crossed the finish line of his first half-marathon thinking, “I don’t think I could ever run another step — and I couldn’t fathom how anybody could turn around and run 13.1 more miles after that (a full marathon).”

Perhaps not the words you’d expect from a man who has gone on to run marathons in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. But if you ask Mohler, “It’s all about the journey.”

He entered his first 10-mile run on a challenge from a co-worker. “Our company was sponsoring the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in D.C., and she drove the van that picked up the people that couldn’t keep pace. I said, ‘I’m in, but you’re not going to be picking me up,’” Mohler recalled

Accepting the Challenge

A varsity cross country runner at Scranton, Mohler estimates that he hadn’t run more than five miles in a row for about 40 years when he accepted that challenge in 2009. He had been busy with his life in Baltimore: working as a CPA and auditor, raising his son and daughter with his wife, Cindy, and then being a devoted grandpa to their seven grandchildren. A few years of running 5Ks, 10Ks and half-marathons followed that first race, and then in October 2011, at age 59, Mohler decided to tackle the 50-states-plus-D.C. challenge.

Eight years later, in October 2019, Mohler reached his goal, a rare milestone even among the most dedicated runners. According to a recent survey by the 50 States Marathon Club, Mohler is one of about 1,500 people to do it.

Then, later in the month, he ran a “victory lap” celebratory race at the Marine Corps Marathon in Virginia, which was the first marathon he completed back in 2011. He ran the victory lap to raise money for Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization, in honor of his grandson, Matthew, who has autism.

“I could not have imagined a better finish to my marathon journey than the Marine Corps Marathon. The race started in heavy rain that lasted for most of the race but finished in the sun — a strong parallel to your reward for persistence in enduring life’s challenges,” Mohler said after the final race. “My ultimate reward was having my grandson, Matthew — who hadn’t even been born at the start of my journey — cross the finish line with me.”

Running was a big part of Mohler’s experience as a Scranton undergraduate, both socially and as a varsity athlete.

“Our dorm ran 567 miles continuously over a weekend to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for continuous running,” he recalled. “I was very proud of running on the varsity team and would have had no interest in doing that first 10-miler without my involvement at Scranton.”

Five of his friends from Scranton were cheering from the sidelines during his victory lap at the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 27, 2019, including Bob Caffrey ’73. Back when they were students, Caffrey would join Mohler for five-mile runs around Lake Scranton, the reservoir near campus, and Caffrey said Mohler’s passion for running was evident.

Mohler ran his “victory lap” in October 2019, crossing the finish line with his grandson, Matthew, who has autism. Mohler ran for Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization, in honor of Matthew.
Mohler ran his “victory lap” in October 2019, crossing the finish line with his grandson, Matthew, who has autism. Mohler ran for Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization, in honor of Matthew.

Celebrating Life

These days, Mohler runs with a motto he calls “Celebrate Life” in honor of family members and friends who have inspired him. He has run several of the 51 marathons in memory of a family friend killed in action in Afghanistan and a cousin lost to ALS, as well as in honor of his late grandson, Joseph, who died shortly after birth.

“Every time you cross that finish line, you never take one of them for granted. The course profile differs on each course. Weather gets into it; sometimes you have injuries. I’ve had plantar fasciitis, calf muscle pulls a week before a race — those have been tough, but it’s all about the journey,” said Mohler, who prefers to run without music and instead observes the scenery around him — whether it is the desert of New Mexico during the Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon or the bald eagles along the Pacific Coast during the Prince of Wales Marathon.

Running a marathon is a challenge of its own, but the varied weather and terrain in running these races across all 50 states and Washington, D.C., add to that challenge. Some of the more memorable locations for Mohler were the Maui Marathon, where it was already 80 degrees at the 6 a.m. start time and there was no shade on any part of the course, and the marathon he ran in Utah, where it was 15 degrees at the start and he said his hands went numb until mile 10, even with gloves on.

“Once I committed to running marathons in all the states, the thought of failing was never an option for me,” Mohler said. “I FaceTime with my grandkids after each race, wearing my medal, and I don’t want to explain to them that it didn’t work out this time.”

Reaching his goal of running a marathon in all 50 states and D.C. doesn’t mean that Mohler is done with running. Now he wants to assist visually impaired runners with their own marathon goals as a guide runner. The sighted guide helps the visually impaired runner by describing the terrain of the course and helping them navigate potential obstacles.

“I thought running with blind runners would be a really cool thing to do, to run with purpose,” Mohler said. Though you might say that is the way he has been running all along.

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