- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2007

Imagine the following personal ad:

“Single 39-year-old male from upper Manhattan, works in the entertainment business, loves classical music, does not own a car but runs 10 miles to and from work, seeking single female with car to join in on 24-hour runs or be patiently waiting on the sidelines.”

Meet Phil McCarthy, who achieved rock star status in ultra-marathoning at the sixth annual World 24 Hour Run Championship in Drummondville, Quebec, on July 28-29.

The native Nebraskan, a neophyte in ultra circles, finished fourth while helping the United States also to a fourth-place team showing.

Phil’s finish at the World Challenge was very significant, not only as an individual, but for his strength to hold on for the benefit of the USA 24-hour team,” said 59-year-old Roy Pirrung of Sheboygan, Wis., a fellow competitor and team manager. “Without his determination and will to push through the pain he was dealing with, our team would not have finished in fourth place in the world.”

McCarthy ran 154.48 miles in 24 very humid hours, which calculates to a little more than a 10K an hour. Over and over for 24 hours. While you and I sleep, McCarthy is covering distance.

“Running is my relaxation,” McCarthy said.

He said he actually started running in junior high as a sprinter and continued at a small high school in Nebraska.

“I was a decent sprinter in the 100, 400 and relays,” said McCarthy, known in ultra circles for his modesty. “There was no cross country team until my junior year of high school. In college [at Nebraska] and grad school [at Michigan], I just ran for the fun of it. I didn”t race.”

In fact, he said, his first race out of high school came a decade later, in 1995, when he moved east to Staten Island where he has relatives.

“It was a neighborhood five-miler, and I got hooked from that race,” McCarthy recalled. “A friend of mine ran the Dallas Marathon and I was really impressed that somebody could run that far. The 1997 New York City Marathon was my first marathon. I had a view of the Verrazano Bridge while I lived on Staten Island.”

He ran the 26.2-mile Big Apple course in 3:47, but since then has gotten much faster, running 2:53 last year in his eighth NYCM finish. He’s amazingly consistent, too, running 10th at the Yonkers Marathon last year with half splits of 1:28:04 and 1:28:02.

“Generally, ultra runners are older than the top marathoners and 10K guys,” McCarthy, an aspiring pianist, explained. “People don’t have a lot of interest until they get older, in my experience. I’ve only been running ultras five years now. Some people go bam right off the bat. In my first few years, I wasn’t blowing anybody away. I was still trying to hit [personal bests] in the 5K and 10K races and marathons.”

His ultra breakthrough came during the past year. After McCarthy ran 138 miles for the third spot at the 24-Hour National Championship in Grapevine, Texas, last November (less than a mile behind runner-up Pirrung), he knew if he increased his weekly mileage, he would better his performance, possibly to 145 miles in 24 hours.

But he messed up his calculations during worlds.

“When I plan my races, I break it down into 12 hours, then six hours, then 3-hour splits,” McCarthy said. “But the race was in kilometers, not miles. When I did the conversion, I thought I had gone 148 miles.”

Instead, he went 154.

When asked about his ultimate goal, McCarthy’s modesty took over.

“It seems like the 24-hour race suits me the best,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve reached my peak yet — maybe 160, 165, maybe more. I don’t want to try to say too much, I don’t want to jinx it. I have certain goals but I’d rather keep those to myself.”

Then he offered: “A friend of mine said I am in the top dozen American performances — 165 is the American record. I cannot deny it’s a goal of mine. I’ve only run three — 127, 138, 154. I don’t think I’ll be adding another 10 miles but maybe six or seven miles.”

As for adding a woman to his life, McCarthy said he isn’t necessarily looking for a woman who is a runner.

“Either a spectator or participant,” he said.

He did say that an Italian woman caught his eye at worlds, but Italy is a long way from New York.

“It would be nice to have a woman who is into the sport but if not, as long as she doesn’t alter my life too much.”

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