Dr. Art Mollen has long been a proponent of physical fitness and healthy eating as important keys to overall good health. “But I think mental attitude is probably 90 percent of the game. That, and it’s important to pick the right parents,” he adds.
Mollen, a Valley osteopathic family physician, started running 45 years ago while in medical school. After moving to the Valley in the ’70s, he organized a running group for his patients, which grew to more than 400 participants. Running was just taking off as a national sport and the Valley only had a handful of races, so Mollen decided that Phoenix should have its own signature race. In 1976, he founded the Phoenix 10K.
The inaugural event took place on the canal banks around 40th Street and Camelback Road where its first major sponsor, the long-shuttered North Bank Restaurant, was located. Mollen credits the success of the first race to the support of Bill Levine (then owner of the North Bank Restaurant) and securing Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens to help promote the event as well as enticing a couple of Olympic athletes to run. Now, the race is run through the streets of downtown Phoenix.
Racing technology has come a long way, Mollen says. At the first race, Mollen and staff handed out tongue depressors poached from his office to runners as they crossed the finish line to record their times. “I figured we’d have 500 people, so I numbered them from 1-500 and we had somebody at the finish line with the clock. We had another 1,000 runners, so they didn’t know what place they came in.”
Participants can now keep track of their times by smartphone and watch themselves on videos taken throughout the course.
Subsequent races have attracted up to 15,000 runners, but the numbers have fallen off in recent years due to competition from other races. “It dwindled down to as few as 2,000 runners,” he says. Other races had “bells and whistles” to hook runners – “whether it was a midnight run or a color run (participants are showered with colored powder by onlookers as they run by), the other runs had a bit of a different mystique. That’s why four years ago I added the half-marathon.”
This year, Mollen hopes to get 10,000 runners. “Eventually, I’d like to see the race come back to historic numbers and have 15,000.” The event also includes a 5K and 1-mile walk as well as a wheelchair 10K.
At 70, Mollen is still in tiptop shape. He hasn’t eaten red meat in 35 years, doesn’t drink alcohol or eat dessert and stays out of the sun. His fitness regime includes biking 12 miles each morning and swimming a mile every night.
Mollen has run 34 marathons, including three Boston Marathons, as well as 10 triathlons. “I still run a couple of miles a month because I miss it so much,” he says. “But every time I run, it gives me low-back pain.” What would he tell a patient who came in with a similar complaint? “If it hurts, don’t do it.”
What: Phoenix 10K and Half-Marathon
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: CityScape, 1 W. Washington St., Phoenix
Cost: Varies by race and date of registration