TPV’s Dr. Art Mollen: 40 years and running strong

The Phoenix 10K marathon celebrates its 40th anniversary Nov. 1.

Dr. Art Mollen

Dr. Art Mollen

This year’s race will be held in downtown Phoenix, although the first race was conducted along the canal near 40th Street and Camelback Road.

The race was the brainchild of Dr. Art Mollen, a popular local physician who maintains a practice in Scottsdale but who lives in the Town of Paradise Valley.

The Beginning

Dr. Art Mollen started running 45 years ago as a senior in medical school and still runs today, albeit at a slower pace.

He had never been a runner and would at most run 100 yards; nor had he dreamed of starting a marathon but that all changed when he read an article by Dr. Dave Worthen about running the Boston Marathon.

Dr. Mollen called Dr. Worthen and was in San Diego by the following weekend to run with his group, which was the catalyst for Dr. Mollen’s decision to start the Arizona Marathon Society.

Dr. Art Mollen

Dr. Art Mollen, founder of the popular Phoenix 10K, greets Sally Whitney at the finish line.

It all started with a handful of Dr. Mollen’s patients that met every Sunday at Doubletree Road and Tatum Boulevard. The group ran at a slow pace because it was about getting beginners started in healthy habits.

Over a period of a year-and-a-half the group continued to meet every Sunday and grew to over 400 people. At that point the Paradise Valley police had to shut them down because all of the runners were blocking the street.

With the increase of runners in 1976, Dr. Mollen decided the AMS should have a marathon and the first Phoenix 10K was born. It was held down 40th Street and Camelback Road on the picturesque canals by the North Bank Restaurant.

The North Bank Restaurant, owned then by Bill Levine, became the marathon’s first major sponsor. Bill Levine got a hold of an Olympic gold medalist marathon runner from the 1976 Olympics to help promote the race.

As luck would have it, the AMS managed to secure Jesse Owens, an Olympic gold medalist who set three world records and won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Germany and who happened to be living in Phoenix at the time of the first conference to attend.

Dr. Mollen says, “I remember at the first press conference Jesse Owens, who was a sprinter, of course, said ‘anyone who runs more than 100 yards is crazy’.” Jesse Owens has since been inducted posthumously into the Arizona Runners Hall of Fame, which was created by Dr. Mollen as part of the 3TV Phoenix 10K in 2011.

The first race was expected to have 500 participants. The Arizona Marathon Society collected 500 tongue depressors from the Mollen clinic to give to the runners in order for participants to know where they had finished in the race. Over 1,500 participants showed up.

From that point on the iconic Phoenix 10K and Half Marathon took the lead of the Arizona running community and never looked back.

The evolution of the marathon

The first five years of the marathon the number of participants jumped from 1,500 to over 5,500. The other major race in town was the Fiesta Bowl Marathon.

In 1981, Bill Levine sold the North Bank Restaurant and the Arizona Marathon Society marathon became the New Times 10K sponsored by the Phoenix New Times. Long-time runner and volunteer of the race, Harvey Beller became executive director and worked with the Phoenix New Times to coordinate the event.

By 1986, 15,000 runners ran through Park Central Mall and down Central Avenue.

“Soon, the New Times 10K began to compete against running events that were popping up throughout the year, but no flashy race will ever beat out the history of the Phoenix 10K,” says Harvey Beller.

The Phoenix 10K has become a generational event. Runners from the first race still run in the 3TV Phoenix 10K today, and their children and their grandchildren run.

The Phoenix 10K and the heart

For Dr. Art Mollen, the race was about the running community and his patients. He would meet with patients three times a week to run up to four miles with his patients.

Nurses would be on hand to take blood pressure, monitor the patients and treat them for high blood pressure and cholesterol. Dr. Mollen added a revolutionary cardiac division to the marathon.

This meant patients who had recently had a heart attack, heart surgery, or bypass would recover by training to run with the goal of participating in the marathon.

Today, training cardiac patients to exercise is called Cardiac Rehabilitation and is widely practiced, but back in the 1970s the common treatment for cardiac patients was complete bed rest for three weeks. Everyone thought it was crazy to train patients who had just had a heart attack to run 26-mile marathons.

But Dr. Art Mollen was encouraged by Honolulu cardiologist Dr. Jack Scaff, and Toronto cardiologist Dr. Terrence Kavanaugh, both of whom had a cardiac rehabilitation program.

A Mollen family of marathon runners

The Phoenix 10K runs in the Mollen family. Dr. Art Mollen’s family has been running in the race since its early days. Dr. Mollen’s wife Paige, Dr. Mollen’s children Brad, Jenny Biggs, Samantha and Chase, Dr. Mollen’s son-in-law Jason Biggs, Dr. Mollen’s older sisters from out of state. Even

Dr. Mollen’s cousin, Dr. Martin Mollen, who helped Dr. Art Mollen start the race and ran for the first several years, and his four children have run the race.

Dr. Mollen’s personal highlights over four decades:

* The highlight of the 70’s for Dr. Art Mollen was the explosive growth in the runners participating in the race. It was the start of a bigger running community is Arizona.

* In 1981 Henry Rono, the 1978 Olympic gold medalist for the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races, was brought in and beat the course record time.

During the eighties, Dr. Art Mollen instituted running seminars the Saturday before the race. He would bring in running doctors from all over the country, including Dr. Dave Worthen and Dr. George Sheehan.

* The same year Henry Rono beat the record, the seminar was held at Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium with 3,000 people in attendance. The seminars were discontinued in order to redirect energy and funds to the race.

* In the early ‘90s, a heart patient had a heart attack 50 yards from the finish line. Dr. Mollen saw her go down and was close enough to run over to administer CPR. This woman came back the following year to run the race again,

* Completing a marathon is no easy feat. In 2001, as the runners entered the (then) Bank One Ballpark, their accomplishments took on a life of their own as the runners were featured on the Jumbotrons as they crossed the finish line.

* In 2011, Dr. Art Mollen created the Arizona Runners Hall of Fame to honor and memorialize the outstanding achievement and contributions of distinguished individuals to the running community of Arizona.

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