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Thomas Philo: Staying the Course as a Legacy Runner at the L.A. Marathon
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Caption BulletPhoto by Heather Roach

Thomas Philo: Staying the Course as a Legacy Runner at the L.A. Marathon

“I think a lot of things that you have to do in life are not real natural…” says Thomas Philo, archivist and cataloguer at California State University, Dominguez Hills, “and a lot of people won’t do them because of that. It’s a good lesson to have a goal and to know that you have to sacrifice certain things for it, that you have to give certain things to achieve it.”

Philo is one of approximately 280 people to have participated in every L.A. Marathon since its inception in 1986 as a Legacy Runner. Having completed 26 marathons, 23 in Los Angeles and 3 others, Philo says, “…running a marathon is not a natural thing to do.” Even so, he continues to participate in the L.A. Marathon each year. He says that while L.A. Marathon isn’t the best event, due to weather and the course that runners follow, it isn’t without its perks.

“It’s a way of seeing the city that you won’t see any other way,” he says. “[In] 23 years I’ve never heard anybody say one unkind thing to another runner out there. It’s just a lot of positive energy. If you traveled the same route by car you’d be worried about somebody cutting you off - you’d be impatient with the person ahead of you or behind you. But [during the marathon] people along the way are cheering. At times I’ve seen someone fall and people rush out to help and you know, I wish everybody could see the city that way.”

Not only does running serve as a tension tamer for Philo, he says, “…it’s perfect exercise for me. It may not be for everybody, but I feel better physically, emotionally and psychologically. I feel more alert. I think there’s something that a 10- or 12- mile run will do for you that a lot of things won’t, and I would miss that if I weren’t able to [run] anymore.”

“I like the training more than the actual running of the marathon,” he says. “You get rid of a lot of tension, you feel good; it’s a way to do something good for yourself every day. I like training because you can feel yourself getting stronger over time [even with] a few breakdowns along the way. It becomes, at a certain point, more comfortable to run than not to run, because when you’re running well - that feels [like] a more natural motion to try to get someplace a little faster, to pick up your pace.”

Originally hired in 2005 to process the Rancho San Pedro Collection on a one-year grant, Philo applied for an available faculty position in the Department of Archives and Special Collections and was offered a job at the end of his project. Although initially wanting to become a writer, Philo found his passion in archiving, which relates directly to his interests in history and artifacts.

“Archiving was just perfect, and I’m just amazed at how it’s worked out since,” he says.

Philo participates in a number of committees on campus, including the Friends of the University Library, the Inauguration Steering Committee, the Friends of the Japanese Garden and the Archives Advisory Committee.

While in college, Philo worked in a factory in order to save money for graduate school. He started running because he needed to get the sounds of the factory out of his head, he says.

“I just loved [running], the solitude and the quiet of it,” Philo says. “And, finally just on a whim, I decided to train for a marathon in Detroit.”

Philo completed that first marathon in Detroit, in October of 1980, just as he has completed the 25 others he’s participated in. But, he says, “I’m a guy who runs marathons, not an athlete...I’m trying to be, but I’m not… It’s just something I do.
“I think you need to push yourself sometimes,” Philo says. “If you want to achieve something, you just have to accept what it demands of you.”

-Heather Roach

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Last updated Thursday, March 27, 2008, 2:55 p.m., by Joanie Harmon