• Jill Ciminillo, CARA Board of Directors Vice-President

Site Coordinator And Group Leader Jim Murphy Reflects On His 15 Years With CARA

“If I ever talk about doing one of these marathons again, do me a favor and lock me in a closet.”


That’s what long-time group leader and site coordinator Jim Murphy told his then-girlfriend, now wife, after he finished his second Chicago Marathon in 1978. For those not hip to Chicago Marathon history – that’s the second ever Chicago Marathon. Murphy’s first marathon also happened to be Chicago’s first in 1977.

His long training runs for both marathons didn’t top 7 or 8 miles, and he said the reason he managed to finish the first marathon was simply because he ran with a friend the first half who was much slower.


His second marathon didn’t prove to be as successful as he started out too fast, injured his knee around mile 21 and hobbled in the final 5 miles.


Fast forward 27 years – one year for every mile in the marathon, Murphy joked – and he decided to become a more dedicated runner after watching the start of the 2004 Chicago Marathon on a TV at the gym while he was riding a recumbent bike.


“And I said I remember when I did those. I wonder if I could do that again. Well, then I said no.”


Call a locksmith

But at that point, Murphy realized he did need a regular running program in his life to get healthy and be consistent. So, he started looking online for running clubs, and that’s how he found the Chicago Area Runners Association. He saw it had a marathon training program at Waterfall Glen, which wasn’t far from where he lived at the time.


The persuasive thing on the CARA website that swayed Murphy to join: It said you’ll be more consistent if you have a schedule, a group to run with and support along your training route.

So, Murphy signed up for the 2005 marathon training program without signing up for the marathon. In fact, he never actually intended to do the final 26.2 at the end of the season. All he really wanted was that regular running program.


“When my wife heard I was considering signing up for a marathon training program,” Murphy said, “she asked me: ‘Do I need to get a locksmith in here to put some locks on the closets?’”


To make a long story short, Murphy did end up running the marathon – and he did it 45 minutes faster, even though he was 27 years older.


“So,” Murphy said. “I came back.”


Within a couple years, he became a Group Leader and ultimately served as the Site Coordinator for Waterfall Glen.

MTP’s Secret Sauce

According to Murphy, CARA’s marathon training program has a magic ingredient – and it’s the people. In addition to the volunteers who ensure the training runs are supported and the staff who come up with the training plans (so you don’t have to) – it’s the training groups themselves that make a difference.

“The results that they get far exceeds the small group of people who are accomplishing it,” he said. “And that’s the biggest compliment I can think to pay to CARA.”

Murphy said people tend to be upbeat and not to miss training runs because, well, they’re looking forward to seeing their friends – even if it means they have to be up before the sun on a Saturday morning to do it.


“I have many runners say they kind of dreaded marathon training because they knew it would be hard,” Murphy said. “They were surprised what made it easier was they looked forward to it. So, they can have a miserable week, and all week they look forward to getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning and running.”


Because the training runs are more than just running; they’re a kind of therapy.


“I’ve had runners confide in me various life stresses,” Murphy said. “They would tell me this was the best therapy they could have. And I always thought well there’s two parts to that. One is you got the exercise and you got the break from what was your stress, but you also got to talk to people about it.”


58 marathons later

For someone who was supposed to be locked in a closet before running another marathon, Murphy has made running a bit of a mission. When he took up marathoning again, it was a reaction to the frenetic and unhealthy lifestyle he was leading. As a lawyer specializing in aviation, he traveled 40 to 50 times a year – often being gone for at least five days at a time.


“I was waking up not knowing what town I was in, and flights would be delayed, and I would find a vending machine with really dried-out crackers, but that was all I could eat,” Murphy said. “It was not a healthy lifestyle, not a healthy lifestyle, so I knew I had to do something about that.”


The marathoning helped focus his exercise.


“But then it got out of control,” he said.


He has now done 51 marathons and seven ultra-marathons, the longest of which was the Comrades Marathon in South Africa – 56 miles of all hills. He’s qualified for Boston twice and run it once. And he once did five marathons in 15 days.


“If I ever talk about doing one of these marathons again, do me a favor and lock me in a closet.”

He also did an indoor marathon on (get this) a 200-meter track – that’s more than 200 laps. Murphy said it was fun, and we have to assume he was being a tad sarcastic since he was laughing as he said it.


Then again, the man did train for Comrades by running up and down the same hilly mile in Waterfall Glen. For 16 miles. So, maybe 200 laps on an indoor track was fun.


Ironically, when Murphy was training for Comrades and was running up and down that hill, two other guys were going down as he was going up and vice versa. Come to find out, they were also training for the Comrades Marathon.


And wouldn’t you know it, when he got halfway around the world pre-marathon, the three of them ended up on the same elevator at the same hotel in South Africa.


“It took me 26 hours to get there, and I bump into someone I saw 3 miles from my house,” he said.


Making a difference

After that third marathon in 2005, Murphy went down a rabbit hole of not only running but also volunteering. In his 15 years with CARA, he has been a Site Coordinator and Group Leader, picking up coaching certifications along the way. Plus, he has also volunteered for the Chicago Marathon as a start line coordinator.


“I got very deeply into it,” Murphy said.


And he punctuates that fact by stating he got more personal satisfaction out of running the Waterfall Glen site for CARA than he did from running some of his cases as a lawyer.

“Jim Murphy has been an incredible Site Coordinator for the Darien-Waterfall Glen location and a tremendous ambassador of CARA. His total commitment and untiring dedication to the summer training program has been an inspiration to me." - Ann Marie Phaneuf

Murphy said being a CARA volunteer makes a huge difference, particularly when you work with first-time marathoners.


“Initially there’s all this bravado,” he said. “But you see the doubts in their eyes.”


So, one of his biggest rewards is when these runners come to the Group Leaders and Site Coordinators at the end of the season and say: I never would have accomplished this without the group.


Moving into retirement

Murphy was the third site coordinator at Waterfall Glen, but now, after more than 10 years, he said it’s time to pass the baton as he and his wife are moving out of state in the near future. But he knows the site will be in good hands with his replacement.


“Jim Murphy has been an incredible Site Coordinator for the Darien-Waterfall Glen location and a tremendous ambassador of CARA,” said Ann Marie Phaneuf, who will be replacing Murphy as the Site Coordinator. “His total commitment and untiring dedication to the summer training program has been an inspiration to me. It will take a team of us to fill his shoes. But with the base and roadmap he has provided, we can springboard from that and continue to grow the Darien-WFG summer marathon training program. Wishing Jim and Theresa a wonderful and well-deserved retirement and next chapter.”

As Murphy prepares for that next chapter, he wanted to end with a comment about CARA.


“I’m not sure people understand this, but CARA is a tiny staff with a comparatively tiny budget, and they are incredibly successful at leveraging that tiny staff and that tiny budget and getting a volunteer community to run programs,” he said.


Murphy added if CARA wasn’t here, it would be an enormous loss to tens of thousands of people, not only for what it provides to the running community but also for what it does for the park districts and the people who use them.


“The results that they get far exceeds the small group of people who are accomplishing it,” he said. “And that’s the biggest compliment I can think to pay to CARA.”

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