Parents have an undeniable influence on their children. Sometimes, that comes full circle and the children end up influencing the parents.
In the Tharp family, it’s gone both ways for decades.
Back in the late 1970s, Morgan Tharp was running for the Columbus North cross-country team. His father, Gene, started running with him and wound up entering a handful of road races.
In the early 1980s, Gene Tharp quit running, opting to devote his spare time to remodeling the family home — but a generation later, another one of his offspring reeled him back in.
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This time, it was the Tharps’ second son, Rusty. It was 2003, and he was looking to run a full marathon before his 40th birthday on Sept. 11, 2004. For whatever reason, he asked his father to run it with him.
“I went out to see if I could run a mile,” Gene Tharp said, “so I went over to the Central track and went around it four times without stopping. I mean, it was a slow run. I thought, ‘Well, I can do that, I can build up.’ So I called him and told him I would do it with him.”
The family took a two-week road trip in a camper out to Pocatello, Idaho, where Rusty and a 60-year-old Gene each completed a marathon for the first time.
Gene hasn’t stopped since. He’s run seven full marathons, including the first two Mill Race Marathons in Columbus in 2013 and 2014 — and this fall, at the tender age of 74, he’ll be running in the half-marathon.
When he started running in his 30s, Gene Tharp tackled primarily 5- and 10-kilometer road races. He wasn’t up for trying a marathon back then, and half-marathons weren’t really a thing yet.
His longest race before traveling to Idaho, he says, was probably about eight miles.
Now, at twice the age, he routinely handles longer runs. Gene has done the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, which he ran well enough in 2009 to qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon. He finished Boston in 2011, and he has also tackled the courses at the Air Force Marathon in Dayton, Ohio, and the Marquette Marathon in Michigan.
In between, he’s run dozens of other races, from 5Ks up to half marathons. He’s got medals hanging up in his home spanning nearly 40 years — and his wife, Pat, has made up a quilt with some of his old race T-shirts. (She adds that there are more than enough shirts in the dresser to make another).
The fact that Gene is often one of the oldest, if not the oldest, runner in almost every race he enters should serve as inspiration, and it has. The Tharps have become a running family over the years — Gene has now competed in races alongside five of his six children and nine of his 19 grandchildren.
They’ve run races in several different states, but Gene’s always on the lookout for new challenges.
“I’d like to do some different runs than what I’ve done,” he said.
Though age has slowed him somewhat, Gene Tharp says he still tries to run each race faster than he did the previous time out. And he’s certainly not ready to quit anytime soon — if the partially collapsed lung that came when he got the flu a year and a half ago didn’t stop him, there probably isn’t much that can.
He draws inspiration from reading about older runners — including Harriette Thompson, who finished the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon last summer at age 92 to become the oldest woman to ever complete the 26.2-mile journey.
Even if he’s not going that distance this fall, Gene Tharp hasn’t ruled out trying to match such feats in the future.
“Us old people can still do it,” he said. “Just not as fast.”
A look at how Gene Tharp has fared during his previous Mill Race Marathon runs:
2015;73;2:17:48 (half marathon)