Super Fan Mike Mahon Attends His 2,000th Cross Country MeetBy Jonathan Gault
FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — On September 7, 1985, Mike Mahon headed to Franklin Park in Boston to watch the Northeast Cross Country Invitational. Twenty-two years old and infatuated with the sport, 1985 was the year Mahon went from fan to superfan and started logging his meets: it was the first of 37 races Mahon would attend that fall. But even after that prolific initial season, Mahon had no idea he’d still be at it nearly four decades later, shouting the following words to unsuspecting parents:
Welcome to my 2,000th career cross country meet! Thanks for coming!
When I first profiled Mahon for LetsRun.com in 2017, he was already looking forward to this day. Mahon had done the math and expected to hit meet #2000 in September 2022.
He was not far off. Mahon’s timeline was bumped back a year — he did not attend any meets in 2020 due to COVID-19 — but on Tuesday at Farm Pond Park, Mahon watched his alma mater, Framingham’s Keefe Tech, face Assabet Valley in the 2,000th meet of his one-of-a-kind cross country journey.
This is not exactly how Mahon envisioned it. When he pitched the idea of meet #2000 six years ago, Mahon was hoping by now word about his quest would have spread to the major networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX — and abroad to the CBC and BBC. Even in Framingham, Mahon’s milestone hasn’t made many waves. Attendance is about what you would expect for a dual meet in the Colonial Athletic League — a dozen or so parents, not much more than that. Mahon says he invited the mayor. He didn’t show.
Still, it is a special day. Mahon is a big fan of the Canadian Football League: he owns over 60 custom jerseys and wears one to every meet he attends (the name and number are always the same: IMPALA 33). Tuesday’s jersey is one Mahon has never worn before: a gray and navy blue Montreal Alouettes jersey from the mid-2010s. Ronnie James, the Alouettes’ equipment manager at the time, sent Mahon this jersey back in 2015, and Mahon promised he would save it for a special occasion. Meet #2000 certainly qualifies.
Mahon also totes around a poster made by two members of the Keefe Tech team, with “MIKE MAHON CONGRATS ON 2000” written in big, black letters. He tells runners from both schools that he is making custom t-shirts to commemorate the meet that he will eventually deliver, and spends the minutes leading up to race time introducing himself to parents with a booming hello, thanking them for making it to the meet.
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As the runners from Keefe Tech and Assabet Valley warm up on a muggy afternoon, Mahon strolls around the course, which consists of two long, skinny loops along Farm Pond. It’s an appropriate venue: the course sits across the street from Keefe Tech, where Mahon’s love affair with running began as a member of the cross country team in the 1980s. He tells everyone the course has been named for him.
“Officially there is no name,” says Keefe Tech coach Jeff Beling, who fondly recalls Mahon’s presence at his own meets as a runner for Framingham High in the 2000s. “But colloquially, if he says the Michael P. Mahon Cross Country Course, we all know what he’s talking about…We’ve spent a lot of time changing the course to be a better cross country course and Mike was really proud of that…It means a lot to have Mike here when he literally could be anywhere in the state.”
While Mahon has never been officially diagnosed, those close to him suspect he may have a form of autism, which would explain his intense passion for niche sports like high school cross country and the CFL and his strict adherence to routine. At a cross country meet, Mahon’s biggest ritual is keeping score. Keefe Tech’s Connor Bingham wins the three-mile race in 20:26 (Keefe Tech does not have enough runners for a girls’ team), and as usual Mahon is at the finish line with his notebook, jotting down the finishers and their times. He does this for every meet he attends — he has a notebook for every season — which means that if you’ve run cross country in Masschusetts at some point over the last 40 years, there’s a good chance Mahon has written your name at least once.
At meets without a clock or live results — like Tuesday’s meet — Mahon needs to work fast. He’s a whirlwind at the finish line, chasing down anyone with a popsicle stick to ensure he spells their name correctly. Only once he logs each team’s first five finishers and the final score — Keefe Tech 19, Assabet Valley 40 — can he relax.
Except there’s no relaxing at meet #2000. Mahon has prepared a speech, and beckons everyone — runners, coaches, parents — to gather round as he thanks the people who helped him reach this milestone. Jack O’Rourke, the coach at Marian High School who took on Mahon as an unofficial assistant in the 1980s and helped nurture his passion. His late parents, Catherine and Richard. And the Duncan family, who have served as Mahon’s biggest supporters and unofficial caretakers through the years.
Mahon ends his speech by telling the assembled crowd how cross country can change your life. It has certainly changed his.
The numbers are staggering. 2,000 meets across 38 seasons is an average of more than 52 meets per year. That’s particularly impressive when you consider cross country is a fall sport and the vast majority of those competitions are packed into a three-month window from September to November. There are exceptions, of course: there was no way Mahon was missing the World Cross Country Championships when they came to a snowy Franklin Park in March 1992.
Mahon’s favorite meet in that span? It wasn’t World Cross or any of the state meets he’s been to through the years. No, it was meet #839, a double-dual on September 11, 2002, that Mahon refers to as “The Infamous Too Close to Call.” It featured three schools, and the race was so close that each team earned one win and one loss — Lincoln-Sudbury beat Newton South, Concord-Carlisle beat Lincoln-Sudbury, and Newton South beat Concord-Carlisle.
“It was the girls’ cross country meet I will never forget for the rest of my life,” Mahon says.
Mahon does not drive, so he has reached almost every meet by some combination of bicycle and/or public transportation. Meet #2000 was easy, a two-mile bike ride from his Framingham home. The journey to meet #1998, Saturday’s MSTCA Relays in Attleboro, was trickier. To ensure Mahon made the 26-mile journey on time, he left his apartment at midnight Friday, stopping a few times along the way. He was in Attleboro by 6:30 a.m. — two and a half hours early for the first race of the day.
Over the years, Mahon has biked thousands of miles to cheer on tens of thousands of runners while collecting hundreds of thousands of cans, which he redeems at Framingham Liquors to fund his year-end banquet, a rollicking gathering where Mahon hands out dozens of awards (and a catered meal) to the best runners in the MetroWest area. Most banquets end with one of Mahon’s famous phrases: “and that was quite an accomplishment.”
While Mahon has not received the nationwide attention he longs for, he has carved out a special niche in this niche sport. No one who has been to a Mahon banquet will ever forget it, and between Mahon’s gruff voice, unbridled enthusiasm, and brightly-colored CFL jerseys, he is hard to miss at meets. Two thousand meets in, he has become a beloved instution of cross country in the Bay State.
“I went to [college] in Connecticut, and us Massachusetts guys would talk about Mahon and no one would know,” Beling said. “They were like, what are you talking about? And we were like, when you go to Franklin Park, you’ll see.”
There have been potholes on the road to 2,000. Mahon could not stand the idea of missing meets during the COVID season of 2020, when spectators were asked to stay away, so the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association had to inform Mahon he had been “suspended” to put his mind at ease. As a result, Mahon went 678 days between races — yes, he counted — but once the MSTCA called him in 2021 to lift his “suspension,” he has been as dedicated as ever.
On August 8, Mahon’s bike was stolen while he was shopping at CVS. The timing was not great. Cross country season was just a few weeks away, and no bike = no cross country. Within days, a GoFundMe had raised $2,345 for a replacement, a black and green Specialized model that Mahon proudly displayed on Tuesday.
Now 60, Mahon has no plans to slow down. After Keefe Tech-Assabet Valley, Mahon is headed to meet #2001 on Wednesday (St. Marks vs. Brooks in Southborough), meet #2002 on Thursday (Newton South vs Wayland vs Acton-Boxborough in Newton), and meet #2003 on Saturday (the Wachusett Invitational in Holden). By the end of this week, he’ll have 13 meets already in 2023; he’s shooting for 70, which would break his single-season record. Beyond that, Mahon is already thinking ahead to meet #2500, which he expects to hit sometime in 2032.
And next season, Mahon wants to expand beyond Massachusetts. New Jersey powerhouse Christian Brothers Academy has not lost a dual meet since 1974; on the same day Mahon hit #2000, CBA registered wins #392 and #393 over Middletown North and Middletown South at Holmdel Park. A man who appreciates a good streak, Mahon wants to be there in person when CBA hits #400.
As the runners prepare to leave Farm Pond Park on Tuesday afternoon, Mahon gathers them all for a photo to commemorate the occasion. With both teams lined up behind him, Mahon stands at the front, barking directions. In his hands, Mahon holds a small, old-fashioned sign, the kind you’d see at a gas pump, which he now uses to count his meets. Under the words “PLUS TAX,” Mahon has set the price to $200.0 — meet #2000.
It’s classic Mahon. He found the sign in the dumpster by a Shell station 15 years ago. Most people would not have given it a second thought. But by hauling something unremarkable to meet after meet, year after year, he imbued it with its own special meaning. And that was quite an accomplishment.
Talk about Mahon’s fandom on our world-famous fan forum/messageboard. MB: We’ve found our sport’s greatest fan. Mike Mahon just attended his 2,000 cross country meet.
For the full story on Mike Mahon, check out our profile on him from 2017: LRC Meet Mr. Cross Country, The Sport’s Biggest Fan
Correction: The initial version of this story said Mike Mahon was 23 years old when he attended his first cross country meet; he was actually 22.