Running a marathon is 26.2 miles and is no small feat. Multiply that by 15, and you’re at 393 miles.
Barry Susson has run that distance and thousands more miles over his 40-year running career. He’s run marathons in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, and even Berlin, Germany. On May 22, 2022, he’s taking on what he calls his most challenging athletic endeavor, 60k in a day, in honor of his 60th birthday.
“There’s something special about running and I love doing it. I’ve always found I can separate the stress of work and my personal life when I’m running, especially with other people,” Susson said. “I wanted to find a way to physically challenge myself and at the same time have fun celebrating my 60th birthday. I thought through a few options with my running friends and landed on the 60k, breaking up the run into three sections where I’ve run the most: Pennypack Park in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill on portions of the routes my JCC group runs several days a week, and the Ventnor/AC boardwalk, where I do lots of summer running.”
But Susson didn’t stop with just crafting this three-part run; he also decided to add a philanthropic component to the day. With the help of his wife Michele, they committed to raise funds to benefit the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, specifically the Fitness & Wellness and Adult & Inclusion departments, which have had the most impact on their lives. “Thanks to the JCC and the friends and connections developed over the years, it all leads back to the J. It was an easy thing to decide to do,” he said.
The Susson family joined the JCC in 1997 and have been active members from day one. In addition to his passion for fitness and frequenting the JCC’s Fitness & Wellness Complex, Barry has served on the JCC’s Board of Directors since 2007, chaired the Finance Committee and served as a vice president for six years. His wife Michele, who swims at the J regularly, worked at JCC Camps at Medford and was a staff member in the JCC’s Adult Department for seven years, where she organized the JCC’s Jewish Film Festival (she now serves in a volunteer capacity as the Festival’s co-chair). Their three children, Samantha, Jaimie and Daniel, grew up at the J and were part of the JCC’s Early Childhood Center, JCC Camps at Medford, swim team, Junior Maccabi Basketball, Mid- Atlantic Maccabi Games, and the JCC Maccabi Games.
The JCC is where Susson was introduced to running in groups in the mid-2000s. “Many years later, our group is still together and we continue to meet three days a week. We mix our runs between track, hills and distance, all of which help with endurance when you’re training for a race or just to provide variety.”
In addition to the constant presence of this group in Susson’s life over the years, it has provided him with meaningful friendships. They have been through many of life’s moments together, including birthdays, B’nai Mitzvah, anniversaries, and weddings of children.
“Barry and I are like the president and vice president of the group. We’re a great team,” said Tom Diaczynsky, Susson’s friend and member of the Run JCC Group. “I’ve run thousands of miles over the years with Barry; we’ve done several marathons and over a dozen half marathons together. He’s my number one running buddy. One of Barry’s most outstanding qualities is his dependability, and if I had to pick one person to run with, it would be him. I love his vision for this run and I’m excited to do at least a part of each leg of it with him.”
On Sunday, May 22, Susson will be joined by friends and family for some (or all) of his 60k birthday run. and each of the three locations hold special meaning. The day will begin at 6 a.m. with 13.1 miles in Philadelphia’s Pennypack Park, a stunning 1,600-acre park with picturesque views of woodlands, meadows, and wetlands, where Susson started running with his sister Shelly in his teenage years. “It’s an oasis in the middle of the city,” he said.
The second leg of the race will begin at 10 a.m. at the Katz JCC and will weave throughout Cherry Hill and Marlton, mostly through neighborhoods. The race’s third and final 13.1 miles will take place down the shore starting at 2:30 p.m.; approximately three miles of the route will occur through Margate and Ventnor, with the final 10.1 miles full of sea air, right on the Ventnor and Atlantic City boards.
“I started going to the shore in the summers back in the 1980s and began my boardwalk running at the same time. I loved shore runs from the beginning,” Susson said. “Michele and I started spending time there together at her parents’ home soon after we got married, and then when we had our children, I would take them with me in the running stroller on the boardwalk. We now spend our summers at the shore in our own home, and if I had to pick a favorite spot of all the places I run, the boardwalk is near the top of the list.”
“This is something he’s been thinking about for over a year and he wanted to challenge himself,” said Michele. “When he sets his mind on a goal, he will do whatever it takes to achieve it. I’m so excited to cheer him on, and even run with him for some of the race on what will be an incredibly memorable birthday.”
Runners, cheerleaders and supporters are encouraged to join Susson on one, two or even three legs of the run.