Rice alum will run the Houston Marathon from back to front to raise funds for Harvey relief

In characteristic Rice fashion, alumnus Mike Sohaskey ’93 thought creatively when he decided to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts through the upcoming Chevron Houston Marathon Jan. 14: Sohaskey will start at the very back of the pack and has asked his supporters to pledge dollars for each runner he passes on his way to the finish line. As an ultramarathoner, Sohaskey has the potential to pass quite a few runners — 5,000 is his rough estimate based on past Houston Marathon results — and to raise quite a bit of money — yet another example of how the Rice community has helped Houston recover from the historic storm.

Mike Sohaskey

Mike Sohaskey ’93

This will be Sohaskey’s 30th marathon and his first return trip to Houston since graduating from Rice with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and cell biology nearly 25 years ago. “Most of my miles as an undergrad were run up and down the basketball court playing pickup games or intramurals,” he said. It wasn’t until graduate school at Stanford, where he received his Ph.D. in cancer biology, that he began running in earnest.

What began as a way to decompress and give himself much-needed time to think during his dissertation work became a lifelong passion. “Running makes me feel more energized, more creative and generally more appreciative of the world around me,” said Sohaskey, who has since run races from A to Z — literally — including the Antarctica Marathon in 2013 and the Victoria Falls Marathon in Zimbabwe this past summer. Between those 29 races and six ultramarathons, Sohaskey and his wife, Katie, also founded RaceRaves.com, a Trip Advisor-style resource for runners to rate races and share information.

As the largest single-day sporting event in the city, the annual Houston Marathon attracts a massive crowd of spectators and runners alike. (It’s rated 4.5 stars out of 5 on RaceRaves.com.) Running such a renowned, world-class race is an opportunity that appeals to Sohaskey on many levels — and not just because part of the course skirts the perimeter of the Rice campus on three sides.

“While running Houston would be a huge thrill in itself, as a Rice alum I’m even more excited to use this opportunity to give back to the city where I spent four amazing years and to benefit those impacted by Hurricane Harvey,” he said.

He’s selected the Houston Food Bank as the recipient of the funds he raises. Sohaskey and his wife, who now live in Los Angeles, regularly volunteer at California food banks, and he’s keenly aware of the food insecurity issues exacerbated in Houston by Hurricane Harvey. “The Houston Food Bank appealed to me as a top-rated charity that addresses a dire need and does it with unrivaled efficiency,” Sohaskey said. “That’s a cause I’m proud to get behind.”

His decision to get behind the thousands of runners in the marathon pack was also borne out of the realization that Harvey has left Houston fatigued in more ways than one. “People wanted to help but were overwhelmed by the number of individuals and organizations asking for their money,” he said. “So once I decided to support the relief efforts in Houston, I wanted to do so in a way that people found more compelling than a straightforward ask. I recalled seeing a runner start from the back of the pack at another marathon and thought that would be a fun way to distinguish my campaign and engage potential donors.”

Though he now lives in Los Angeles, Sohaskey has kept Houston in his heart.

Though he now lives in Los Angeles, Sohaskey has kept Houston in his heart.


Running from the back requires considerably more effort than simply finishing the 26.2-mile race, but Sohaskey is sanguine about the extra encouragement this provides. “The more runners I pass, the more the Food Bank benefits,” he said, adding, “I’ve definitely stepped up my training regimen this time around.”

Thankfully, he doesn’t have to do the added work of keeping track of those runners himself; race organizers use digital chip technology to keep an official tally of the estimated 7,000 finishers and their times. “So by starting at the very back of the pack,” Sohaskey said, “I’ll know how many runners I pass by my overall finish place at the end of the marathon.”

So far, he’s raised $5,000, and with a few weeks left until race day, he expects that number to rise. The Houston Food Bank can create three meals out of every dollar it receives, which means Sohaskey and his supporters will be helping to feed 15,000 Houstonians a nutritious meal — a successful outcome by any measure.

To support Sohaskey’s fundraiser, visit go.rallyup.com/mikerunshouston/Supporters. For more information on the Chevron Houston Marathon, visit chevronhoustonmarathon.com. For more information the Houston Food Bank, visit houstonfoodbank.org.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.