Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Simply Legendary: Ted Corbitt, "Father of American Long-Distance Running"

In the midst of a marathon season that includes majors that pay millions in prizes, PreraceJitters.com would be remiss if we didn’t give proper respect to Ted Corbitt, a man who deeply affected modern running around the globe. He was a reserved figure who did not seek fame, however he greatly affected running as much as, if not more than, any other single figure.

There are almost too many words to describe Ted Corbitt: Olympian, training pioneer, author, leader and inspiration among them.

Many may recall that Ted Corbitt passed away December 12, 2007, in a Houston hospital after a battle with cancer. At the age of 88, Corbitt had prostate and colon cancer and died of respiratory failure.

Corbitt was ahead of his time. He began running really out of necessity as a way to get to and from school. He was born on a cotton farm in South Carolina under the Jim Crow laws and segregation, during a time when there was school transport available only for white children. Corbitt was never bitter and developed a love for his daily runs.

He later ran at the University of Cincinnati, and was sometimes not allowed to compete in meets against white runners. Corbitt graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a masters’ degree with honors in physical education and then studied to become a physical therapist.

Corbitt debuted at the marathon at the age of 32 with a 15th place finish in the 1951 Boston Marathon. After two more marathons was selected for the Helsinki Olympic team.

As a runner, he pioneered ultra-marathoning (anything longer than a traditional marathon) in the United States when most people thought the marathon was the absolute limit of human endurance. Corbitt would run for hours, even days, connected to electrodes to study the effects of running on the human body. He has held American records for 25-, 40- and 50-mile marathons.

Corbitt helped found the Road Runners Club of America in 1957 and was later its president. He was a co-founder and the first president of the New York Road Runners Club.

He was a member of the inaugural class of the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, N.Y., in 1988 and was inducted into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame in April 2006.

Largely responsible for the movement to adhere to strict measurement criteria and course certification, Corbitt’s 1964 book, Measuring Road Running Courses, became the benchmark for certified road race courses at the time and is the foundation upon which accurate road racing rests today.

He persevered, evolved, and excelled at life. Ted Corbitt is example of everything good about running. As the sport goes through a difficult time, it is then to look back and see where we come from to know where to go.

By Jay Hicks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist.

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