Monday, October 7, 2013

Ted Corbitt 24 Hour Memorial Run

This weekend I had the honor of participating in the Ted Corbitt 24 Hour Memorial Run in Queens, NY. This is one of the most unique and memorable races that I've ever been a part of, and one of the best events in the ultra scene. Hands down.

Broadway Ultra Society
After the abrupt cancellation of the Grindstone 100 last week, I had a few options on my table. With vacation days taken and family plans etched in stone Jes and I were definitely heading to New Jersey. Originally slated as a stop on the road to Virginia, the visit to my aunts house became the focus of the trip. She practically raised me, and I don't get to see her nearly enough.

There were a handful of 50k races taking place in the area, all of which would have fit into our schedule and allowed me to get a good run in on a gorgeous weekend. There was also the option of solo adventure in the White Mountains or a long run with friends on the return trip. But all of these would have separated me from Jes, and this weekend was about the two of us celebrating a long summer of camping, training and overcoming obstacles together. It was the culmination of several months worth of effort and it marked a new stage in our lives together as we'd just settled into our new home before leaving town.

Ted Corbitt leading the pack. Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx, NY 1957
After searching the ultra lists for a day or two I found this hidden gem of a race in Queens. And I'm so glad that I did.

The Ted Corbitt 24 Hour Memorial Race takes place on a 1.1982 mile loop at a small park in Queens. The name of the event caught my attention instantly. Ted Corbitt is nothing less than a hero in the world of ultra-running.

Ted overcame racial prejudice while setting new world records and redefining what it means to "go long". The event held on October 5th and 6th in Juniper Valley Park in Queens celebrated the 40th anniversary of Ted setting the 24 hour record in 1973.

The race also celebrated artist, activist, spiritual teacher and endurance athlete Sri Chinmoy. Sri was a personal friend of Ted's and a truly incredible individual. Excited to be part of this celebration I contacted Rich from the Broadway Ultra Society and signed up immediately. I set a personal goal of running 100 miles at this event and looked forward to my first 24 hour race almost as much as I'd looked forward to Grindstone.

The night before the race I was surprisingly relaxed. The normal pre-race jitters were virtually non-existent and I was truly excited to get out on the course.  Unfortunately, the ankle that I'd sprained a few weeks ago (and rehabbed meticulously ever since) had started to act up again while I was coaching a group run earlier in the week. I rested it well and hoped for the best, but by Saturday night I was still feeling a sharp pain when I moved it a certain way. Fortunately, due to the nature of the race I could pull out if things got bad without risking serious injury, or go the distance if fate, fortune and the alignment of the starts allowed. I slept well on Saturday night and woke up ready to run.

We arrived early and got to talk with Rich who directs the event and some of the other participants.. These were real deal ultra-runners, and the sense of community was just as deep as the storied history of NYC ultra's-which was painted on old race jackets, tattered t-shirts and across the faces of many of the 50 or so participants.

The race began with two and half loops around a track, then proceeded to the big (well, 1.1982 miles big) loop in the park. 83 loops around the official circuit equals 100 miles.

With a small but moving ceremony they started the clock and we were off around the track for the first time. I ran next to the previous winner (the event has been held every 10 years since 1983, with a special race held in 2008, making this a rare event. And making this experience that much more incredible.)

I hadn't raced in a while and was definitely there to give it my all. Although I would have been proud to race and come in behind any one of these runners, I had a good summer of training behind me and didn't want to sell myself short. I started out in the front of the pack and stayed there for the next 20 miles.

Needless to say, I wondered what it would feel like to run a single loop all day and night. By the time I made it around the park for the first time I was relieved. It seemed that the energy of the city coupled with the great community of runners and the presence of my ultra-amazing crew (Jes) on every lap was going to make this an event to enjoy and an event to remember.

The weather was awesome on Saturday and the park was filled with children playing soccer, a couple of young dudes slapping some serious handball and a ton of inquisitive Queens natives wondering what the hell was going on as we walked, jogged and ran circles around them all morning.

I felt great during the early miles of the race, smiling and chatting with people while truly digging the scene. On loops one through fifteen I was reminded by the timing crew that I was in first place, although I knew that meant very little so early in the game. By the 13th trip around the track I began breaking the race down into loops of ten. Seven more loops of ten to go and I would be at 100 miles, my first goal of the day. By 1pm things started to heat up a bit and I began carrying a handheld with NUUN and using my ice-filled Noolie to stay cool. The aid station was well stocked and Jes was able to mix drinks, hand me salt tabs and tend to a couple of unexpected needs that came up (got some hot spots early, but a quick change into my Darn Tough's and a little tape took care of that).

It was on the 18th loop that my ankle started to bark at me. By the 19th loop it started to bite. Shortly after starting the 20th loop I had to begin walking as each step that I ran sent a small bolt of pain right through my ankle. I knew going in to this race that, just like the Grindstone 100 or any run that I took this weekend the ankle giving out on me was a possibility-but it still hurt to think that I wouldn't see the stars come out in the park that night or the sunrise in the morning. I knew as I walked slowly around the perimeter of Juniper Valley Park for the twentieth time that I wouldn't reach the 100th mile of the race as I hoped and planned.

I could certainly have walked for the next 19 hours but this is not an option that I considered for very long. As much as I respect every walker on the course, this would not have satisfied me and my passion for running. Jes had made tremendous sacrifices to be with me all night, another evening spent with family before heading home would be an unexpected blessing and I could not risk a more serious injury for a 100k walk around the course.

Other than not being in a better position to stay the night and support the other runners, I don't have a single regret about this weekend. It was one of the most fun, most rewarding and most compelling races that I've ever done. I wish that I were healed up and back on the course as I write this.

A huge shout out to Rich the race director, the Broadway Ultra Society and the friends and family of Ted Corbitt and Sri Chinmoy. And huge respect to everyone who completed the 24 hour run this year. You've done something truly amazing.

Honored, grateful and looking forward to the Ted Corbitt Memorial Run in 2023!

My total miles run: 24.51

Men's winner: Jim Morris 116.39

Women's winner: Lan Nguyen 109.69

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