Tuesday, March 1, 2016

V.1 #1 An Abridged Edition of Greater Cincinnati Running During the 20th Century. By Bob Roncker

"If you can't find it elsewhere, create your own competition."

Don Wahle said these words on July 3, 1966 in response to an Enquirer staff reporter as he was being interviewed during a summer track meet series that he helped form. Those words typify Don’s attitude toward life. If something needs to be done, and no one else is doing it, then you can be the person
to initiate it. 

On January 22, 2016 a “Gentle Roast” was held for Don at Sorrento’s in Norwood. The intent was to show him how much we appreciate everything that he has done for local running. One of the byproducts of that evening will be the start up of this blog, which may eventually become a book, narrating through stories Greater Cincinnati’s running history during the 20th century. The title for this compilation is fittingly the quote that Don uttered back in 1966. Credit for the idea and start of this endeavor goes to Russ McMahon, the winner of the first ever marathon hosted in Cincinnati.

The development of this narrative will be ongoing as various individuals share their stories. It is open to anyone able and willing to contribute to this history of our local running scene. Track and field, road running, cross-country, ultras and walking will all be included. I am happy to help coordinate and edit this project. 

I would like to start this it off by giving an abridged edition of local events that occurred from 1900–1999. This, by no means, is complete but it can serve as an outline for stories to come. 

Based off what you see below, you are encouraged to embellish anything that is mentioned here with your own personal accounts or anecdotes. Or, feel free to introduce something new. I hope that you and many others will be the providers of material that will appear on future blogs. 

Feel free to contact me to discuss ideas as to how we can proceed with this endeavor. Thank you. 


"If you can't find it elsewhere, create your own competition."

V.1 #1        An Abridged Edition of Greater Cincinnati Running During the 20th Century.
By Bob Roncker


The first Thanksgiving Day event took place on November 26, 1908, 18 individuals finished the 7-mile distance. Three dropped out. Lovell Draper won the first edition and the subsequent four years.  This was the record for the most number of victories by any one male until decades later John Sence came in front six times.  Julie Isphording has the record for victories with eight. Due to World War I it was not held in 1918.


There was a Hikers section in the newspaper each week. Rosters of the participants and description of the walks described each week. 80 plus individuals might be present for any given weekend. The American Walkers Association was formed in 1916 and it is still active today. Other organizations at that time were the Walkers Club of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati Gym Walkers Club, and Young Business Men’s Club.

In 1919 the Thanksgiving Day Race went from the Ft. Thomas Armory to the Central YMCA, which was at the corner of Elm and Canal. One needed to pass a physicians test in order to participate.  The field consisted of 19 runners and nine walkers. Handicap starts were utilized and Frank Martin of Chicago, official handicapper of the AAU, did the honors.


In 1924 the Central YMCA Carnival at O.N.G.A. Armory on Freeman Avenue took place.  The armory no longer exists but it was near where the current Job Corps building stands. Many of the top athletes of the day attended.  Among them was Joie Ray who competed for the Illinois AC.

During the 1920s Sebastian Linehan led the weekend walks. The average distance was 20 miles. A break was taken for lunch. One local walker, based on his 50-mile performance, was invited to the 1920 Olympic Trials They had what were called Problem Hikes – the participants did not know the route or distance in advance. A pathfinder led it.

Armory events were held during this time. Joe Perman, of the New York Athletic Club (NYAC), an AAU champion, was among the competitors. It was not uncommon to see and hear a band playing music during the events.

DeHart Hubbard,1903 -1976, in 2000 was selected as one of top area athletes during the 20th century. He was a Walnut Hills High School grad and the first African American to win an individual gold medal in the Olympics. This happened at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Although he was one of the top sprinters, he was not allowed to sprint in those particular Games. 

DeHart was the first black athlete at the U. of Michigan. In 1925 he set a world record in the long jump (which at that time was called the broad jump). His WR setting distance was 25’ 10 ¾”. He also tied the world record in the 100-yard dash. The time was 9.6 seconds. He also made the Olympic team that competed in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He failed to make the finals in that event.

John Anderson, a Hughes High School and Cornell University graduate, placed 5th in the discus event during the 1928 Olympics, which were conducted in Amsterdam. Later, in 1932, he placed 1st in the discus event during the Los Angeles Olympics.


Various venues hosted events during the 1930s. Among these locales were the Schmidt Fieldhouse indoor track meets at Xavier University. The Century Athletic Club used the Coney Island track and the Deer Creek Commons Municipal Track. Deer Creek commons was a popular recreational area for many sports including running on its track. Now I-71 runs through what were their grounds. Gilbert Ave., Reading Road, and Elsinore just south of the old

Sam Stoller, a 1933 Hughes High School and University of Michigan graduate, tied the world record in the 60-yard dash in 1936. He placed sixth in the finals of the 1936 Olympic trials in the 100-meter dash. Initially, as was the custom at the time, this qualified him to be one of the four runners on the 400-meter relay team. The Games took place in Berlin, Germany. Shortly before the first heat of the relay the American coaches removed Stoller and Marty Glickman from the relay team and replaced them with Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, our two fastest sprinters. There is some controversy as to why this was done. Glickman felt it was because both of them were Jewish. Stroller didn’t think anti-Semitism was a factor. The movie, "Race", which focuses on the exploits of Jesse Owens, refers to this incident.

One year the Kenwood golf course was the site of a national junior cross-country championship.

Withrow High School was the kingpin of local track and field during this era.

The YMCA hosted indoor meets at their facilities. It is said that 636 participants competed.

High school cross-country races finished during halftime of UC football games in Nippert Stadium amid reports that the football crowd yelled for more.

Thanksgiving Day Race was not contested in 1936 due to management difficulties.


Ted Corbitt, grandson of slaves and born in 1919, attended Old Woodward H.S., on Sycamore Avenue, and U.C., where he originally was a 440 runner and excelled in spite of the institutionalized racism of the times. He broke the color barrier at Coney Island meet. He ran in the Thanksgiving Day Race in 1942 and 1943.


Ted Corbitt qualified for the 1952 Helsinki, Finland Olympic team, where he became the first African American to represent the United States in the Olympic marathon. He place 44th in the race that was famously won by Emil Zatopek.

He lived his adult years in the New York City area. Ultra running became his passion and he was a pioneer. He advocated the need for accurate measurement of road courses and introduced age groupings to the sport. These contributions, along with his own legendary exploits, are part of his legacy and for this he became known as “The Father of Long Distance Running.”

Kent Friel ran his first Thanksgiving Day Race in 1954. Kent has only missed a few Turkey Day races since then. He has run more Thanksgiving Day Races than anyone else.

Bob MacVeigh founded the Cincinnati Track Club.  Scott Tyler and Nick Kitt were two national class members on the team.


The 800-meter run is still the longest Olympic event that women are allowed to participate in. The feeling was that they were not capable of handling more.  For the most part, a definition of a local runner at that time was still: male, a student, and a competitive racer.

Most individuals drifted away from running after they graduated from school.  There were very few opportunities to compete. Someone in their 30s was a really old guy among the racers.

In 1961 the Thanksgiving Day Race began at the Ft. Thomas Armory. The route wound down Memorial Parkway to the Sinton Hotel on 4th  St. where the Provident Building now stands.

Andy Schramm, Deer Park High School, had arguably the greatest senior year of distance running in Ohio high school history. In the fall of 1961 he went out for cross-country for the first time, having played football each of the three previous years. In the Ohio State Championship race he lowered the course record by nearly 30 seconds. That spring he became the first Ohio high school miler to dip under 4:20. He added both the mile and the 880 state championships to his resume. Andy went on to Miami University, where he had an outstanding career, but his true potential was never realized due to his having contracted mononucleosis.

Don Wahle, Kent Friel, and Howard Hughes, later to be joined by Bob MacVeigh started track competitions among themselves at the Walnut Hills High School track since few other options existed. Soon other individuals asked to join them and this morphed into what became the Ohio Valley Track Club summer track and field and later cross country series.

The Thanksgiving Day Race was about to disappear due to neglect. Almost single-handedly Don Wahle kept the race going.

High school cross-country coaches were often the school’s basketball or swim coaches who used cross-country as a means to condition their athletes.

In 1966, Elder H.S. started a streak of 26 straight years qualifying as a team to the Ohio State Cross Country Championship Meet. This record is unmatched among local Ohio high schools.

Aerobics”, a book written by Dr. Kenneth Cooper in 1967, which designated point values to various fitness activities, influenced the public's thinking about exercising and running.

The Thanksgiving Day Race next started in front of the St. Luke (now St. Elizabeth) Hospital on Grand Avenue in Ft. Thomas. The race ended at the Elks Lodge (now FOP Lodge) on Central Parkway in Cincinnati. The start of the race had a precipitous drop during the first mile. Unfortunately, no split times where given then, but given the quality of the runners who raced, first miles in the 4:30s are not out of question. Upon completion of the race all 30-50 runners sat around in the Elk's Lodge and drank soup that the Elks Club members would ladle out of a large bowl.

Don Connolly, a sprinter and discus thrower graduates from Union College in Kentucky and moves to Cincinnati. Within a very short period he obtains his first and last teaching position at Indian Hill High School (30 years before retirement), meets and proposes to his wife Carol over a weekend (45+ years of marriage and counting), and attends one of the summer OVTC track meets where he volunteers his help to Don Wahle.  Local running has benefitted ever since.

This is pre-Title IX. Very few options exist for school-age girls to run. Don Wahle begins coaching a young Marie Kastrup. She runs the mile near 5:00 come which would probably have put her first in the state had there been a championship meet.

Kent Friel discontinues running the Thanksgiving Day Race for a couple of years. His 6:00 pace was too slow and he found it discouraging to find himself so far back in the field.

Reggie McAfee, from Courter Tech, becomes a multiple cross-country and track state champion. His 1969 Ohio State Meet records in the mile, 4:08.5 and 880, 1:52.5) stamp him as one of the greatest local high school runners.

The first marathon to be held in the area takes place in 1969.  Mike Boylan, teacher and coach at Roger Bacon High School, is the founder.  Russ McMahon, a sophomore at Roger Bacon, is the winner.  His time is 3:07.


Thanksgiving Day Race participants overwhelm the bathroom facilities at St. Luke Hospital.  The event is asked to leave for another site.

The Ohio River Road Runners Club, founded by Steve Price, puts on a marathon starting and finishing in the shadow of the Lebanon Correctional Institution. To accommodate all the participants, a couple of rooms at a nearby motel are rented to serve as dressing facilities.

In January of 1972 Mary Ann and Bob Roncker moved to Mountain View, California to work for Runner’s World magazine. Compared to the local running scene the San Francisco Bay Area was like dying and going to heaven. 300-400 people were in each of the weekly  road races.  There were a lot of female participants and old guys (40 and over) regularly took part. While living out there Bob first considered opening a running specialty store. However,  the feeling was that in 1972 and 1973, even in California, there were not enough runners to support this type of business, . However, the first Running Boom was about to be unleashed.

After high school at now defunct Courter Tech, Reggie McAfee first continues his running career at Brevard Junior College in North Carolina and then he goes to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He became the first African American to run a sub 4:00 mile.

Frank Shorter wins the 1972 Munich Olympic marathon. The impact stemming from his gold medal becomes another key element in creating the running boom.

Jim Fixx writes the “Complete Book of Running.”  It moves to and stays #1 on the NY Times book review.  This is the first time that a running related book achieves such popularity.

Mike Boylan, now an attorney, starts the Clifton Track Club in 1976.  This quickly becomes the most influential running organization in town.

The Clifton Track Club sponsors the 1st Annual (and only) Boston Marathon Qualifier around Lunken Airport and Playfield on December 2, 1978. The race started out with a temperature in the low 40s and overcast.  It gradually became colder as a light rain started to fall. A sub-3:00 time was necessary to qualify in the Open Division.  Chris Matey won with a time of 2:47:55. Jerry Vitucci, Dick Dammel, Bill McLaughlin, Gary Keuffer, and Dennis Geiger (2:59:24) also qualified in the Open Category.  Dan Hall (3:23:54) and Pete Wilton (3:25:53) made it in the over 40 category.  45 individuals toed the start line and 24 completed the full marathon distance.

Twice a year the Novice Runs are put on.  To be eligible to compete one has to have been running for one year or less or if they had been running for a longer period of time they could not have won any age-group awards during the past three years.  So many runners were entering the sport that even though runners became ineligible for subsequent Novice Runs, the event thrived. The Cincinnati Association of Life Underwriters (CALU) commissions Bob Roncker to write an instructional booklet to go along with this race.

Bill Rodgers and other top national runners of the day participate in the first Heart Association Mini-Marathon in 1977. The size of the crowd, over 3000, easily makes this the largest and first BIG race in the area. An electric atmosphere filled the Central YMCA clinic, which took place the evening before the race.

The Heart-Mini distance, as now, is 15k.  The start that year was at 5th and Vine. The course wound out Central Parkway to go around the campus of what is now Cincinnati State College and ended at 6th and Walnut.  A large backup extending many blocks before the finish chute occurred.  Bill Rodgers placed 1st. 

138 - Clifton Track Club Membership as of January 1978

Shoes in the RW shoe issue are up to $19.95

The typical respondent to a Runner’s World survey meets the following criteria:
         Age – 29
Height - 5’9”
Weight -145#
Number of years a runner - 6
Miles per week run - 50

Kent Friel joins the Clifton TC. He resumes running and comes back to the Thanksgiving Day Race.

Galloway run/walk breaks are unheard of. Only wimps would consider doing this back then.


The Phidippides Last Chance Boston Qualifier Marathon takes place on March 1, 1980 at Mt. Airy Park. Due to a freak and unexpected snowstorm with one foot of snow and 15-degree temperature, only a handful of runners take part.  During the course of the race two separate dog sled teams pass by the Oval in the park.  One week later, after permission is gotten from the Boston Athletic Association that qualifiers will be accepted even though the original March 1 deadline has passed, a second race over the same course takes place.  The weather contrasts greatly from the previous weekend as some male runners were seen competing without any shirts on.

Hind-Wells introduces sport tights to the community. Bob Roncker had the first pair in town. They were maroon. He ran with his daughter, Jessica, in one of the Novice Runs. He was so self-conscious and embarrassed to wear them in public that even though shorts were worn outside and on top of the tights he could not bring himself to take his nylon warm-up pants off.

Most events during this decade are sponsored by or manned by running clubs.

Peter Wayte establishes his mark as being a top masters runner.

GE is one of leaders of the Corporate Cup Championships that were held early in May in Sharon Woods.  Whil Hentzen, formerly a president of the Clifton Track Club, started this event. There were three separate races with these categories: Open, Masters (40 and over), and Female.  Teams - small, medium, and large, were comprised of employees who actually worked for the organizations that they represented.  Scoring was cross-country style and three individuals were needed per category to form a team.

Avon was playing a key role to get the marathon on the schedule for women in the Olympics. The championship race of their series takes place at the Avon plant in Springdale. Marty Cooksey, even with her bowel problems, wins the race.  A truckload of photographers riding just ahead of the lead runners and helicopters overhead destroyed any privacy that Marty may have wished for.

Karen Cosgrove and Julie Isphording are the two local queens of running. Each runs the marathon under 2:40.

Julie qualifies for the historic 1984 Olympic marathon team, the first time this event was allowed for women in the Olympics, by placing third in the Trials in Olympia, Washington.  Joan Benoit was the winner.  


During the summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Benoit wins the initial marathon.  Julie starts the race but due to an injury she is unable to complete the distance.

In 1987 Bill Rodgers returns to Cincinnati and races in the 10th Heart-Mini. Once again he places 1st.

GE’s John Blakely and Greg Witte pioneer and promote a local foot-racing league for the local running clubs in 1987.  The league continues until the early 1990s.

The fastest 5k-road race ever in Cincinnati takes place on October 17, 1987.  Sponsored by newly arrived in town Chiquita, the Chiquita—Xavier All For One Classic course travels downhill on Victory Parkway from the Eden Park overlook to Xavier’s campus.  Along with $6000 in prize money, checks amounting to $1000 await anyone breaking the American age record for point-to-point 5k courses.  The result? - an additional $15,000 in checks written that day. Female times for places 1-10 were 15:05.8 (world record) to 17:18. The men’s top ten ranged from 13:43.2 to 14:17.89. Who says money does not motivate?

Eek Keller starts running when he is 67 and he quickly becomes an age group phenom.  Eek sets a world record for his age group in the 2000-meter steeplechase at age 72 in Rome. This is a period of time when individuals were redefining what we were capable of doing at various ages.

Other local marathons take place at:
         Covington (Wade YMCA) - 1979
         Blue Ash
         Museum Center

On a cold, snowy December day the National Junior Olympic Cross-Country Championship was held at the Nicklaus Golf Center near Kings Island under the direction of Bobby Heim, director of the host club, Queen City Red Runners.

Two local high school runners gain national attention. Connie Jo Robinson, Reading H.S. and North Carolina State, is the Kinney (the national high school cross-country championship) winner. Later John Sence, Milford H.S. and Wake Forest, is the runner up to eventual Olympian and American record holder Bob Kennedy in the Ohio State and Foot Locker (the renamed Kinney meet) Championships. John’s time on the Rapid Run Park cross-country course remains unsurpassed.  Many great runners have contested meets at this iconic venue.

During the 80s running shoe prices continue creeping up. From a top of $39.99 the Nike Tailwind (an air sole bladder shoe) now costs $50.00. Stores are allocated only small quantities due to the high demand for the model. The Reebok Aztec, which is manufactured in England, hits  $60.00 and the New Balance 990 becomes the first popular model to reach $100.00.

The Thanksgiving Day Race starts at the Latonia Shopping Center and finishes at the Cincinnati Convention Center.  There is a long history of this being a point-to-point race beginning in Kentucky and ending in Ohio.

The Clifton Track Club (CTC) continues being very active. Large gatherings assemble for their monthly meetings. Topics of interest are introduced at each meeting and after the meeting is adjourned a group run followed by beverages at Fries Café is the norm.

Don Livingston forms the Cincinnati Athletic Association. This club is intended for post-collegiate talented athletes who wish to continue training and competing at a college D-1 level.

The CTC along with the Hudepohl Brewery start a new race in 1989 called the Cincinnati Brewery Run 14k or Hudy 14k, considered by many to be the best-named running event. The race begins and ends on Central Parkway next to the brewery. A party after the race is a new innovation. Beer and hotdogs are served in the morning and Stacy Osborne, the running podiatrist, with his band, provided entertainment.


Women's participating numbers continue to rise quite a bit.

GE continues to be very involved with the national corporate championship event.

Charity groups are becoming much more popular. The Leukemia/Lymphoma Society’s Team-In-Training (TNT) and others are formed. There is a rise in the number of weekly running and walking events as charity groups see this as a way to raise money.

565 – Clifton Track Club membership, December 1992.

Focus of events starts leaning more towards the masses and not as much strictly on competition.

In November 1994, a national field of runners competed at Landen Park. This event is one of the Men’s Reebok Grand Prix Circuit cross-country races held across the country.  Prize money helps to draw this stellar field of athletes.


A new local runner bursts on to the local and national scene. Kim Betz, an outstanding fall athlete in soccer and multiple state champion in track at Turpin H.S. has a big decision to make. Does she concentrate on soccer or running in college? She chooses running and accepts a scholarship at Indiana University. During her sophomore season, just the second year that she has run cross-country, Kim is the Division I NCAA xc champion.

Another outstanding field of cross-country runners visits the area in February of 1996. This is the final qualifying race to determine the team that will represent the USA at the Women’s World’s Cross Country Championship in South Africa.  The Trials race is contested at Landen Park.

In 1996 D’Andre or Dee Dee Hill of Mt. Healthy High School and Louisiana State University dashes her way on to the Olympic team in the 100 meters.  Both the Olympic Trials and Games were held in Atlanta.

Bill Rodgers runs in the 20th Heart Mini-Marathon in 1997. This is his third time here and he is not charmed because for the initial time he does not win.  However, do not feel sorry for the 49-year-old Rodgers.  His time of 49:57 breaks Bob Stewart’s old 15k record, which was set in 1989.  Third place overall is not too shabby for a person of his age.

The Brewery Run 14k event is disbanded in 1997, not due to lack of popularity, but due to rising costs of City services to put the event on.

John Sence, after an All-American career at Wake Forest becomes the US 25k Champion both in 1997 and 1998.

Bob Coughlin, founder and CEO of Paycor, conceptualized a new major event for our area. The first Flying Pig Marathon, directed by Mike Boylan, who takes a leave of absence from his law firm, takes place in 1999. 

Jeff Galloway popularizes the run/walk technique of training and racing. Now it is OK to insert walk breaks into a run. This is unlike the attitude of twenty years earlier.

East Side Pride, coached by Jeff Branhan, wins the National Age Group cross-country championship in 1999. Carolyn Rauen was a national champion and Angela Bizzarri, future State champion in Ohio and NCAA champion is on the team.

The end of the 20th century approaches with Thanksgiving Day Race numbers continuing to rise to record levels. Their first time past:
         4000; 1997
         5000, 1998
         6000, 1999 (6,196)

After much research by Howard Hughes, the following are named the top ranked Greater Cincinnati age group Masters Road Runners during the 20th Century:
         40-49          Bob Stewart
                           Janice Kreuz
         50-59          Peter Wayte
                           Claire Brock-Helmers
         60-64          Paul Hamilton
         60-69          Betsy Hall
         65-85          Eek Keller
         70-79          Vadine Koenig

As we are about to embark on a new century, more individuals than ever, especially women, are running and walking for exercise and sport. The trend is to cover less weekly mileage than was the norm a couple of decades earlier, but more alternative activities, constituting cross training, are included rather than exclusively running or walking. The Flying Pig Marathon receives national attention and the popularity of training groups is about to explode.

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