Thursday, May 19, 2016

V. 1 #21 Memorial Day Race 40 - What Was a 40 Year Old Race Like?

Memorial Day Race 

At the end of this month, on May 30, the Runners’ Club of Greater Cincinnati will once again host its annual 5k Memorial Day Race. It is called Memorial Day Race 40 and  marks 40 straight years that the running club, originally known as the Clifton Track Club, is organizing this event. Aside from the Thanksgiving Day Race, it is the area’s oldest road race. You may wonder what those early years, during the last century, were like?

The Clifton Track Club was formed in 1976 and the 1977 Memorial Day Race was the club’s first sponsored running event. Few local road races existed at that time. These were the early days of the first running boom and the manuscript on how to best manage events with ever-burgeoning crowds was still being developed. 

Mike Boylan, founder of the CTC and its first race director, and Bob MacVeigh created a course that started on the road near the Temple of Love in Mt. Storm Park in Clifton. A sharp right turn quickly appeared and the crowd plummeted down Lafayette Avenue.  After the quads were shredded from the descent, a tight left turn was negotiated onto McAlpin Avenue. A long climb, testing calves and hamstrings, now awaited the runners.  Subsequent to a tour through Clifton the pack ended up on the field that was in front of the then existing Sacred Heart Academy.  Today, folks would balk at such a course, but back then anything was welcome.

Temple of Love in Mt. Storm Park

Finish on field in front of Sacred Heart Academy

WEBN, which was the cutting-edge rock 'n' roll radio station at the time, was the major sponsor. The first winners were Duane Gaston (15:00) and Lisa Ann Kirshner (20:35).

Back then women did not participate in races to the extent that they currently do.  Of the first year’s 401 finishers, only 48 were female, 12% of the field.

An all-volunteer corps, composed of Clifton Track Club members, manned every element of the event. Since a lot of the folks in the club also wished to run a race, a separate competition, limited to the CTC, was held over the same course the evening before. 51 individuals ran in that first club race. Dave Neumann recalls, "It was Nuts!  We would be blasting through the streets of Clifton with no police presence, few course markers, at 5-6 minute per mile pace, crossing streets against traffic.  People from the neighborhood were used to seeing 'joggers' out, but not a small band of banshees like the club runners."

On Sunday tents and other equipment were assembled. Then, once the CTC race was concluded, a club picnic was held.

Registration Area

Front L-R  Vic Roth, Mark Jones, Frank Murphy
Back  L-R  Ray Tuttle, Karen Cosgrove, Poppy Evans, Jim Boland

WEBN continued as a sponsor, along with the Clifton Track Club and now New Balance Shoes, for the second year. Some of the other contributing sponsors were Keller’s IGA Market, Sporting Foot & Things/Ben’s, Brendamour's and Koch's Athletic Goods. 

Karen Doppes Cosgrove won the first of her multiple Memorial Day victories that second year and Jeff Werchowski led all male finishers.

Over 900 people raced. Continued promotion by WEBN and word of mouth lifted the number to 1104 official finishers in the third year. 

In 1980, the 4th annual event, a still existing record field of 1429 participated. Karen won for the third straight year.  Her 17:42 placed her ahead of a recent Ursuline Academy graduate named Julie Isphording, who secured second with a 17:51. 

Karen Cosgrove (#15) with Julie to her left

During that era the major running emphasis was on racing and performance. Memorial Day Race records were kept and publicized for each age group. These were updated each year.  In 1980, 149 men ran faster than six-minutes per mile and 94 women dipped under the eight-minute per mile pace. Over 17% of the contestants achieved these high standards over a still challenging course (the first year route was altered).

More than 150 Clifton Track Club members and friends helped with the race. Frank Wood, Jr., Denton Marr and Frog received special acknowledged for their support and promotion of the event. In the early days of WEBN Frank Bo Wood’s air-name for his “The Jelly Pudding Show” was Michael Xanadu.

From the peak of over 1400 the previous year, attendance for the 1981 race dipped to 755 entries and 697 finishers. This was primarily due to losing WEBN as a sponsor. ‘EBN shifted their efforts, collaborating with the CTC, to a new June running event called The Night Move. This numbers loss demonstrated the effect that a good sponsor, especially a media sponsor, had on attendance. 

We also begin to see a division of sorts in the emphasis that a road race chooses. The Night Move was intended for both the casual and competitive runners. For many, running the race was secondary to the party that followed. The continued focus of the Memorial Day Race was to provide a genuine age group event where you can see the competition in your group and continue to compete over a measured and consistent course each year. The feeling was that serious runners took pleasure in comparing his or her effort against him or herself each year on a consistent challenging course.

Age group course records as of 1986

Mike Boylan, Harold Schuck, Phyllis Dwyer, Frank Murphy, Bobbi Montgomery, Stacy Osborne, Linda Hentzen and David Nelson were some of the early race directors during those years.  Race participation numbers continued to dwindle. The 1983 version had 700 finishers and 426 were there in 1984. The 80s witnessed a number of new races forming.  The Memorial Day Race was no longer a novelty. With more options and lacking a major media sponsor like WEBN, registration dropped.

With the idea of rejuvenating interest, the 1985 event instituted a theme - New Wave Running. This was one of the first times that participants attired themselves according to a theme, not just in the traditional racing shorts and singlets.

Club members properly dressed

Person on left can’t believe a new wave runner with music blaring from a radio is passing her

On Sunday, during the club race, Jim Boland's 16:36 edged Allen Laub's 16:38 for first place. On Monday, Steve Taylor prevailed.

Steve Taylor on Lafayette nearing the finish

The theme idea might have had some effect, since the field rose almost 30%. Included among the 550 finishers was 90-year-old Robert Drewery.

Robert Drewery with young friend

The 10th and 11th annual editions, 1986 and 1987, were theme events.  This time it was “Classical Running”.  Classical music and tuxedos were prevalent that day.

Race Director Harold Schuck (white shirt) with Ray Tuttle

In 1988 we see that the starters were positioned according to their anticipated speed:
Five-minute milers in front
Six minute second
Seven minutes in about the middle
Eight minute plus joggers at the rear
Back then you were considered a jogger if you ran at an 8:00 pace or slower.

Race walking results first appeared in 1989.

After 19 years, for a variety of reasons, one being interference with the Clifton Memorial Day parade, the race left Clifton.  For a while it merged with the Taste of Cincinnati and took place in the Over The Rhine.  Lunken, NKU and Newport on the Levee were other locations as it shifted about.

As the century was concluding, two individuals, David Nelson and Jim Boland had completed every Memorial Day Race.  Nelson’s streak is currently intact.  Sheila Boland describes how her husband Jim’s streak ended in 2012. “He (we) fully intended to run that year, but my father, Don Cosgrove, died quite suddenly the day before the race. He had gone to bed on Saturday night and didn't wake up. My brother found him late Sunday night. I encouraged Jim to run the race, but he didn't think it would be appropriate.” 

David Nelson in CTC shirt

Jim Boland

Now, The Runners’ Club of Greater Cincinnati under the leadership of Todd Hofacre and Stacy Osborne is organizing Memorial Day Race 40 on Monday, May 30 at 9:00 a.m.  The venue is Otto Armleder Park, which is just north of Lunken Playfield.  It remains a 5k Run/Walk. 

This would be an excellent opportunity for past race participants and former club members to reconnect. For the General Public pre-registration is just $15.00.

For information and results go to

1 comment:

  1. Great article Bob! I owe a huge debt of gratitude to you and Mike Boylan for all you did to promote running in Cincinnati.