Tuesday, July 26, 2016

V.1 #38 Avondale Running Club - The Area's First African-American Road Running Group

Thanks go to Henry and Elizabeth Brown for providing the bulk of this history information about the Avondale Running Club.  Their organization, which is over 30 years old, is very active to this day. 

Henry Brown

The original USA running boom, when individuals started running in the streets and on the sidewalks, started in the 1970s. A variety of factors coalesced to create this phenomenon. By the late 70s a number of road races started appearing on event calendars. Prior to that, the Thanksgiving Day Race was the sole available Greater Cincinnati annual road race.  It was a time when few African-Americans appeared among the results.  Periodically the names of Albert Sewell, Cleophus Kelley, and Reggie McAfee would appear among the roster of race finishers, but not too many more.  Of course decades earlier Ted Corbitt had run in, claiming the first prizes, a few of the Turkey Day events.  Generally speaking, people of color were largely absent from jogging on the concrete and asphalt.

Albert Sewell

Black runners began running and participating in local road races around 1978.  In 1984, six of these runners began running together regularly on weekends to stay fit.  At some point, it was suggested they form a running club.  An exploratory meeting was held at the Cincinnati Bible College on Reading Road in Avondale. In February of 1984, at the first recorded meeting, the group decided to call themselves the Avondale Running Club (ARC).  Officers were appointed, bylaws were written and a Mission Statement was crafted.  The members continued to meet and run throughout Avondale and other areas of Cincinnati.  ARC members participated in area foot races and met other runners who were encouraged to join and share the weekly fun, and sometimes the pain, of running.  

ARC Founders
L - R : Joe Davenport, Don Easley, Odessa Barnet, Frances Gilbert, William Finch, Sol Walker

The ARC began growing almost immediately.  At first they were exclusively runners but during the late 80’s several walkers joined the thriving group.  It became a club of Runners and Walkers.  Today the club is organized to promote health and fitness through programs of brisk walking, road racing, bike riding, and cross-country runs in a spirit of fun and competition.  While the group encourages members to adhere to a consistent program of physical fitness, those members who enter competitive activities are enthusiastically supported and encouraged. 

The meeting location was eventually moved to the Melrose Branch YMCA in Walnut Hills.  The number of Black runners and walkers continued to increase and the club became involved in YMCA programs and other charitable organizations.   ARC coined the phrase “Feet in the Street” to label the 5K foot race it organized and directed to support raising funds for youth programming at the Y.  The 5K course, through streets around the YMCA branch, is USATF certified.  ARC has also organized and directed races and fun walks for the Marva Collins College Prep charter school, the Sickle Cell Anemia support group, the Avondale Community Council, Melrose YMCA Summerfest, Moms on the Move and the Center for Closing the Health Gap.  In 2014 ARC brought “Feet in the Street” to Avondale to support the Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation.  The 5K course, through streets of Avondale, is USATF measured.  The third running of Avondale “Feet in the Street” 5K will take place on October 15, 2016.

The club participated in the 1999 inaugural Flying Pig Marathon by staffing a station to provide fluids for runners near the five-mile location on the 26.2 mile course.  This event proved to be a big turning point for the ARC.  The Pig fluid station created the opportunity for visibility and a consistent means of raising funds to support the club’s charitable activities. More than 60 club members and friends participated in staffing that first fluid station.  Since then, the ARC’s fluid station has won acclaim on multiple occasions due to the enthusiasm and efficiency shown by the participants.  ARC has staffed a Pig fluid station for 17 years running.

The ARC is affiliated with the National Black Marathoners Association, NBMA, and is one of the largest affiliated clubs to participate in the annual NBMA targeted marathon events around the country.  It is also the oldest organized African-American running club in the nation. Its web address is www.avondalerunningclub.com. 

Avondale Running Club members enjoy walking, running, cycling and swimming.  Over the past 30 years they have left their marks around the city, the region, the country and the globe:  
Gillis Bowden has completed a marathon in every state in the union and is now focused on completing a marathon on each of the continents.

Gillis Bowden

Elizabeth Brown has completed the prestigious Boston Marathon four times.  Her other marathons include Paris and Pauillac, France; Amsterdam, Holland; Lisbon, Portugal; Quebec City, Calgary, and Montreal in Canada; Lausanne, Switzerland and Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Elizabeth Brown

Finally, Frances Gilbert has participated in each of the NBMA target events.

ARC hall induction award
Tony Reed (NBMA co-founder), Frances Gilbert, unknown, Charlotte Simmons (co-founder NBMA)

For over 25 years the Avondale Running/Walking Club members start each New Year’s Day with a fun run and walk brunch.  The day starts at 9:00 a.m. when members, family and friends, meet for the annual 3 to 5 mile run/walk.  Immediately afterward, they chow down on member-prepared side dishes. The club provides the main dish, usually chicken and turkey.  It’s a great way to get the New Year off to fun, fitness, and good health.  This event has taken place every year, no matter the weather! 

Monthly Meetings:
On the first Saturday of each month, except for May and July, the club holds a business meeting.
Annual membership dues help to support the administrative responsibilities of the club.

Weekly Run/Walk:
The yearly calendar of scheduled runs, walks, races and fund raising activities for members and friends can be found on the club’s website.  

Walkers - Saturday 9:30 a.m.:   
Beginning at Gabriel’s Place and follows one of the five goVibrant Avondale neighborhood routes
Runners/Walkers – Sunday schedule – 7:30 a.m.:
On a rotating schedule, groups meet at one of the following sites for a 60 to 90 minute brisk walk or run.
Sharon Woods     Glenwood Gardens     Winton Woods   
Lunken Airport     Eden Park Overlook     Mt. Airy Forest

Club Membership:
The club is open to all who wish to stay physically fit and spread wellness and good health to others.  Whether you run, power walk, just walk for fun or are training for competition, you will find willing ARC club members ready to participate with and provide you support. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

V.1 #37 Ted Corbitt - The Father of American Distance Running (Part 2)

As mentioned earlier, limiting this blog simply to his endurance feats would be inadequate. Like an onion, there are many layers to this multidimensional individual. A plethora of contributions are directly attributed to him.  Bill Schnier had the opportunity to be with Corbitt three times.  Bill found the man to be very quiet and the most humble person that he had ever met. Schnier says that, “Very frankly, I was in awe of Ted, not for his running but for everything else.”  Bill recognized that he had met someone unique.

Their second time together was at a UC track and cross-country team reunion downtown at the Netherland Plaza. Ted was invited as a special guest so he traveled from New York to attend the banquet and also to see his sister.  Bill asked him to speak, which he did, but he spoke so quietly few people heard him.  Nevertheless, the audience was totally quiet, trying to absorb what they could. However, since Bill anticipated that Ted would not boast about his many achievements he conducted considerable research on Ted.  Bill’s introduction, summing up Ted’s running and working life, was only half completed before the audience gave Ted a standing ovation. This reaction by the audience is something Schnier had never witnessed before or since.  In Bill’s estimation, Corbitt was not the best athlete inducted into the UC Athletic Hall of Fame, certainly that would be Oscar Robertson, but because of his devotion to running, his assistance to others, and the way he lived his life he could be considered the greatest of all the Bearcats.

Ted was born on his father’s cotton farm in Dunbarton, South Carolina on January 31, 1919.  His grandparents were slaves.  The family, as part of the Great Migration from the rural South, moved to Cincinnati when he was young. Schnier tells how Ted was happy to share stories about his life in Cincinnati. He quietly talked about running as a boy at a time when no one ran on the streets of any city.  Ted attended and competed for Woodward High School, which occupied the old downtown School for the Creative Arts building on Sycamore Avenue. He graduated from Woodward in 1938 and entered UC that fall.

The Corbitts lived in the West End and to save streetcar fare he walked or ran, which included a steep hill, to UC each day for four years.  It was about a 50-minute journey each direction. Running to a destination was something he continued doing throughout his life. He augmented his official training with natural running, much like the Kenyans do, on a daily basis. 

Ted received a B.S. in Education upon graduating with honors in 1942 from the University of Cincinnati. He was planning to continue his studies in order to become a chemist but the Pearl Harbor attack changed priorities. He joined the Army after leaving UC. During his time in the Army, he spent six months on Okinawa and another six months on Guam. He attempted to stay in shape, but running through the jungles was too dangerous, so he built a gym inside his compound.
Corbitt was being trained for the invasion of Japan. In August 1945, he was on a troop ship in the Caroline Islands when the Atomic bomb ended the war.  Ted feels he probably would have been killed during that upcoming battle.

He married shortly after the war and he and Ruth remained together until she died in 1985.  Corbitt moved to New York City, where, as a night student, he earned, in 1950, a master’s degree in physical therapy at New York University.  Along with his studies he joined the New York Pioneer Club in 1947 after being turned down by the NYAC on account of his race. This was just about the only running club in town where blacks and Jews were welcome to join.
Ted the Physical Therapist
As a physical therapist, he was revered.  Many people knew Ted as a runner, but he was just as well known in physical therapy circles as a therapist. He wrote three books and hundreds of articles on this topic. He would treat people at the hospital, then answer written questions with long, hand-written, and detailed letters. 

Steve Price, who attended Miami, told me how he had some type of injury in the mid 60's and wrote for advice from Ted. Ted replied promptly with a rather lengthy letter which Steve said that he always treasured. This was another example of Ted's compassion, even though he and Steve had never met before Steve's request.

Upon retirement he would ride the subway to continue treating patients at their homes.  He invented several methods of treating people not previously found in books.
Ted’s attitude was to keep an open mind, keep learning, and improve upon what you know.  He was motivated by scientific curiosity to redefine what was considered humanly possible.  He felt that the important thing in books was how you used the information found there to change people’s lives.

Ted the Humanitarian
He was a very giving individual. During his lunchtime outings, Ted often stopped on his runs, gave food to the homeless, and ministered to their medical needs. Ted was still seeing clients, often without payment, until two months before he died on December 12, 2007 in Houston, Texas at the age of 88.  His death, at a hospital, was caused by respiratory complications. 
A friend of Corbitt called Ted the consummate gentleman and an example of how one ought to live his or her life. Even when confronted with bigotry, Ted remained calm. We read earlier about some of the difficulties that he encountered due to segregation when running for UC.  Later in life, he was stopped more than 200 times by the police while running through the streets of New York City. His reaction? He turned the other cheek and said, “They were just doing their jobs.”

Another story that I read about Corbitt told how years after he ran in the Helsinki Olympics a man roughly the same age as Ted came over and gave him a hug. Ted didn’t recognize him, but the man introduced himself and mentioned that they had both competed in the 1952 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. The man then became somber. He said that he wanted to make a long-overdue apology. It seems that at the Trials, this individual and a few others decided that a black man shouldn’t be allowed to represent the United States at the Olympics. They made a secret pact to prevent Ted from making the team. “We boxed you in, we kicked you, we tried to trip you, we did everything we could to take you down, but you managed to get away and win that spot. I’ve regretted my behavior for years, and I just wanted to say that I am sorry for what I did.” Ted replied, “You guys gave me a great run. If it weren’t for you, I may not have run so fast.”
Ted the Doer
After Ted’s death, his son sifted through the many boxes and artifacts that his father left behind in his apartment. Although he remained silent about the years he suffered discrimination, it was never far from his thoughts. At the bottom of one of the boxes was a folder marked, “How to Get Arrested Safely.” It contained news clippings of young black men who had been arrested on false charges and a handwritten note by Ted that read, “Even Jesus Christ was arrested on false charges.” Gary, Ted’s son, explained that his dad was preparing to write a book about discrimination against black men by the New York City police during the 1980s.
He not only was a founder of the New York Runners Club, but he served as its first president and started up its newsletter.
Through this publication he developed what were known as Tedisms.  Here are two examples:
“Not tapering off your training gradually one to two weeks before a race and overtraining (not knowing when to rest between training) will decrease your potential to perform and can lead to injury. It can also make the difference between winning and not winning.”  He offered himself as an example of someone ignoring this sage advice.
Another Tedism is:
“Athletes are only as good as their last injury. We have enough medical professionals treating injuries; what we need is more injury prevention.”
He was one of the organizers and founders of the New York City Marathon. He suggested to and prodded Fred Lebow, NYC Marathon race director, to move the race out of Central Park, its original location, and encompass the five boroughs.
During the 1970s, women were discouraged from competitive sports and running in particular.  Corbitt became an advocate and championed the opportunities and inclusion of women, minorities, and older runners into the sport.  By his example Ted allowed African-Americans to realize that they too could run distance races. He also promoted running for exercise long before it became popular in the United States.
He was a pioneer in American ultrarunning.  His contributions were of such significance that the Ted Corbitt Award is presented annually by the USATF, the national governing body for running, to the leading male ultrarunner of the year.
Some people feel that his most significant contribution to the sport of road racing was his initiative to establish accurate road-race courses in America, a great concern of his.
In 1964, he proposed a program of promoting more accurate road-race courses in America. The Road Runners Club of America adopted the proposal and formed the National Amateur Athletic Union Standards Committee, which was charged with the promotion of accurate road-course measurement. His work gave rise to course measurements and a national course certification program.

Ted was its first chairman and he held that position for more than 15 years.  Early on he was the sole certifier for the distance of a particular course.  He wrote the definitive book on measuring road courses, the one which is used today to standardize these measurements.

He wrote endless articles on meet management, running in the heat, avoiding heat problems, massage, Achilles tendon problems, and muscle and bone problems.

Ted the Icon
The first running boom was at its height in the early 1980s.  Press coverage for road races was more extensive than it is today.  It was an era when road racing was dominated by a close community of men and a few women who gave their all for the sport they loved. They never earned a dime, they always ran to win, and they held down full-time jobs, and most had families. They were driven and they were passionate.
By all accounts, Ted was admired and loved by the entire running community—past, present, and those to come who will read accounts about this person.  He became a rock star at races, not because he was loud and boastful but because he was the opposite.  Everyone sought out Ted and everyone considered him to be his or her friend.  Bill Schnier considers him to be the most "other-centered" person he has ever known.
It would be difficult to find a more loved and respected person in the sport.  He inspired because he was inspired; he was motivated by his passion for running and his desire to give back.  A close friend said, “He would live the moment. Ted reached self-actualization and he did it through his running. He didn’t have a goal – that’s why he didn’t have any boundaries.” If Corbitt’s achievements earned him respect, his character brought him followers.

Ted Corbitt deservedly has earned the title of The Father Of American Distance Running.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

V.1 #36 Ted Corbitt: The Father of American Distance Running (Part 1)

Ted Corbitt – The Father of American Distance Running (Part 1)

This blog about Ted Corbitt is the second of five relevant to individuals with local ties that accomplished ultra activities to an extraordinary degree. However, simply noting and confining ourselves to describe Ted by his endurance achievements is like characterizing the 1975 Reds by saying they had a good outfield. Ted Corbitt was a copious contributor to the sport of running in many domains. The first part of this particular blog concentrates on his distance achievements to be succeeded by an outline of his life plus a listing of his other contributions. I want to thank Bill Schnier, who previously coached for 33 years the University of Cincinnati’s track and cross-country teams, for supplying numerous facts, many of which came from the book “Corbitt.”

Ted the Racer
Corbitt was not always a distance runner. He possessed a few fast twitch muscles and launched his running career as a sprinter. While in school, he ran 9.9 seconds for the 100-yard dash.  He held a local AAU 440 record that was not beaten until 1950 by Bob MacVeigh.

After graduating from Woodward High School, he moved on to UC that fall.  In 1939 Ted competed for the Bearcat freshman team, but they only had one meet, where he won the 880, mile, and was one of the triumphant mile relay quartet. Unfortunately, prevailing racial discrimination prevented him from running in other contests.

He won a four-mile AAU cross-country race during the fall of his sophomore year. Unfortunately, his second spring was much the same as his inaugural year where segregation and little competition caused him to train on his own.  However, he did win a two-mile race for UC.

At an interview, he lamented that, “The color line was drawn, even in some of the meets in Cincinnati, so I could not participate in them.  In the Midwest there were places like Illinois and Indiana with track meets, but I was a little reluctant to take part in them because I did not know what type of reception I would get and what problems I would have getting a place to stay and getting something to eat.”, Fortunately Oliver Nikoloff, the long time UC staff member, returned as the coach during his junior year. Nikoloff reinstituted cross-country, although they only had an abbreviated one-race season.  In track Coach Nikoloff eliminated segregationist teams from their schedule and the color barrier was eventually dropped.
During his senior cross-country season, Ted ran a total of 66 miles and had three races.  He trained on his own during the off-season while receiving ideas from Indiana's coach, Billy Hayes.

By his senior year track season he was the most versatile member of the UC team - the best in the sprints, 440, and distances.  He had hoped to specialize in the 440 but a pulled hamstring shattered those aspirations. However, he was able to earn the coveted varsity letter C in both track and cross-country. 

His persistence and love of the sport caused him to be the only team member to continue running after leaving UC.  Another trait that preoccupied Corbitt’s entire life was his willingness to be an experimenter. He was interested in investigating the boundaries of what the human body was capable of achieving. For this reason he switched away from the shorter distances in order to confirm whether he was capable of enduring the challenges created by the marathon distance.  At age 31 he set about training for his first marathon, the 1951 Boston Marathon.

It appears that he found his athletic calling when he started exploring the distance events. Achievements started billowing in like the surf’s repeating breakers:

In 1952 he ran in the US Marathon Olympic Trials and qualified for the Helsinki Olympics. In Ted’s mind he ran a disappointing Olympic race as he finished 44th. However, with this Olympic status came the distinction of becoming the University of Cincinnati’s first track and field Olympian. He also was the first African-American to represent the USA in the Olympic Marathon. Now, as he put it, “He bit the distance bug.”

Corbitt posing before the statue of Paavo Nurmi.  The Helsinki Olympic Stadium is in the background.

In 1954 he won the USA National Marathon Championship.

For two consecutive years, 1956 and 1957, he garnered the National 30 Km, about 18 and three-quarter miles, Championship titles.

In 1959 he organized, ran, and won the first 30-mile run in New York City. Ted’s last running race in Cincinnati was in 1959 (Ted walked the Thanksgiving Day Race in 2004) when, on a very hot day, he easily took first in a 30 km race at the Lunken Airport Playfield against stiff national competition.

At this point in his racing career, Corbitt felt that he had conquered the marathon distance. He was eager for new competitive challenges.  In 1959, he helped organize New York’s first ultramarathon.

In 1962 he conquered the 52-mile London-to-Brighton double marathon the first of five times.

He set a USA record for 15 miles on the track in 1966.

He won the National 50-mile Championship in 1968.

The next year, 1969, he set a USA record for 100 miles on the track.

Extending his repertoire, he ran 134.7 miles within 24 hours to create another USA record in 1973.
He established American records for 50 and 100 miles.
Bronchial asthma, at age 54, ended his competitive running career. Like a person with high cholesterol who was told to change his diet, his appetite to participate in events remained steadfast. So, he embraced walking.  Existing age group records were vulnerable. At 81, he walked, with interludes for sleep, 240 miles in a six-day race. The following year, in the same race in 2002, he set the world 83-age record by covering 303 miles. Then, at age 84, Ted walked 68.93 miles on the 30th anniversary of his 1973 USA record of 134.7 miles in a 24-hour race.

Ted the Trainer
How did he accomplish these feats?  His training regimens were legendary. He lived in the Bronx, near Van Cortlandt Park.  Most days he would run, mostly on the Henry Hudson Parkway, from his apartment to his work at the International Center for the Disabled in Lower Manhattan.  Often he would have another session at noon.  Then, he would retrace his steps and jog home after work.  When he was in serious marathon training, he would start the day by heading north to Yonkers, then south down the Henry Hudson Parkway to Battery Park and finally north again to his Hospital.

For a time, he traveled on foot 200 miles or more a week, averaging 33 miles per day, often in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. He once ran the marathon distance every day for a month. He often traversed a 31-mile loop around Manhattan Island in about 3:45. Every Labor Day weekend saw him completing two laps around the Island on each of the three days. 

He was quoted in a book about him as saying, “The marathon demands patience and a willingness to stay with it. You must be willing to suffer and keep on suffering. Running is something you just do. You don’t need a goal. You don’t need a race. You don’t need the hype of a so-called fitness craze. All you need is a cheap pair of shoes and some time. The rest will follow.”

Here is his entry in his training log for the month of August in 1973: “Total mileage for the month, 817. Took four days off.”
Another logging notes:  “Three separate 20 milers in one day, 300 mile weeks, training culminating in hell week– Seven days of consecutive long runs in workouts, often completed twice or thrice daily, running to and from work, loops around Manhattan Island and Westchester County.”

A running mate described how after their 31-mile trek around Manhattan, they ended up at Ted’s apartment complex. “The first time we did this, I was exhausted and standing near the elevator, waiting for it to open. Ted looked at me and said that he didn’t take the elevator. We had to walk up the 15 fights of stairs as our cool-down.”

He logged over 200,000 miles, widely believed to be more than any other person on the planet. In his 88 years, he ran 199 marathons and ultramarathons, winning 30 of those races and setting numerous records. He wasn’t just a cheerleader for the sport – he was a very serious athlete always willing to go down in flames to beat the guy in front of him. When asked why he stays at this sport, he replied, “It’s a habit. I have an inner drive to keep at it.”