The people running in the 42nd annual Long Beach Island Commemorative 18 Mile Run, sponsored by the St. Francis Community Center in conjunction with the LBI Jewish Community Center, may not realize they’re competing in a road race absolutely stuffed with history. Oh, they may know the race, which was first run in 1973, was originally dedicated to the 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and officials who were slaughtered by a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September on Sept. 5, 1972 in the midst of the Munich Olympic Games. They may realize that in the fall of 2001, the dedication was expanded to include the thousands of persons who lost their lives in the al-Qaida Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93, which was suspected of targeting the U.S. Capitol Building or the White House but which was brought down in Stonycreek Township in Pennsylvania after passengers, who had heard via phone calls of the earlier attack on the Twin Towers, fought the four hijackers.
What they may not understand is the LBI 18 Mile Run was an early entry into the world of road racing.
Those same 1972 Olympics that earned infamy because of Black September – infamy compounded when, against protests, International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage (an American) declared “the Games must go on” – launched the road running craze in the United States. Frank Shorter, who – you can’t make this up – was born in Munich as the son of a U.S. Army physician, won the marathon and was the first American to have done so in 64 years. The Yale graduate and lawyer, by the way, finished fifth in the 10,000-meter final in 1972 (an exhausting schedule) and went on to silver in the marathon in the 1976 Montreal Games.
Short of high school and collegiate track and cross-country athletes, it was rare to see somebody jogging alongside the roads in the United States before Shorter’s marathon win. Almost immediately afterward, however, a motorist in some more-Yuppie-filled areas of the country could barely avoid hitting a runner. Shoe companies saw their business explode, including New Balance, which was associated with Shorter rival Bill Rodgers, a four-time winner of both the Boston and New York Marathons.
The legendary Boston Marathon has been run since April 1897. It is interesting to note the Boston Marathon owed its invention to another Olympics, the 1896 Athens Games, the first modern Olympic Games. It was there that the marathon, which commemorated the amazing feat of Pheidippides, a messenger who ran from the Greek battlefield of Marathon to Athens to deliver news of a Greek victory over the Persians, was introduced to a contemporary audience.
Other famous marathons in the U.S., however, are relative newcomers. Of the 10 biggest (in terms of competitors) marathons in this country, only Boston, New York (first run in 1970 inside of Central Park with just 127 competitors and an estimated 100 spectators) and Portland, Ore., which had its inaugural in 1972, predated the LBI 18 Mile Run. (Honolulu was two months behind the Island race.) To be fair, the Philadelphia Marathon, which didn’t make the 10-biggest lists this reporter could find, has been run since 1954, and, according to Runners World, there were 25 marathons in this country in 1972. But only two had more than 500 runners – Boston, of course, and the Equinox Marathon in, of all places, Fairbanks, which drew 585 participants!
Now, non-marathon road racing was fairly popular in the U.S. (and especially in Europe) before the days of Shorter. The oldest road race in the country, the YMCA Turkey Trot of Buffalo, an 8K race run on Thanksgiving Day, is five months older than the Boston Marathon (a baby compared to the oldest continuous road race in the world, the Red Hose 5 Mile Race, which has been run in Carnwath, Scotland every year since 1508 excepting during the two World Wars, 1926 due to a general strike, and 1952 and 2001 owing to outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease). Other long-time races include the Jackson Day 9K in New Orleans, which was first run in 1907, and a couple of more Turkey Day races from 1908, the 9-mile Run for the Diamonds race in Berwick, Pa. (1908) and Cincinnati’s 10K. One especially grueling affair, the 7.6-mile Mount Washington Road Race (yep, the runners climb the road to the top of New Hampshire’s tallest mountain – whew!) was born in 1936.
Still, road racing didn’t really catch on until Shorter’s 1972 win. 1973 was the year, for example, that one of the country’s prestigious shorter races, the 7.1 mile New Balance Falmouth Road Race, was first run, beating out the 18 Mile Run by a few months.
Let’s put it this way – the LBI 18 Mile Run is definitely in the lead pack of American road races in terms of age. This June, John’s Run/Walk Shop in Lexington, Ky. (a store for serious runners – it sponsors that state’s Iron Horse Half Marathon), decided to create the Fab 50, a list of the best non-marathon races in each U.S. state. Only six of the selections were older – two by just a couple of months – than the LBI 18 Mile Run.
This year’s race will be run on Sunday, Oct.12. It will start in Holgate at 10:30 a.m. and end at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park in Barnegat Light. Applications for the race can be picked up at the St. Francis Community Center at 4700 Long Beach Blvd. in Brant Beach or downloaded by visiting stfranciscenterlbi.org or RaceForum.com/LBI. For further information, visit the St. Francis website or call 609-494-8861.
The entry fee is $45 per runner until Sept. 30 and $55 after that. Registration will be held at the center on Saturday, Oct. 11, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on race day from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
Here’s your chance to become part of running history! —R.M.
For more details, visit thesandpaper.villagesoup.com