TED CORBITT, "FATHER OF AMERICAN ULTRARUNNING", R.I.P.
On Wednesday, December 12, 2007, Ted Corbitt passed away at the age of 88 at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. He had been fighting a personal battle against cancer, but then developed heart and respiratory complications which could not be cured.
Rich Innamorato, President of the Broadway Ultra Society and Ted Corbitt's longtime friend and colleague, sent out the following personal note:
Today the music has died...for the running community and for humanity.
We all know his legendary feats as a runner, but he was even a far greater person.
He was a humanitarian. One of his great gifts was not to prejudge people just as he would not want to be prejudged. He accepted you for who you were and allowed you to be yourself.
He was [a] healer... and dedicated his life to provide cure and comfort to the critically disabled and injured. He was still treating patients just before his latest illness.
He was a scholar. He had a great propensity to “learn” no matter the subject matter. His own success, whether it was cerebral or physical, was due to that desire to learn...
He was a marvel... he would push his limits no matter the obstacles. Even as an octogenarian, he walked 303 miles in 6 days while enduring shin splints. Life was a series of tests for him, and it was the partaking that was the most important, not the passing or failing.
He led by example every single day, and his character, dedication, kindness and values all touched our lives. We are richer to know him or know of him.
May he always live in peace and be blessed by God.
Ted Corbitt was the inaugural inductee into the AMERICAN ULTRARUNNING HALL OF FAME. The following brief bio was published by the American Ultrarunning Association upon his induction in 2004.
Generally regarded as “the father of American Ultrarunning,” Ted Corbitt was born in 1920. He was a sub-49 second quarter-miler at the University of Cincinnati, and began training for marathons in 1950. He had almost instant success. He won both the U.S. and Canadian national championship marathons, and was selected to the 1952 U.S. Olympic marathon team. He missed the 1956 Olympic team by one place.
At the same time, he became involved in the organization and administration of long distance running on a national scale. He was a co-founder of the Road Runners Club of America and the New York Road Runners Club, and was elected the latter organization’s first president in 1958. An African-American, as both athlete and administrator he faced and conquered many challenges posed by racial discrimination in the pre-civil rights era.
In 1958 Corbitt won the inaugural modern era American ultra, the NYRRC 30-miler, in 3:04:13. The sport grew quickly, and over the next two years he won 10 ultramarathons.
In 1960 he was elected president of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA). Corbitt’s lobbying efforts for accurate road course measurement led to the formation of the AAU’s National Standards Committee, the precursor of the Road Running Technical Council. He was personally, “hands-on” responsible for the introduction of road course certification in America.
At that time the generally recognized de facto “World Championship” of ultrarunning was the 54-mile London-to-Brighton road race in England. In 1962 Corbitt made his first of four trips to the event. After leading for the first half of the race, he finished fourth in a performance that international ultra historian Andy Milroy claims “signaled the rebirth of North American ultrarunning.”
During the 60’s Corbitt, a full-time physical therapist with a wife and small child, became legendary for his prodigious training mileage, including long individual training runs over 60 miles and training weeks of 300 miles or more. In 1969 British track star Bruce Tulloh made international headlines by running across the United States averaging 44 miles per day with a 2-vehicle, 4-person support crew. One astute New York journalist later commented that at the very same time, Ted Corbitt came close to averaging that in training for an entire summer while maintaining a family and a full-time job!
Corbitt would finish second twice more at Brighton. One of them, his nip-and-tuck, one-minute loss to world-ranked #1 ultrarunner Bernard Gomersall, is regarded as one of the epic, classic duels in the history of the sport.
The successful promotion of a national ultrarunning program by the RRCA, following Corbitt’s leadership, resulted in the establishment in 1966 of the inaugural U.S. National 50 Mile Championship in Staten Island, New York. Corbitt finished second to Jim McDonagh in that race, but came back to win the National 50 Mile in 1968 in 5:39:45.
Corbitt finished out his world-class career with a series of track races in London, all of them when he was over the age of 50. In these races he set long-standing American track records for 50 miles, 100 miles, and 24 hours.
Although a series of injuries forced him to give up running and switch to walking in his 60’s, he never gave up being an active participant in the sport. In recent years, in his 80’s, he has covered over 68 miles in a 24-hour race and over 300 miles in a 6-day race.