Friday, December 14, 2007

Ted Corbitt 1919-2007

Running pioneer Ted Corbitt passed away Wednesday of respiratory complications. According to the New York Times, Corbitt suffered from prostate and colon cancer in recent years.

For those who have never heard of Corbitt, his accomplishments in distance running are truly amazing:

By his own count, Corbitt ran 199 marathons and ultramarathons, which are typically races of 50 or 100 miles or 24 hours. (Marathons are 26 miles 385 yards.) He won 30 of those races and never dropped out of one until he was 75, he said. He trained by running as many as 200 miles a week. In his heyday, Corbitt — shy and slight at 5 feet 7 inches and 130 pounds — was a United States marathon champion and a member of the United States team at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, where he finished a disappointing 44th in the marathon.

At various times, Corbitt held American records in the marathon, the 100-mile run and the 25-, 40- and 50-kilometer events. He also won national American Athletic Union championships in several distance running events. His fastest time in a marathon was 2 hours 26 minutes 44 seconds.
-NY Times

"Weight training was discouraged and people thought I was crazy," says Corbitt, "but I used a lot of the resistance exercises that were a part of physical therapy treatment to build up my legs." He used Zatopek’s method of alternating fast 440’s with slow 220’s to increase his speed and mixed such workouts with long, slow road runs. He ran in heavy army boots to add difficulty to his routine. He suffered through blisters and bruises and was forced to lay off and recover time and again. Slowly, through the brutally hot and humid New York summer, his legs hardened and he extended his distance. By fall, he felt ready to take the next step: the overdistance run.

"I always felt that if I couldn’t get through 30 miles in training, I’d never be able to race a marathon, so running 30 became a goal. But I always fell apart at about 18 miles and couldn’t get past 22 for several months. I never knew why."

The epiphany came in January 1951. Corbitt was bundled up against the winter chill, once again attempting to reach 30 miles. It was snowing, and he found himself catching snowflakes in his mouth as he ran. "A light went on in my head. I was always thirsty, but never drank anything during a run. I realized I was dehydrated almost all of the time." From then on, he put water out whenever he ran more than 15 miles. He smashed through the 30-mile barrier on the next attempt and the distance never seemed that difficult again.

The workouts that followed are legendary. Two, sometimes three runs a day, or twice around the island of Manhattan (64 miles) for long distance work. Weekly mileage was often between 200 and 300 and there were times when he put in more than 1,000 miles over the course of a month. All this while working full time as a physical therapist at the International Center for the Disabled, raising a son, and carrying on running-related administrative duties at night

His 100-mile record (13:33:06, beating the old standard by two and a half hours) came at the age of 50. He ran 134.7 miles in a 24-hour race when he was 54.

-exerpts from 2002 Running Times interview

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