From The Archives Long Day’s Journey Into Night – Birth Of The Metro 100K

From The Archives
Long Day’s Journey Into Night – Birth Of The Metro 100K
Paul Soskind

In the late 1970’s, the ultramarathon scene was limited to the Met 50 miler: 10 loops of the upper five miles in Central Park, the Knickerbocker 60K: six plus full Central Park loops: the Fresh Pond 50M: 20 2.5M loops around a Boston reservoir; the Lake Waramaug 50M and 100KM events on a hilly 7.66M loop in northern Connecticut and the Mechanicsville 100K in Pennsylvania’s western hill country.

To create a venue for local ultra runners and national caliber athletes, Rich Inamorato, Lenny Nemerovsky and I explored several sites in the five boroughs. We settled on the lake loop (same as the first loop of the Turkey Trot) because it was relatively short (1.7467 miles), thus enabling us to monitor the progress of the runners and its accessibility to lockers and shower facilities at the Parade Grounds. By including the small traffic island near the Seeley Street playground, we had an ideal 1.75 mile loop.

The drawbacks, which we felt were outweighed by the advantages were: (1) the necessity of crossing the main road twice per loop, partially mitigated by running in a clockwise direction; (2) having the runners negotiate 35 plus loops around said circuit; (3) which precluded the necessity of ample volunteers for scoring and aid stations.

We decided on the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day for the event because of a post holiday drop in activity in the park, relatively mild weather with no expected temperature variation extremes and 10-plus hours of daylight. We used a rental van to carry the supplies to the start, set up two tables – one for scoring, the other for aid. Scoring was done on an elaborately crafted chart with help from PPTC founder Harry Murphy consisting of the names of the competitors arranged vertically and 35 diagonally slashed boxes arranged horizontally to record each runner’s time per lap and cumulative time. Backup charts, small enough to fit on clipboards were kept by other scorer recorders inside the van. While I had wanted to compete, that first year I worked the race.

At 7:00 a.m. sharp on a sunny but chilly 34 degree day, 31 runners set off on their long journey. They included Park Borner, then America’s “premier ultrarunner,” Don Jewel, Bill Lowder, Bob Van der Kieft, George Gardner and our own indominatable Johnny Kenul. By 11:00 a.m., the field was really strung out with the leaders between a 7:00 and 7:35 minute pace or 50K or more, while others had not reached the marathon mark. By then, the temperature had risen to the high 40’s and the sky was overcast. While some runners appeared strong and confident, others were in real trouble. We were charting lap times, looking for patterns of drastic slowdowns because we had informed the competitors that anyone in danger of not maintaining a pace to finish with the 10 hour time limit would either have to step it up or be waved off at this time, whether they completed the distance or not.

At this time, Queen’s song, “Another One Bites the Dust” seemed appropriate for those who succumbed to the time and distance on their feet. To their credit, that initial year we had about a 30% dropout rate and more than 20 runners completed the distance with four slightly over the limit.

We celebrated their achievement with an awards buffet at the now-defunct Scarela’s Italian Restaurant on Church Avenue where the winner, Park Barner, and the others received the accolades due them. Our great initial success enabled us to restage this event the following year and for 10 more years to come. The second year we had a momentous event with a stellar field. For those of you considering a go at this distance, here are the finishing times and pace per mile of the top 10 in year two:
Alan Kirek – 6:37:54 (6:16/mile)
George Gardiner – 7:37:20 (7:21/mile)
Hal Stern – 7:54:42 (7:36/mile)
Bob Van der Kleft – 7:57 (7:39/mile)
Gunther Erich (50+ years old) – 8:11:46 (7:55/mile)
Park Barner (defending champ) – 8:14:37 (7:57/mile)
Paul Soskind – 8:22:59 (8:08/mile)
John McQueen – 8:25:56 (8:08/mile)
Ray Krolewicz – 8:42:41 (8:21/mile)
Dave Obelkevich – 8:43)05 (8:22/mile)

In this event, Alan Kirek set an American and North American record for the distance while, for the first time in ultrarunning history, 13 participants broke the nin hour barrier for the 62.14 mile distance. This still remains a high water mark in ultrarunning annals while 23 of the 33 starters completed the event within the time limit.