The Philadelphia Marathon was host to to is 54th annual race last weekend, with more than 30,000 participating runners. That’s an incredible amount of growth from its humble beginnings in the 1950s; the second Philadelphia Marathon drew about twenty runners, according to this account. The pioneers of that race might be surprised today to see that major American marathons often include more participants and attendees in one day than some small cities have in population all year.
One of those pioneers — who was truly critical to the growth of running in our country — was a man named Ted Corbitt.
Corbitt won the first Philadelphia marathon in 1954 and stands as the only person to win it more than two times: he won again in 1958, 1959 and 1962. Seven other men and three women have won the race twice.
Ted Corbitt’s place in running history is an intriguing one, because by all indications, he doesn’t fit the mold of a ferocious athlete. His athleticism is without question: his best race, 1958, when he finished the course in 2:26:44 would have bested 1979’s top finisher, Richard Hayden. But all accounts of the man express a gentle spirit and an exceptionless equanimity. He just loved running and other runners. That’s even reflected in the words of encouragement he offered in the book First Marathons: First Encounters with the 26.2 Mile Monster, as quoted in his New York Times obituary:
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.
His other achievements include:
He took part in developing a method to measure and certify long distance race courses that is still in use today.
He helped to start running organizations like the Road Runners Club of America and the New York Road Runners Club, which plans the New York City Marathon.
He ran 199 marathons and ultramarathons.
At 84, he completed a 24 hour race, walking 68 miles.
He competed in the 1952 Olympics marathon in Finland.
Additional past two-time winners with notable achievements:
- Adolf Gruber (1963, 1964) was a notable Austrian runner, who won four American Marathons in 1963 and the Austrian championship twelve times in a row. At the end of his running career, he failed as a tobacconist because he couldn’t hide the fact that he disliked smoke from his customers. An annual race is still run in his honor.
- Moses Mayfield (1970, 1971) was a Philadelphian and member of the Penn Athletic Club. He was still training young runners in 1992.
- Jan Yerkes (1981, 1982), a Bucks County native, was also the first Villanova woman to compete in the NCAA women’s cross country championship, starting a legacy that would make Villanova the dominant school in that competition ever since.