Runners commented about the Jan. 1 column describing the passing of famous runner Sri Chinmoy. Readers enjoyed remembering Chinmoy but said it is difficult to think of Chinmoy without thinking of Ted Corbitt, who died in 2007 at age 88.
Corbitt shared many similarities and beliefs with Chinmoy and was considered a father of ultramarathoning. Like Chinmoy, he focused on the spirituality of running and stressed the benefits of inner strength. He faced many challenges, the greatest being racial discrimination in the South.
It is important to note that Corbitt was a pioneer in developing standards to accurately measure running courses and certifying races. He helped start the Master’s division for runners (runners over 40 years of age). He volunteered countless hours to running organizations but remained a virtual unknown to many through the years. He held records in long distances, including the 25-, 40-, 50- and 100-mile.
He was unknown to many until he was among the first five inductees to the Running Hall of Fame in 1998. Until his death, he continued to attend and volunteer at ultra races. In 2003, he walked 68 miles in a 24-hour race, impressing both participants who knew him and those who did not. He also was in the first inaugural class of the Ultrarunning Hall of Fame in 2006.
His career choice of physical therapy enhanced his running pursuits and he gained prominence through lecturing and his physiotherapy practice. He did not take any money for any of his running activities.
His ultimate goal for the future of running would be to see ultra distances in the Olympics. Corbitt knew it wouldn’t happen in the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing but he wouldn’t be surprised to see an ultra at future Olympics.
Ed Luban, 55, of Syracuse, an active runner, biker, and cross country skier, met Corbitt during an ultra race years ago. Ed had completed races of all distances, from 5Ks to marathons, and two 50-mile races.
Luban said of Corbitt: “In 1986 or 1987, I ran the third day of a three-day, 100-mile run in different parts of NYC. This was 33 miles from Astoria, Queens through industrial neighborhoods down to the Verazzano Bridge and back. It was a hot summer day. At one point in Brooklyn, there was Ted with a water bucket and sponges for the runners. The great Ted Corbitt gave me, a mediocre runner and just a dilettante when it came to ultras, a sponge as well as encouragement. I was amazed.
“He was a small man and seemed to me to be quiet and unassuming. So it was perfectly natural for someone like that to be helping me out on the run. I knew who he was and I knew some of his history, so I knew enough to think it was completely backward that he was helping me instead of the other way around.”
Corbitt has touched many runners over the span of his life and active participation in running. It would be a tribute to this great man to see an ultramarathon added to the Olympic Games.