A distance running pioneer and the co-founder and first president of NYRR, Ted Corbitt had a unique dedication to the sport and a passion for excellence that carried over into every aspect of his life. He completed an incredible lifetime total of 223 marathons and ultramarathons. His training, which routinely included 200-mile weeks, was more than just preparation for racing. It was a lifestyle that has inspired many who came after him.
The grandson of slaves, Corbitt was born in 1919 and developed his love for running at a young age on his family’s farm in South Carolina. He went on to run competitively at the University of Cincinnati, where he excelled in spite of the institutionalized racism of the times. In 1952 in Helsinki, Finland, he became the first African American to represent United States in the Olympic Marathon. Coming off this history-making moment, Corbitt won the national marathon championship at the Yonkers Marathon in 1954.
He was a model of consistency: Between 1954 and 1974 he ran under three hours 19 times at the Boston Marathon. Only 18 seconds separated his 1951 Boston finishing time of 2:48:58 and the 1974 effort of 2:49:16. He set his marathon lifetime best of 2:26:44 in 1958 at the Shanahan Marathon in Philadelphia.
Corbitt pushed the limits of endurance by racing ultramarathon distances (longer than 26.2 miles), and he remained one of the top-ranked ultramarathoners in the world throughout the 1960s. He made five appearances at the famed London-to-Brighton 52.5-mile road race, and he set American road race records on three occasions. At the age of 50 he set an American record for running 100 miles on the track (13:33:06).
As the founding president of NYRR (1958-1960), Corbitt was the first editor of New York Runner, which became the country’s oldest continuously published running publication. He went on to essentially invent many facets of the sport that runners now take for granted, including course measurement and age-group competition. His 1964 book on course measurement set standards for the sport worldwide (including the addition of 0.1% to every race distance to ensure accurate records), and he served as the first chairman of the Amateur Athletic Union’s national standards committee. He broke ground by recognizing runners’ achievements in relation to those of their age-group peers, and he pushed for age-group awards at early NYRR races.
Corbitt was a physical therapist by profession, and he worked full time for 44 years at the International Center for the Disabled in New York City.
Corbitt barely slowed down after he retired from competitive running. He continued to advocate for the professionalism of the sport at all levels and became a dedicated distance walker. In 2001, at age 82, he walked 303 miles in six days. His son, Gary, reports that his goal was to walk 600 miles in six days.
Corbitt died in 2007 at age 88. His life was a tribute to distance runners, and all athletes, who believe that the sky is the limit.
These achievements listed below are just a few of Ted Corbitt’s numerous accomplishments; for more, please see his website.
|April 19, 1951||Runs first Boston Marathon in 2:48:58 for 15th place|
|July 27, 1952||Competes in the Olympic Games Marathon in Helsinki, Finland, running 2:51:09, finishing 44th|
|May 16, 1954||Wins Yonkers Marathon in 2:46:13 (national championship)|
|January 5, 1958||Sets marathon lifetime best with a 2:26:44 at the Shanahan Marathon in Philadelphia|
|1958 - 1960||First president of New York Road Runners|
|1962||First 52.5 London - Brighton Road Race, where he finished in 4th place in 5:53:37|
|September 1-7, 1966||Logs highest mileage week of his lifetime—312.5 miles, an average of 44.6 miles per day|
|October 25-26, 1969||Sets the American Record for 100 miles on a track, 13:33:06|
|September 30, 1970||Finishes fifth in the inaugural New York City Marathon, running 2:44:15|
|April 15, 1974||Runs 22nd Boston Marathon in 2:49:16 at age 55|
|April 29-May 5, 2001||Completes 303 miles at the Sri Chinmoy Six-Day Race on Wards Island, NY|