By Steve DeBoer for the USRSA
Ted Corbitt (January 31, 1919 – December 12, 2007) was an American long-distance runner in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. He has been called “the father of long distance running.” He was an ultramarathon pioneer, helping to revive interest in the sport in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Corbitt also developed standards to accurately measure courses and certify races. The technique involved the use of a calibrated bicycle and has been adopted worldwide.
The grandson of slaves, Corbitt was born on a cotton farm near Dunbarton, South Carolina. He ran shorter track events in high school and at the University of Cincinnati. Due to the racial discrimination common at the time, he was sometimes banned from track meets when white athletes refused to compete against him. Coincidentally, he was born the same day as Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in major league baseball.
Corbitt joined the nation’s first large scale integrated running organization, the New York Pioneer Club, in 1947. In 1951, he completed his first of 22 Boston Marathons, in 2:48.42. He competed in the marathon at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. In January 1954, he won the Philadelphia Marathon. In May 1954, he won the Yonkers Marathon, becoming the U.S. National Marathon Champion. His best marathon time was 2:26:44 at the 1958 Philadelphia Marathon. At various times, Corbitt held the U.S. distance running records for 25 miles, the marathon (on the track), 40 miles, 50 miles and 100 miles. He remained a nationally competitive runner well into his fifties. On April 15, 1974, Corbitt finished his last Boston Marathon at age 55. His time of 2:49:16 was only 34 seconds slower than his 1951 time. He competed in 223 races of marathon distance or longer, a record he held until Sy Mah surpassed it is 1981.
Corbitt kept detailed records of his running. He is the first person known to have run every day for over a year. His son, Gary, confirmed his longest “streak” went from Dec 1, 1953 (11 years before Ron Hill) to July 25, 1968 when he was seriously injured by a dog during his run. This string of daily runs was then put on the United States Running Streak Association (USRSA) Retired list. Since Gary has never found time to go through all of his father’s logs, Steve DeBoer offered to assist him. It was discovered there were days Ted did not always run a full mile. But he did meet the USRSA one mile minimum requirement from Dec 1, 1953 to May 31, 1959, so that is the run streak now listed.
Corbitt served as an unpaid official of many running organizations, including the Amateur Athletic Union. He was the co-founder and first president of the New York Road Runners and third President of Road Runners Club of America. He helped plan the New York City Marathon course. He helped create the masters division for runners over 40.
In 2019, Ted Corbitt: An American Pioneer, was published in honor of his 100th birthday. In it, ultra runner Tom Osler wrote, “Ted Corbitt was a great runner but I have met many great runners. He was much more than that; he was a great human being.”
Learn more at: www.tedcorbitt.com