haku Industry Leadership Spotlight Series: Ted CorbittWritten by
haku is proud to introduce our new Leadership Spotlight series, where we'll showcase the rich history of the endurance sports industry. In the series, we’ll introduce you to stories about remarkable individuals who have put endurance sports on the main stage, but also in the lives of everyday people. In the first edition of the series, and in theme with our celebration of Black History Month, we’re highlighting the contributions and accomplishments of Ted Corbitt, a legendary figure in the world of modern American distance racing.
Ted Corbitt, known as “the father of long distance running,” was a pioneer both in the endurance industry as well as in racing technology. Born in South Carolina in 1919, Corbitt changed the way marathon running was viewed in the United States and was one of the most significant drivers in making long distance running a modern sport beyond the Olympic games. His personal life included a remarkable 44-year career as a physiotherapist at the International Center for the Disabled (ICD), America’s first outpatient rehab facility. He served in the U.S Army during World War II, taught physical therapy at Columbia University and NYU, and officiated races throughout his adult life.
Corbitt grew up a runner, even running two miles to and from school as a child, partly because Black children in the South were denied bus service. At the age of 7, his family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where he went on to star as a runner at the University of Cincinnati, but not without challenging times. He was barred from competing in certain cities because he was Black, and often would be unable to compete because white runners would refuse to participate against him. He also admitted he was reluctant to travel to some events for fear of the simplest tasks such as finding a place to stay or somewhere to eat.1
Nonetheless, he forged on, initially focusing on shorter runs like the half-mile, mile and two mile competitions. He said in a 1988 interview2 that he found it hard to get used to longer distances but his drive was simply based off his interest to know how far he could go. And he sure discovered he could go quite far, totaling about 100 miles a week in his early days of marathon training.
He continued gradually progressing in long distance running until completing the Boston Marathon in 1951. Corbitt’s elite performances in marathons before the 1952 Olympics earned him a spot on the American national team, where he was the first African-American to compete in the Olympic marathon. The marathon in the Helsinki Olympics was only the seventh of his career3, making his achievement to make the team even more impressive given his relatively novice status.
By 1958, Corbitt was already one of the most accomplished American runners and dedicated much of his time to growing the sport in local communities. He became the first president of the Road Runners Club-New York Association, which evolved into the New York Road Runners. With his guidance as a springboard to success, today, the NYRR has over 60,000 members, is one of the premier running organizations in the U.S. and organizes the New York City Marathon, the largest marathon in the world. He served as president of NYRR from 1958-1960 and president of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) in 1960-61. His leadership and creation of a dedicated bureaucracy played key roles in modernizing the marathon.
His lifetime running achievements include:
Winning 30 marathons
Completing 223 marathons and ultramarathons4
At various times, held U.S distance running records for 25 miles, marathon, 40 miles, 50 miles and 100 miles
Became the first African-American to compete in the Olympic marathon in 1952
A career best 2:26:44 time. winning the 1958 Shanahan Marathon in Philadelphia
Finishing 4th in the London - Brighton Road Race in 1962, a 52.5 mile road race.
Completing 22 Boston Marathons
Running 312.5 miles in one week in 1966, an average of 44.6 miles per day.
But beyond his running prowess, Corbitt wrote a 30-page report detailing various systems of course calibration, which helped entrench the marathon as a modern sport. His technique involved the use of a calibrated bicycle wheel, riding the course with it and mechanically counting the number of revolutions. Named the Jones Counter method, it is still in use today. Corbitt would say that “initiating the accurate course measurement program in the USA is easily the most important thing that I did in the long distance running scene.”5
In 1998, Corbitt was one of the first five runners to be inducted into the National DIstance Running Hall of Fame, and in 2006 was part of the inaugural class into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame. Incredibly, at age 55, Corbitt’s final Boston Marathon time was only 34 seconds slower than his first marathon in 1951.
Corbitt passed away on December 12, 2007, at age 88. USA Track & Field named their “Men’s Road Ultra Runner of the Year” award in his honor.
We celebrate Ted Corbitt as a leader, a champion of change, and a legendary figure in the endurance racing world.
Ted Corbitt, a Pioneer in American Distance Running, Dies at 88 (Published 2007)
Ted Corbitt: An Ultrarunning Pioneer - Ultrarunning Magazine