Fifty years goes by in a flash, although there are times when running a marathon feels like it’s taking fifty years.
This past weekend, the Harrisburg Marathon celebrated it’s fiftieth anniversary. Everyone in the running community was determined to be involved, whether running a relay, volunteering or running the full marathon.
To get a sense of the marathon in its early years, I pulled a book off the shelf, Hap Miller’s Harrisburg Marathon, Four Decades of running 26.22 miles at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The first marathon in 1973 was held Labor Day Weekend with a 3:30 p.m. start (what were they thinking?), a point-to-point race from the City of Harrisburg to Penn National Racetrack where runners finished on the horserace track. The entry fee: $2 in advance, $5 if you enter late.
The Harrisburg Area Roadrunners Club (HARRC) was founded shortly after the founding of the Harrisburg Marathon. HARRC continued to administer and direct the race for many years. Currently, the YMCA of Greater Harrisburg does a fantastic job of carrying that torch.
In the intervening years, the Marathon moved to an early November date and the course has changed numerous times, sometimes planned and sometimes the vagaries of November weather played a part. Along the river, through the demanding hills of Wildwood Park, City Island, past the Capitol and through the busy restaurant district. If you’ve run more than one or two Harrisburg Marathon’s you’ve seen them all. This year’s course stayed close to the river, making good use of the Susquehanna’s bridges.
A late starter with marathons, I tiptoed around the marathon, helping at packet pickup, as a course monitor and chairing the pasta dinner for a few years. Finally, at age 56, I jumped off the sidelines and ran my first marathon in Harrisburg in 2003.
So, 19 years later, without the usual amount of training under my belt, I was intent on doing the fulll marathon. I decided beforehand I would be o.k. with running the first 20 miles and walking the last six. That is exactly what I did, but it didn’t feel o.k. With temps in the low 40’s, it was perfect marathon weather, but running into the wind upriver was a bit spicy. I was overall comfortable while running, but once I began walking I felt a definite chill.
I finally drug my tired and cold body across the finish line. The best outcome of a slow, cold finish at 5:38 was running across several of the giants of the Harrisburg running community.
In the photo (courtesy of Bob McCubbin) is Park Barner who certified the course for the 1973 Marathon and certified it for many years following. Park also ran that first marathon with a 3:02 time. He subsequently ran every Harrisburg Marathon up until the last couple of years. His ultra running exploits are exhilarating to read, check out the information in the article tagged in this paragraph.
Next to Park stands Nick Marshall. Like Park, Nick ran in the first Harrisburg Marathon and he also ran the full marathon this past weekend, fifty years later. In between those years, he ran well over twenty of the Harrisburg Marathons. Nick is an acclaimed ultra runner as well and in 2017 was inducted into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame.
To my left is John Kelley. John ran his first Harrisburg Marathon in 1975 at 26 years of age and in 1981 ran his fastest Harrisburg Marathon at 2:39:49. Forty-some years later, shortly before this photo was taken he ran an amazing 4:39:59.
A great way to finish a marathon, albeit a personal worst time, was to run across some great runners who were there at the start of this great tradition called the Harrisburg Marathon.