Reminisces from Sahishnu Sczesiul...
The third running of the Sri Chinmoy 24-Hour Race took place on September 25-26, 1982 on the same cinder and dirt Havenmeyer Track located behind the current town hall of the affluent city of Greenwich, CT. The field that year was limited to 40 very good runners, seeking their fortunes in an ultra pursuit that was gaining a bit of popularity in the country. The list of attendees was filled three months before the start. At that time new full day adventures were popping up in the Midwest, Southwest and west coast, so we were fortunate to have another great group of athletes take the challenge.
The two main principles in the 1981 race were back for more adventure. Cahit Yeter from the Bronx was focused on advancing his North American title with even higher mileage. Silver medalist Ron Bomberger from Mannheim, PA was finely trained and looking to chase Mr. Yeter all the way this time. Jim Roser, 51, from Beaver Falls, PA had his sights set on at least a podium finish, his age-group record would subsequently be transcended. Sterling, Virginia native Ed Foley, 33, had considered the race a perfect spot to contend for a 150- mile episode. And newly crowned world record holder Sue Medaglia, 47, Bronx, NY was even in better shape than she thought possible.
The cool morning start gave way to late summer warmth and periodic clouds as the field stayed in tact for the first several hours. Cahit Yeter made a move to stay out in front in his focused pursuit. Jim Roser tried to match the leaders with reasonable lap splits but found himself weak and unable to handle the deceptive heat and humidity. After 38+ miles, the masters juggernaut gave up and drove home. Apparently his wife was later shocked to see him home a day earlier than expected. But, as some often say, there is always another day.
The depth of the field was striking. There were many runners attempting a 24-hour race for the first time, yet they brought such solid credentials from testing themselves up to 100 miles that the possibility of equaling the record of 24 runners past 100 miles was virtually in play.
As the sun began its decent into night, the race picked up intensity. Mr Yeter kept a brilliant pace, working his way around the remaining 33 runners after a few defected from the race. Just before 2:00am Cahit Yeter reached 200km in 17:44:27, knocking nearly 25 minutes off his previous national record. Soon after that he pulled off the track and went into his tent for a long rest. At this time Ed Foley had moved into second place, Ron Bomberger held third, and Paul Soskind from Brooklyn and Neil Weygandt from Ardmore, PA came close at fourth and fifth position. All four men eventually reached Yeter’s mileage totals and assumed positions one through four. Sue Medaglia resembled a machine, smooth strides and continual movement showing a tremendous steadiness. She passed her own national record at the 200 km mark by just over four minutes, reaching it in 23:36:42.
When the whistle blew, the sand bags were dropped, and the courageous athletes came to halt. Whether exhilaration or disappointment or shear pain showed on their faces, once again great triumphs had occurred by being there, on the track, for a whole day. Fully 20 runners had clicked past 100 miles. At least 15 people had set personal bests, at least 3 national records at various distances were created.
Ed Foley, in his first 24-hour, finished first with 143 miles, 238 yards. His steadiness and good speed for nearly all the race were a pleasant surprise to him as well as us. Ed’s run became the top US performance for the year at 24 hours. Ed had moved from sixth place at halfway to first at the end. Ron Bomberger again finished second with 135 miles, 255 yards, but you had to admire his focus and consistency, especially during the late afternoon heat. Paul Soskind finished third with 134 miles, 81 yards, a great redemption from last year’s dropout after a few miles.
Sue Medaglia missed her national and former world 24-hour record by less than 500 yards, reaching the whistle-blow with 126 miles, 256 yards. And Marvin Skagerberg reached 118 miles, 471 yards to cop a national mark for age group 40-44.
It was not exactly clear when a second Sri Chinmoy 24-Hour Race for the following month was announced, but Sri Chinmoy and the organizers from the SCMT gave runners another chance, since some runners were not able to attend the September race due to space limitations. Eighteen athletes came to the cinder track at Francis Lewis High School on a cool morning in Springfield Gardens, Queens. Within the field of 18, eleven runners had run the previous month’s event, some at an especially hard effort. One would think that it would be remarkable to toe the line again so soon after such a difficult race- just 5 weeks prior.
Jim Roser, the Beaver Falls, PA native, was a prime suspect. He had pointed to the September race in Greenwich as the prime target for the year, and had even taken vacation time to accommodate the race in his family and work lives. His problem with that 24-hour was intense afternoon heat and dehydration. He barely made it 38 miles, the first dropout of three ‘favorites’.
The October race was a different story. Moderate temps in the early going allowed good paced running sections for many people in the morning and afternoon. And having two or three ‘fast’ athletes at the head of the group would set an honest pace, or better. Arguably one of the fleetest ultra runners in the four-state area was Stu Mittleman, the NYRRC 100 Mile Champ and record holder. Stu hammered out a 6:27:02 for the 50 miles. Some will recall that Stu won our inaugural Sri Chinmoy 70 Mile Race in early November 1981, beating a strong field around the nearly 3-mile road course at Rockland Lake State Park in upstate NY. Cahit Yeter was also doing the back-to-back 24-hour journey, having run all three previous Sri Chinmoy 24-Hour runs. Cahit was 12 minutes arrears of Stu Mittleman at the 50-mile split. Former world and current American 24-hour and 200km champ Sue Medaglia was also on the track, with three runners total representing the ladies. She was over an hour behind Stu, still dressed in singlet and shorts as the late fall chill started to creep into the area. Cahit Yeter was only five minutes behind Stu at 100 km. Stu Mittlemen stopped just before 100 miles to change clothes, but then went into his tent for nearly two hours. Cahit reached the 100-mile time in a careful 16:29:34. He took a long break, affected by the cold air and the effort put forth.
Jim Roser had paced himself well and somehow assumed first place on the scoreboard. He reached 100 miles in 17:44:54, scarcely 70 seconds ahead of Sue Medaglia, with both of them now ahead of the faster Mittleman and Yeter. Sue tried hard to stay close to Jim Roser, but the veteran felt this was the race he really had inside. With less than an hour to go he hit 200k(23:00:08), and held on for the victory. Sue could not maintain good momentum as a frost had come into the area, with the many helpers chilled almost as much as the runners.
When the horn sounded, Jim Roser had won the race with personal best marks, his 128 miles 531 yards being a 50-54 age-group record, as well as his 200km mark.
Trishul Cherns, 25, the Canadian runner living locally, slipped passed Sue for second place, pushing hard to try to get to 200km. He reached 123 miles, 535 miles to set his own new best. Sue Medaglia hit 122 miles 789 yards, winning the women’s championship and her third straight 24-hour race. John Kenul added another 24 hour to his resume with 119 miles 1562 yards. Howard Poupko ran his best one-day race with 112 miles 832 yards, and Canadian Kanchan Stott set a new national record with her 106 miles 320 yards.
Jim Roser talks about his race as he was interviewed by Nick Marshall.
“ I had to run a long time while he (Mittleman) was sleeping in his tent, just to catch up. About the time my name went into first on the scoreboard, Stu came out to give it another try, but it was futile.
“What a difference a month makes. From last to first. Some strange things happen in ultras, as you well know by now. Sri Chinmoy was thrilled that I won because we’re both the same age, 51.”
This was our fourth 24-hour race in the slightly more than two year journey of sponsoring ultras. Our schedule of having the 70 Mile race, added in 1981, gave more momentum to the longer event, and particularly the September 1981 and 1982 editions were almost like de-facto championships for runners in the US. The future also looked brighter, as there were more and more runners testing the longer races, and bringing attention to the running world. I was excited for the runners coming into the sport, as there seemed to be avenues to express their talent. Meanwhile, in Europe and in Oceana the event was gathering steam.
Sri Chinmoy seemed to really like the ultras and the people associated with them. His philosophy of self-transcendence had found a home in the ultra-marathon world. He also wanted us to keep the ultras in Queens, nearby where many of the helpers lived. Indeed, the September 1982 24-hour event was the last one SCMT ever sponsored in Connecticut.