Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Bronx Week Part III: The Cherry Tree Marathon

Without meaning to do so, I've turned this week into Bronx theme week. I'm going to continue that trend with another Bronx-related post but rest assured, the other boroughs will get their due. Over the next month or so, I'll highlight each borough so that come Nov. 4, you'll already be familiar with the 5 boroughs.

Earlier in the year, some folks seemed disappointed to hear that NYRR had downgraded it's Bronx race from a half-marathon to a 10 miler. Losing those 3.1 miles may sounds like a drastic change, but did you know that NYRR used to host a full marathon in the Bronx?

John Kelley winning the 1961 race. Photo: NYTimes
On February 22, 1959, George Washington's birthday, the nascent Road Runners Club-New York Association held it's first marathon. The event, aptly named the Cherry Tree Marathon, started and finished in Macomb's Dam Park, just across the street from Yankee Stadium. Runners then followed the hilly Sedgwick Avenue to Fordham Road and back--three times! Ted Corbitt, NYRR's early president, won the inaugural Cherry Tree Marathon in 2:38:57, beating

The race continued to grow over the next decade but it had a few shortcomings: there were no aid stations for runners; the roads were not closed to traffic; and there were hardly any spectators. That didn't stop some of the country's best runners from turning out, though. In 1961 and 1962, John Kelley (the Younger), two-time Olympian and winner of the 1957 Boston Marathon, took first in 2:25:27.5 and 2:29:55, respectively.

When a mediocre runner in his mid-30s ran the Cherry Tree Marathon for the first time in 1969 he got an idea, move it! That man was Fred Lebow.

In the early 1970s the race was moved to Central Park where it continued to be run in February for several years until it faded away, replaced by another race, the New York City Marathon. Still, it's fun to know that the Bronx is where it all started, over 50 years ago.

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