Over the course of 40 years, the Shelter Island 10K has stood out from the ever increasing number of summertime charity road races on the East End, and this year, as it marks a milestone, it will be even more special.
Some of the biggest names in long-distance racing will be on hand, along with recreational runners of all ages and abilities, to commemorate the 40th year of the race, which raises money for several local charities. The 10K and 5K run/walk are set for this Saturday, June 15, at 5:30 p.m. It promises to be as popular as ever, with 1,000 runners signed up to participate.
The Shelter Island 10K is an event that has always paid homage to the history of road running and will certainly have the star power to prove it this weekend. The race always attracts top talent, with some of the best young Kenyan and Ethiopian runners making the trek to participate, but race organizers also made a special effort this year to honor older runners, many of whom were in the prime of their careers during the race’s inaugural season 39 years ago. Some of them have become Shelter Island 10K regulars over the years, including former Olympian Bill Rodgers, a four-time winner of both the New York City and Boston marathons, and Joan Benoit Samuelson, an Olympic gold medalist and first-ever women’s Olympic marathon champion. Veteran marathon runner George A. Hirsch, who is the chairman of the board of the New York Road Runners and publisher of Runner’s World, will also be on hand, along with Amby Burfoot, an author, motivational speaker and winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon. Jon Sinclair and his wife, Kim Jones, are scheduled to attend, along with Keith Brantley. Sinclair is one of the winningest long-distance runners in the country’s history, and Jones is a former elite marathon runner as well, while Brantly is also a former elite marathoner who competed in the 1996 Olympics.
New to the race this year will be Benji Durden and Kyle Heffner, and their presence is a nice homage to what was going on in the running world at the time the Shelter Island race was created. Heffner and Durden both qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 1980 but were unable to compete at that year’s games in Moscow because of the U.S. boycott.
Heffner and Durden spoke earlier this week in the leadup to the race and said they are excited to participate and revisit that time in their lives. Heffner referred to making the Olympic marathon team as “the pinnacle” of a competitive career that has had its ups and downs. After the disappointment of not being able to compete in Moscow, he came back to the trials in 1984, but finished 22nd while suffering from viral pneumonia. A few years later, he was officially retired, but he and Durden finally had the chance to run competitively in Moscow during the 1986 Goodwill Games in that city. It was a brutally hot day, and Heffner was the only one from the U.S. contingent who was able to finish the race. Traveling the world to compete in prestigious races was a part of life for both Heffner and Durden during that time. At the end of the year in 1980, they were both invited to compete in the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan, which Heffner described as the most prestigious marathon in the world.
Another similarity Heffner and Durden have shared is their refusal to give up competitive running, even as they are now in their mid 60s. Heffner took a long break from serious training when he was in his 30s, but picked it back up again later in life, and even strongly considered competing in the 2012 Olympic trials for the marathon. Ultimately, he declined to do so, saying he didn’t want to “be in the way,” but he did run the Houston Marathon that year, winning his age group in 2:44. After that, he ran in the Boston Marathon and, at the age of 57, won his age group by six minutes with a time of 2:48. It was 31 years after he’d run the Boston Marathon for the first time, when he placed ninth overall in 2:12:31.
Continuing to push himself has been a theme for Durden as well. In 2013, he finished his goal of competing in a marathon in all 50 states and was pleased with the fact that he finished all of those marathons in less than four hours. Looking back on his competitive days in the 1980s, Durden also said that making the Olympic team was a highlight, and also a turning point in his life as a competitive runner.
“I had a big personal record that day, like Kyle,” he said. “It was one of highlights of my life, and it certainly changed my outlook on running. Before, it was important to me, but after that it became the major thing in my life.”
Durden acknowledged that the time in his life when he was considered a widely recognized and celebrated runner is over, and he said he’s been on a “nostalgia” tour recently, revisiting races where he’d enjoyed success and acclaim in years past. Competing in a new race, in which he and his former teammate are being billed as world-renowned runners once again, will be different, he said.
“It will be interesting to be celebrated runners in this environment,” he said. “It will be fun to talk to other older runners, but most of the new generation don’t know who we are. So that will be kind of fun. It seems we are possibly still influencing some of the young runners, so that will be kind of cool to see some of that going on.”
Heffner and Durden will be seeing each other for the first time since 2012, since they were both out in Eugene, Oregon, for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, but they both said it will be the first time since the 1980s that they are running in the same race together. Durden said Heffner’s times are faster these days, so he doesn’t expect to be crossing the finish line together, but he is excited to relive old memories and be part of a big group of runners who have an important place in history, competing on a scenic course in a race that has always recognized the importance of the country’s top runners.
Race director Mary Ellen Adipietro said the tradition of honoring world-class runners has been part of the Shelter Island race since it was founded by Cliff Clark, John Strode and Jack Faith, who were all collegiate runners. Adipietro and her husband, Frank, continued and built on that tradition when she became the race director in 2000, taking over for longtime director Jimmy Richardson. Ms. Adipietro and her husband are both veteran marathon runners and, like many others involved in the race over the years, are simply big fans of the sport in general.
“My husband always admired the fact that running was a pure sport and a lot of hard work,” she said. “He wanted to honor these legends and continue to honor them by bringing them to the 10K.
“Shelter Island is about running,” she said. “There are a million races for charity out there, and we do have a huge charity aspect, but we really have a passion and love for running.”
Honoring the legendary runners and making sure people can see them and pay them the respect they deserve is important to Adipietro, but she adds that the race means a lot to the more average running enthusiasts. She loves to hear about what it has meant to people over the years as well, as it has become a family tradition, and also has increasingly become tied into Father’s Day weekend.
“It’s become a generational run,” she said. “We have runners who did the race in their late teens and 20s in 1980 who have raised children and in some cases grandchildren, and I always get phone calls where people say, ‘My father ran this race, and I want to do it for him.’ We get more and more of that.”
In keeping with the theme of honoring older runners, this year’s race will include a Masters category, with prize money for men and women in the 40-and-over age group. Anyone who finished the race in less than 40 minutes will receive a complimentary “I broke 40 at the 40th” T-shirt sponsored by Harry Hackett, of Merrill Lynch.
Pre-race activities will start at 3:30 p.m. and include a kids fun run, a photo booth, and bounce houses, among other attractions. The post-race party will include a barbecue, live music, food trucks, and a 1980s attire contest, judged by the former Olympians in the race.
The run benefits running camps and various Shelter Island student groups as well as East End Hospice, Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch and the Shelter Island 10K Community Fund.
For more information on the race, visit shelterislandrun.com.