Cancellation of 18 Mile Run Doesn’t Stop Some From Doing It Anyway

By DAVID BIGGY | Oct 16, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy From left, John Kutner, Courtney Klecha, Eric Wilden, Tara Daly and Roger Borichewski take off from mile marker 0 in Holgate on Oct. 13, after they decided to trek the 18 Mile Run course despite its cancellation for the first time in the race's history.

Barnegat Light — For John Kutner, Courtney Klecha, Eric Wilden, Tara Daly and Roger Borichewski, there were no mile markers to clue them in as to how far they’d run so far, no crowds cheering for them along Long Beach Boulevard, and no clock displaying their finishing time in the parking lot of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. The Long Beach Island 18 Mile Run had been canceled, after all.

“My uncle, who saw the announcement on Facebook, called to tell me Friday that the race was canceled,” said Klecha, who still picked up this year’s race T-shirt at St. Francis Community Center. “But I had a hotel booked and wasn’t able to cancel, so I figured I might as well do the run anyway.”

Klecha wasn’t alone. While there may have been others who did an 18-mile run of some sort on Oct. 13, she and four other hardy individuals lined up at mile marker 0 in Holgate at 10:30 a.m. – typically the official start time for the race – to run the course toward Barnegat Light, even if it meant splashing through a little water along the way. John Schroeder, the man slated to start the official race before its cancellation, used an air horn to send them on their way.

“Despite some puddles, the course wasn’t bad,” said the 43-year-old Kutner, a Red Bank resident who crossed the imaginary finish line at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park in first place, clocking a time of roughly 2 hours, 21 minutes. “I had heard from a buddy of mine that it was canceled. But I was planning to register for the race this morning anyway, so I just showed up to run the course. The weather was great.”

In the days prior to Race Day, an offshore nor’easter turned sub-tropical cyclone turned Tropical Storm Melissa – which ultimately made its way eastward into the northern Atlantic Ocean – combined with a waxing gibbous moon approaching its full phase on Sunday, causing significant flooding on many parts of the Island. By Friday afternoon, race officials made the decision to cancel the race for the first time in its 47-year history.

“The 18 Mile Run scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 13, has been canceled due to the current and upcoming flooding and weather conditions,” read the announcement on the race’s Facebook page. “This decision was based on a collective agreement between the Race Director and local police chiefs due to safety concerns for all involved.”

For some, the announcement came too late. Daly, who flew into the area from Milwaukee, Wisc., already was on her way.

“My mom and dad were coming down from Connecticut and my wife and I were coming from Milwaukee to stay with them in Beach Haven,” said the 42-year-old Daly, who in late September completed the Brewers Mini-Marathon in Milwaukee and wanted to give a longer race a try.  “We were here during the summer, and I decided then I was going to do the 18 Mile Run. So, I was here and I was going to run it, even though it was canceled.”

Wilden, representing Dharma Running, which utilizes a Buddhist-based approach to cultivate mindfulness and compassion through the practice of running, invited runners via Facebook to join him as he sought to run the course despite the race’s cancellation.

“I’ve run this race a few times before, and I was going to be here, so I was hoping to see some others come out and have fun with it,” said the 50-year-old Wilden, an Elkins Park, Pa., resident who in late September ran the Berlin Marathon in Germany. “I’m a pretty serious runner. I do ultras and marathons throughout the year, so the distance wasn’t as much an issue as making it through the puddles.”

At the outset, Kutner and Klecha, who finished last year’s 18 Mile Run in 55th place overall, set the pace and ran together for most of the first 10 miles, except for a brief period when Kutner detoured to one of the restrooms at the Long Beach Township municipal complex and left Klecha by herself at the front. Kutner quickly returned to pace and caught Klecha, then continued to push his pace through the latter half of the course.

“I picked up my pace to catch Courtney and just kept it,” said Kutner, who is training for the upcoming New York Marathon. “Then I tried to hit the pace I want to run for the marathon and realized I really wasn’t ready to go at that pace.”

Nonetheless, Kutner gritted his way through the 15th, 16th and 17th miles and completed the race with a 7:48 pace. Klecha wasn’t far behind, finishing in just under 2 hours, 23 minutes at a 7:54 pace.

“This was my third time running this course and I wanted to break an 8-minute pace, which I did, so I’m happy,” said the 24-year-old from Jamesburg. “It turned out to be an awesome race. It didn’t matter if there weren’t hundreds of other runners because it’s really you against the clock. But I made a few new friends today, so that was really cool.”

Wilden clocked a time of about 2 hours, 44 minutes – “I’ll gladly take first for the master’s division,” he joked – while Daly took the unofficial fourth spot in 2 hours, 49 minutes and Borichewski arrived to the finish line just over a minute later.

“I start off slow and pick up my pace as I go,” said the 54-year-old Borichewski, a Jackson resident training for New York. “My wife, Tamie, and I have a site at Baker’s Acres, and I came across this race by accident while visiting two years ago. So, because I’m training for New York, I figured this would be a good year to run the 18 Mile Run. It was my first time, and I felt good.”

A few minutes after Borichewski finished, he and the crew cheered on Gary Vona of Millstone, who had run a variation of the race on his own as well.

“I started here in Barnegat Light, ran 9 miles to Ship Bottom, turned around and came back,” he said. “I didn’t realize I’d have a cheering section when I got back here. This was great.”

In addition to the runners of the unofficial race, Jennifer Houlis of Florham Park was on a mission as well.

“I've got an agenda and NOTHING is going to stop me, even a race being canceled due to tidal flooding!” she posted to Facebook before walking the entire length of the course on Sunday. “I'm going for it and still doing it, even if I have to walk through the flooded streets! Many know I’ve lost almost 150 pounds the past 11 months and the goal I set for myself when I reached my originally set goal weight was to do the annual LBI 18 Mile Race.”

With support from friend Ric Anastasi – who carried a weighted ruck sack and an American flag “to honor U.S. military servicemen and women for what they do for us every day” – Houlis started her march up Long Beach Boulevard about 9 a.m. and expected to arrive at Barnegat Lighthouse by 3 p.m.

“This was one of those things I had to do for myself,” she said. “I’ve never walked the entire Island, but I’m doing it because I’ve been on this journey now since last November, and this is my way of celebrating what I’ve accomplished. I’m going to get to the lighthouse, no matter how long it takes me.”

Along the way, she met one of the race’s founders, Bill Fitzpatrick, who along with his wife, Trish, daughters Jeanne and Maggie, and Trish’s aunt, Terry Rouge, set up a small water station at the corner of 115th Street in Haven Beach.

“My wife had monitored Facebook and told me some were planning to run, so I said, ‘Well, we better make sure we’re at the corner to give out some water,’ so here we are,” said Fitzpatrick, who after years of running the race walked the 20th, 30th and 40th editions and has attended it in some way for most of its 47 years. “I got onto the Island at about 10 p.m. Friday night and it was hairy driving around here, so I understand why the race officials canceled it. Still, it’s a little sad that they weren’t able to pull it off. But, hey, you don’t need a lot of runners to have a race, and it still turned out to be a great day.”

On Tuesday, too late for publication in this issue, race officials released a letter explaining the race’s cancellation as well as their decision not to provide entry-fee refunds or deferments toward next year’s race, stating the decision “was made to ensure the economic viability of the event” and that proceeds from the race “will be applied to the recreation department, which is one program within the St. Francis Community Center.” Race T-shirts can be picked up at the center or mailed to those who live out of the area. Contact Race Director Steve LaMarco for more information at slamarco@stfrancislbi.org.

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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