IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE KING
Runners in the 2007 race take the first turn, at Broad Street and East Bergen Place. Below, a runner celebrates a mighty finish.
Upon his passing in 1993, Dr. George Sheehan was eulogized by President Bill Clinton as “the Philosopher King of running.” He was, for a while there, the most famous person in Red Bank; a remarkable chap whose accomplishments as a physician, philanthropist and father (of twelve!) were trumped on a nationwide scale by his having authored Running and Being a seminal work of running strategy and philosophy that’s been credited with creating the populist sport as we know it today.
While no trace exists these days of the Doc’s old West Front Street office, his legacy lives on throughout the streets of Red Bank, thanks in large part to an annual two-day happening named in his honor. And it happens again this weekend when the downtown business district and and streets in adjoining Little Silver and Fair Haven become the scene for a competition of the internationally famous and merely passionate while the waterfront walkways of Marine Park host an expanded set of activities for runners, fans and families.
A Jersey Shore institution that began in 1981 as the Asbury Park 10k Classic, the event was rechristened the George Sheehan Classic upon being relocated to Red Bank in 1994. Cited as one of the 100 road-race events by Runner’s World magazine, the race is the second in a slate of five events comprising the Jersey Shore Golden Grand Prix the others being the Spring Lake 5, the Belmar 5, the Asbury Park 5k and the new Pier Village 5k.
With more than $4,000 in prize money awarded to the top five finishers, the Sheehan Classic has drawn the participation of some of the world’s most prominent road-runners, from Russia’s Olga Markova and Norway’s Grete Waitz, to Zimbabwe’s Phillimon Hanneck and four-time Boston Marathon champ Bill Rodgers.
Here in the 30th anniversary year of Running and Being, the Sheehan Classic is more than the serious (and not-so-serious) five-mile road race that now forms its core. It’s a festival of sorts; a celebration of the runner’s community that’s been fine-tuned into an event that attracts 2,000-plus runners expected to pay for the privilege of pounding pavement with the top talent in the field.
For the past few years, the Sheehan has been run on Father’s Day weekend, having moved from its longtime berth in the dogdays of August. While recent days have indicated that June can put on the dog with the best of them, race director Phil Hinck maintains that the response from runners was “overwhelmingly in favor of the move.”
A relatively recent addition is the inclusion of a free Friday evening concert, sponsored by New Jersey Natural Gas and featuring, for the fourth consecutive year, the Shore-based original band Goldenseal (whose frontman Joe Hughes is a regular Classic participant). The music commences at 7p down in Marine Park, where a two-day Runners’ Expo Village will be presenting “an opportunity see the latest in running, health and fitness, and pick up some great bargains.” Registrants for the Classic may pick up their official 2008 t-shirt on Friday, between the hours of 2p and 9p.
The racing action kicks off Friday at 6:30p with the Kids’ Classic series of competitions for young runners up to age 13, moved this year from Broad Street into the park. Registration fee is $15 and everyone who finishes a race will be awarded a very cool medal. There’s also ice cream for the participants and a meet-and-greet with some famous costumed characters.
The heart of the weekend’s activity takes place on Saturday morning, when the thousands of runners in the Men’s and Women’s Sheehan Classic take off from the starting line at 8:30a (wheelchair participants are allowed an opportunity to start the race five minutes earlier). At 8:32, the public is invited to join in a two-mile Health and Fitness Walk, an all-welcome activity that follows a portion of the runners’ course, and arrives at Broad Street in time for the expected finish of the main Classic event.
After that, it’s everybody back to the park for an extra added attraction that Hinck characterizes as “a treat not to be missed” the traditional Bar-B-Q, organized by veteran volunteer Ed Wendell and available to all race participants. An awards ceremony concludes the weekend’s agenda at 10:30a.
Wanna register to run with the pack in this year’s Sheehan Classic, or just get more specifics on directions, sponsors and vendors? Take it right here.