Sports History: Ted Corbitt

Ted Corbitt (Photo /
Ted Corbitt (Photo /

It was five years ago this month that America’s original ultramarathoner, Ted Corbitt, passed away at the age of 88.

Corbitt, quiet, slight, and standing just 5’7″, was small in stature but prominent in accomplishment, having once been dubbed by New York City Marathon founder Fred Lebow as “the father of American distance running.”

The accolades accorded Corbitt were many. He was at one time the US marathon champion and in 1952 was a member of the US Olympic marathon squad despite having first run the event just the year prior. At different times Corbitt held the American record in the marathon, 100 mile, and 25, 40 and 50 kilometer distances.

Corbitt was not content simply to compete, winning 30 of the some 200 marathons that he estimated he ran. He also played centrally in the organizing of competitions at a time when marathon races drew few fans and fewer participants. He helped to found the Road Runners Club of America in 1957 and was instrumental in developing standardized measuring guidelines for race distances. In 1958 he co-founded the New York Road Runners Club, and in 1959 he organized the country’s first ultramarathon in New York, and won it.

Away from racing, Corbitt’s accomplishments were also considerable. He served in the Army in WW II, earned his undergraduate degree in education from the University of Cincinnati, and later completed his masters in physical therapy.

He eventually rose to the rank of Chief Physical Therapist at New York’s International Center for the Disabled. Until 1973, he ran to work every day, sometimes building 20 to 30 mile detours into his commute. He was a father to one son, Gary, and a husband to Ruth Butler for 42 years.

Corbitt grew, arguably, more active as he aged and certainly more committed to ultra events after bronchial asthma and the onset of age slowed his times and extended his distances. At 81 he walked 240 miles over six days. At 82 he walked 303.