The 33rd annual Knickerbocker 60K was held on Saturday, Nov. 20, on a beautiful day in Central Park. I like this race partly for its historical significance, but also because it brings a lot of first-time ultra runners to the sport.
The race was first held in March 1978. It was the brainchild of Nick Marshall, and was planned for Forest Park in Queens, where it would've been called the Queens 60K, but snow and ice on the road required a move to Central Park. Richie Innammorato, who was helping Nick, wasn't crazy about the idea of having it in Central Park, since "everything was in Central Park". So he at least made it go clockwise, against regular traffic. It also required a name change, with Richie calling it the Knickerbocker 60K, for a New York name. Back then it used the full six-mile loop, including the Great Hill.
It was a pure coincidence that the first winner was Terry Knickerbocker in 3:51. There were four finishers under four hours that first year. Terry went on to set a still-standing course record in 1981 of 3:40:42, also setting an unofficial American record (official records aren't recognized for 60K).
Today, this is the only ultra still on the New York Road Runners calendar, and the only ultra still in Central Park. But with that kind of exposure, it brings a large field, many of whom are new to ultrarunning. (The race is also an introduction to ultrarunning for a lot of bewildered park-goers.) This make is very exciting, as you never know who might show up, like a fast marathoner doing his first ultra.
As for me, having won last year in 4:22, I was hoping for a similar result this year. I started out on pace, just under 7:00/mile, and shortly found five runners ahead of me, including Dennis Ball, who ran really strong at the Queens 50K in the spring. But I was running my pace and let them go, hoping they'd fade at the marathon point, allowing me to catch them. Well, one faded enough for me to catch him, but the others remained strong. The race was won in 4:08:36 by Gerardo Avila, a perfect example of a fast marathoner (in the 2:20's) running his first ultra. Second was Sebastien Baret, who finished second last year, but improved his time considerably with a 4:09:10 finish. Third was Michael Coveney, just edging out Dennis. My 4:24:01, only a couple minutes slower than last year, but good enough for fifth this year.
The top three women were Deanna Culbreath, 9th overall with 4:42:11, Elena Makovskaya and Jessica Purcell.
Although there were a lot of new faces there, there were plenty of old friends as well - Tony P., Wayne B., Dave O., Frank D., Al P., Lydia R., Sal C., Andrei A., Al T., Chris S., with Grant M. acting as a course marshall, and Admas stopped by on her training run.
Thanks to John Garlepp and Richie Innammorato for their work with the Road Runners in staging this race. It was another great race all around.