Special to The Telegram
The first Evening Telegram road race, the Tely 10, took place on Sept. 6, 1922, and was won by Jack Bell in a time of 56 minutes 35 seconds. Prior to then, long-distance running was sporadically held locally, with courses of varying distances.
The 1922 race attracted a great deal of attention because Bell, of St. John’s, had won the Halifax five-mile run in 1921 in the time of 25 minutes, 51 seconds. In the Halifax 10-mile run, Bell placed second in the time of 58 minutes, 33 ½ seconds.
Long-distance running first captivated St. John’s on Sept. 17, 1908, when following the Regatta, the St. Andrew’s Society sponsored the first 10-mile marathon. The race began at the Octagon on Topsail Road and finished at Cavendish Square.
Thirty-two runners competed, but by mid-way through the contest, almost half had dropped out. Three runners — John Janes, Jack Kavanagh and Walter Vail — took the lead and maintained it until reaching Cornwall Avenue.
From Cornwall Avenue, Vail took the lead and was well ahead when he crossed the finish line at Cavendish Square to finish in first place. In doing so, he became the first Newfoundland distance running champion.
The first 15-mile race
The most anticipated road race, walking or running, in the early part of the 20th century was the “15-Mile Run” from Manuels to St. George’s Field in St. John’s. This was the most challenging of road races to 1909 when it was held, not only because of its length, but the difficult terrain to be covered.
From the start, contestants were confronted with having to negotiate the tough Topsail Hill, four miles from the starting point at Manuels.
A sportswriter noted in 1909, “That feat in itself was enough to try the grit of the strongest runners.”
Move from 10 to 15 mile race
The move from a 10 to a 15-mile road race was inspired by the even longer running race held at St. Bon’s Field on Aug. 18, 1909, in which two famous contestants ran the course of 25 miles circling the field until that length was covered.
Both runners had previously won the Boston Marathon. The two were J. Lorden of the United States, winner of several American marathons, and Dr. J. McDonald of Bay of Islands, Newfoundland.
Dr. McDonald won that race with a 50 yard lead over his opponent and through it, gained notoriety internationally.
The 15-mile race
The 15-mile race held on Aug. 25, 1909, was well publicized and public interest showed itself along the way, with people from the adjoining communities turning up at different points to cheer on the contestants.
From the blast of the starting gun, David Maynard and Jack Kavanagh took the lead, running neck and neck down through Chamberlains, Topsail and then the tough ascent up Topsail Hill. Just a month earlier, Kavanagh had won the six-mile race from the Torbay Convent to Mount Cashel gate in 33 minutes, 16 3/5 seconds.
By the time the two runners reached Woodford’s Gate at the top of Topsail Hill, Maynard had gained 100 yards on his opponent. The nine contestants behind could not be seen from the judge’s car following the race.
At Donovan’s, Kavanagh had narrowed Maynard’s lead and drew even closer as they entered Cornwall Avenue in the city. However, Maynard was able to gain more of a lead coming out of the incline leading up to Cornwall Avenue. By the time they reached Shaw Street, Maynard had a 150-yard lead. The other runners were so far behind that nobody could tell who was in third place.
At the foot of Parade Street, which led to St. George’s Field and the end of the race, uniformed members of the Newfoundland Highlanders took up positions to control the crowd. A thundering applause greeted Maynard as he entered the field and completed two laps which earned him the victory.
His time was recorded as 93 minutes and 20 2/5 seconds. Kavanagh, running just one lap behind, did it in 98 minutes and 47 seconds.
New York champ takes on Maynard
Robert Fowler, a Newfoundlander living in the United States, had won the New York Marathon on Jan. 1, 1908 and came to St. John’s to compete against Maynard in a 10-mile race at the Prince’s Rink on Oct. 18, 1909. He defeated Maynard in a time of 57 minutes 18 seconds.
Fowler, who went on to win many American marathons and competed for the United States in two Olympic Games, was originally from Trinity.
Of all the long-distance running contests in the early 20th century, it was the “Tely 10” that institutionalized long distance running in Newfoundland.
Jack Bell, its first winner, gathered a remarkable record as a runner and in subsequent Tely 10 races, other great runners emerged. These included Ron O’Toole, Clifford Stone, and Pat Kelly.
The Tely 10 was attracting hundreds of contestants by Confederation and today is among the top road races in Canada, attracting thousands of participants.
Jack Fitzgerald is the author of many books and is a Royal St. John’s Regatta historian