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Veteran competitor Joe Ryan looks back on his win in 1969
By Joe Ryan
Special to The Telegram
On Sunday, I will run my 47th Tely 10 — and 44th consecutive race — joining thousands of other runners and walkers in the morning as we journey eastwards from Octagon Pond in Paradise to Bannerman Park in the heart of St. John’s.
I have witnessed many changes in the classic road race, the most obvious being the tremendous increase in the number of participants in recent years.
On a recent Sunday morning, as I led a training run for a group of Tely participants over the Topsail Road course, a passing comment from one of the runners got me thinking back to my first Tely 10 so many years ago.
The year was 1969, the date Oct. 12, much later than our now standard fourth Sunday in July. And instead of lining up in starting corrals on McNamara Road, as we will do for this year’s race, all seven or eight of us toed the starting line on King George V Track near Memorial Stadium.
Yes, that’s right. The Telegram 10-Mile Road Race was held on an oval track — for the second consecutive year.
Forty laps, start to finish (ah, but you see, there were no hills, no intersections and no traffic!).
Few people were in attendance that beautiful autumn afternoon, apart from several officials who would clock the race and record the number of times we circled the track. Among those who had come to trackside were nine-time Tely champion Pat Kelly, and Graham Kelly (no relation), one of the original participants in the first Telegram Road Race in 1922.
Dan Clarke was the favorite that year, as the talented young American runner had been winning all the local races by extremely wide margins. He had recently won the 26-mile marathon, and had captured top honours at the Memorial University cross-country championships.
Like Johnny Lafferty, the 1949 and 1958 Telegram champion, Clarke was stationed at the American Naval Base in Argentia and at that time was running close to 100 miles a week in training.
Little attention, meanwhile, was paid to a young female runner quietly warming up on the far side of the track.
However, sixteen-year-old Jackie Kean was about to do something a little different that day. She was about to enter an all-male running event for the first time.
And although a record holder in the juvenile 800- and 1,500-metre track events, this was to be her first try at a distance greater than five miles.
She had first become interested in running three years earlier during a summer program at the Kelly’s Brook Playground. She was entering the 10-mile race that day only to see how she could do. She also indicated that she would not be bothered at all at the prospect of competing against an all-male field.
The rest of us were cross-country runners from Memorial University, used to running around Kent’s Pond long before it became a popular walking trail. Mike Green was there, as well as Mike Campbell, Fraser Pritchett and Gary Furlong, one of the top track and field stars in the province.
We had come to the track with Keith Taylor, our cross-country coach, to see what times we could record for the 10-mile distance. And if my memory serves me well, veteran distance runner, Jimmy Jackson, may also have been in the race.
Little did we realize that on that hazy afternoon, local running history would be made.
The starting gun was fired shortly after 3 p.m. and immediately Dan Clarke raced to the front, running with a long, loose stride. The rest of us followed closely, leaving young Jackie Kean far behind. By the end of the first mile, Clarke had established a 24-second lead over the rest of us and seemed to be well on his way to another victory.
By the mid-way point of the race, as we spread out round the track, Jackie Kean and some of the slower runners were passed several times. Kean, however, continued to run at a relaxed pace. Each time she passed the starting area, she received enthusiastic encouragement from Graham Kelly and the other few assembled spectators.
Clarke, out front, continued to gain a little every lap. After five miles, the half-way point of the race, his time was 28:25, compared to my 29:05, as I raced along in second place. Gary Furlong was 25 seconds back in third, with Mike Green fourth in 31:20.
Outside on the Boulevard, traffic flowed and shouts from a softball game on the nearby field filled the afternoon air. Few were aware that the 42nd running of The Telegram race was well under way.
And so as each mile of this historic race unfolded, Clarke was about 200 yards in the lead, with the rest of us following some distance behind. Then, with just over six laps remaining of the 40-lap course, I began to sense that Clarke was noticeably slowing, allowing me to narrow the distance between us.
“Can this be real?” I thought to myself as I tried to pick up the pace and edge closer to the lead runner. Then, gaining a little with each lap run, I managed to narrow his lead to about 100 yards with just four laps remaining in the race.
“Can this be real?” I thought to myself as I tried to pick up the pace and edge closer to the lead runner.
Each time I raced past the officials’ stand, I glanced quickly at Coach Taylor, who was quietly urging me on.
Four laps more to the finish. Could I catch him? Could I really beat Dan Clarke! Perhaps, and yes, with each remaining lap, I edged closer and closer to the lead runner, narrowing that distance between us until, with just over a lap and a half to go, I was running right on Clarke’s heels.
At this point, I now had a quick decision to make as to whether to continue to follow Clarke or take the lead myself, and then try to hold on over the remaining 400 yards to the finish. But feeling strong and perhaps thinking that I could win that race, I decided to go to the front and try to hang on to the lead right to the finish line.
On the back-stretch of that final lap, I had somehow managed to establish a five-second lead over the American runner. Two hundred meters to go! The last 100! A quick final sprint down the home stretch to cross the finish line in first place in 58 minutes and 25 seconds, with Clarke just a few seconds behind me.
Pat Kelly, Tely champion from the 1930s and 40s, immediately rushed over to offer congratulations.
Within the next few minutes, the remaining runners crossed the finish line, but Jackie Kean continued to circle the track. As she moved closer now to the finish, we all shouted encouragement.
A final time around the track and local running history was made. Jackie Kean, with a wide smile on her face, became the first female to ever enter and finish the historic Telegram 10-mile race.
This Sunday, as I make the trek from Octagon Pond in over Topsail Road, thousands of participants will accompany me. Many will be female. Many will also be running this race for the first time.
Hundreds of spectators will gather along Topsail Road and LeMarchant Road to watch us pass through the course. Hundreds more will assemble in Bannerman Park to applaud the weary, but happy finishers.
Flags will fly, and cheers will resound in the morning air. Excitement will be everywhere.
All will be so different from that quiet Sunday afternoon 50 years ago when I crossed the finish line in first place in my very first Tely 10.
Pat Kelly would indeed be pleased.
Ryan has run 47 Tely 10s, 70 marathons
At the age of 20, Joe Ryan won the 1969 Tely 10. Since then, he has run 46 Telegram 10-Mile Road Races, 21 of them under 60 minutes, with a personal best of 51:33.
In addition to running the race, Ryan chaired the Tely 10 organizing committee for 10 years, from 1997-07, and authored a book, “The Tely 10 — A History of Newfoundland’s Premier Road Race” in 2002.
A provincial track and field Hall of Famer, Joe Ryan is a noted marathoner, having run 70 marathons to date, including Boston (12 times), New York (twice), Ottawa (five times), Honolulu (twice), Dublin (three times) and Athens, Prague, Reykjavik, Edinburgh, Bermuda, Paris, Vienna, Rotterdam and Toronto.
He is a retired teacher, and is now teaching and coaching runners.