ASBURY PARK - After 55 years, new chapters keep adding to the lore of the Asbury Park Polar Bear Races.
The authors include such notable figures on the statewide running and racewalking circuits as Justin Scheid of Succasunna, Beth Marzigliano of Belmar, John Soucheck of Little Silver and Maria Paul of Long Branch.
Their triumphs Saturday in the Polar Bear event - Scheid and Marzigliano in the 5K run, Soucheck and Paul in the 10-mile racewalk - ensured their places in the annals of this longest-going event on the busy-busy, year-round Shore area calendar of footracing competition.
A year-end feature at Holiday time since their origin in 1964, the Polar Bear Racewalks have endured virtually every form of meteorological extreme over the years - everything from rain and snow to the blizzard of 2010 to the oncoming Superstorm Sandy of 2012. But after Friday's all-day rain, some 400-plus Polar Bear athletes welcomed the mild (temperatures in the 50's) but gusty conditions on the boardwalk Saturday.
Scheid, the former Georgetown University star, capped it all by racing off with over-all honors in the 5K and crossed the finish line just south of Convention Hall in 15:42, a clocking that moved him to sixth place on the all-time Polar Bear ranking list, a stellar roster still topped by mile great and USA Olympian Marty Liquori's 15:23 dating back to 1975. In the process, he relegated another USA Olympian, Bill Reilly of Oceanport, who'd run 15:45 in 1971, down to seventh all-time.
"The wind was a little rough at times, but that was not a huge problem, considering all the things that I know have happened here over the years," said Scheid, smiling, after his decisive decision over 2017 champion Joseph Amoresano of Hoboken (who ran 16:34) and third-placer Eric Laurel of Portland. Oregon (16:57.)
Marzigliano, meanwhile was running a brilliant race of her own. With an 18:13 clocking, she led all women and outran all but the top seven men. Just one previous Polar Bear women's titlist - ex-Villanova star Amanda Marino, who'd run 17:41 in 2016 - has ever been quicker on the Asbury Park boardwalk. Her leading challengers were Kiera Russo of Eatontown (18:43) and 8-year-old sensation Ava Johnson of Howell (20:42.)
The co-featured 10-mile racewalk had opened the program at 10 a.m. and multi-past champions Soucheck and Paul were the class of the field. Soucheck led the men with a 1-hour, 38-minute, 22-second performance and Paul outwalked all the women in 2:02:56. For both, it meant elevated positions in the Polar Bear archives.
It was an eye-opening 16th all-time Polar Bear walk win for Soucheck, and the fifth Polar Bear win for Paul. Soucheck now has a wide lead on former Toms River resident Ray Funkhouser (a 10-time past Polar Bear winner, dating back to 1983) while Paul shares the women's all-time Polar Bear lead with Panse Geer of Hazlet and Sherry Brosnahan of Bridgewater. All three have now walked to five Polar Bear wins.
Special Polar Bear honors were reserved for Middletown's Dr. Harold "Harry" Nolan, and Raritan resident Eliot Collins. Nolan, who placed 76th in the 5K at 24:42, added to one of the longest-running streaks anywhere in the sport. It was his 55th consecutive Polar Bear completion - he's never missed one - and some of his past finishes included return trips home from Nebraska, Utah and New Hampshire.
Noted journalist-author Marc Bloom - the former St. Rose High School cross country coach - was the only 70-up runner over the line (in 22:21) ahead of Nolan.
Collins won the Polar Bear "daily double" title, racewalking 10 miles in 2:15:10, then running 5K in 39:53.
Veteran runner Dave DeMonico - adorned as Santa Claus - was a big part of the event again, too. After his National Anthem trumpet solo at the 5K race's start, his mid-race serenades put added bounce in every runner's stride. And when it was over, he led a small corps of runners in taking a quick ocean dip - the equivalent of a three-meter freestyle.
"It wasn't so bad going in, but you really felt it when you came out," said DeMonico. "But that's a big part of the Polar Bear experience, too."
The races were again hosted and organized by Shore Athletic Club volunteers, led by Middletown's Erin O'Neill. Champions Scheid, Marziigliano, Soucheck and Paul. and super-vets Bloom and Nolan, are all Shore AC members.
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
More pictures from the 2018 Asbury Park Polar Bear Races