· ASBURY PARK - “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
· That, of course, is the historic creed of the nation’s mail carriers, and it’s the
· message inscribed atop the entrances to the solid-block main
· General Post Office building at 8th Avenue, between 31st and 33rd Streets, New York City, directly opposite Madison Square Garden.
But it can be paraphrased to the philosophy of the Asbury Park Polar Bear Race Carnival runners and race walkers, too, who are gearing up for the 60th annual edition of the boardwalk classic, to be held on Saturday, December 30th.
Their version might go this way:
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor cold nor sleet nor impending blizzards nor any other weather challenges you can think of have ever stayed these athletes from the swift completion of their appointed Polar Bear rounds.”
While a big field will gather on the boardwalk Dec. 30 (for the special 1-mile race at 9:30 a.m., the featured 5K (3.1-mile) run at 10 a.m., and the 5K racewalk (and walk) at 10:05, no athlete exemplifies the Polar Bear spirit better than Dr. Harold Nolan of Middletown Township.
Now 76, Nolan has – incredibly – run all 59 previous editions of the Polar Bear Races. And, for sure/for sure, he’ll back running his 60th on December 30.
Nolan, a charter member and now lifetime trustee of the host Shore Athletic Club, is hugely proud of all that history. This event is one of the very few in the nation – or anywhere – that has been held that long without interruption. All those weather variations - bitter cold or surprising heat , snow or sleet or perfectly dry - have been Polar Bear experience since the very first of them in 1964. Covid couldn’t cause a halt, either. A mini-group of the most determined showed up anyway.
“ The Polar Bear event has always meant something special to
me, as it was the first major road race I had ever run,” Nolan tells you.
“ Being a 17 year old (Middletown Township) high
school senior, all of my races had been at the high school level. “
It would open his eyes to a whole new world in the sport. He met many more of these
early-days running pioneers and he’s kept running…and running…and running.
Yes, and winning the Polar Bear men’s championship title nine times, and recording some of the event’s all-time top times, too.
“Polar Bear is the oldest road race in the Jersey Shore, and one of the first of
its kind in New Jersey,” said Nolan. “Through injury, illness, and travels from Nebraska
and Utah and New Hampshire in past years, I have somehow managed to make it to the Polar Bear starting line.
Understandably, Nolan has a vast and nostalgia-filled collection of Polar Bear memories.
Some of them:
“Racing there as a high school student, then as a college runner home from Nebraska on holiday break, running as an open (post-college) athlete, my son being born the evening after I had run in the 1986 Polar Bear, and later as a Masters (40-up) runner. Over all of these decades, I have always looked forward to seeing old running friends who often show
up either to run or just to say hello, and talk about our past races.”
Along with weather situations, there have been many changes over the years. The featured run started as a 5K, moved up to five mies, and now is back at 5K. One year blizzrdy year, it was cut to two miles. The companion racewalk has been a 10-miler for most of its history, and now is 5K. Courses have varied, too – depending on conditions - and now it’s an out-and-back 5K on the boardwalk.
Many greats of the sport – Olympians, national champions, internationalists, collegiate and high school stars, etc. - have been Polar Bears. Very first 5K run winner was John McDonnell, later to become the most successful track coach in the nation at the University of Arkansas Very first 10-mile walk champion was Ron Daniel, now of Clinton, Ct., who in 1984 served as director of racewalking events at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.
Top all-time men’s 5K clockings have been Robert Pedersen (15:14) in 2021. And these four, all in 1975: Marty Liquori (15:23), Vince Cartier (15:25), Harold Nolan (15:27) and Tom Aspel (15:35)
Fastest ever 10-mile walker was Andres Chocho of Ecuador (1:10:18) in 2009.
Fastest women over the years have been runner Kerry Dyke (17:35 5K in 2019) and walker Stella Cashman (1:27:50 in 1988.)
In addition to running in all 59 prevous Polar Bear races, Nolan is also the event’s chief historian. His annual resuts/history compilations are yet another Polar Bear feature.
The Polar Bear story began in 1964, as joint effort of the then-new Shore AC (and its first president, Elliott Denman), the Asbury Park Recreation Committee (chaired by famed APHS football coach Wiiliam “(Butch” Bruno, and the storied Asbury Park public relations director, George Zuckerman.
Denman, a 1956 USA 50K Olympic racewalker and retired Asbury Park Press sports writer and columnist, competed in many of those early Polar Bear races, and had been on hand – in a variety of capacities - for the first 58 of them, until illness kept him away in 2022.
But he’s on the rebound and promises to be back for the 2023 edition.
As Nolan sums it all up, “this event has survived for many
years, where other races have come and gone, and I hope to be continuing to
run in it for the years to come…and with Elliott still cheering everyone on the sidelines.”
Want entry information? Go to: www.Runsignup.com/race/NJ/AsburyPark/sburyprkpolarbearraces. . Or www.shoreac.org.