Allan Kirik Inducted into American Ultrarunning Hall of
Set world road best for 50 miles; first and only
American to win classic London-to-Brighton ultra
From Dan Brannen, AUA
Ultrarunning Association (AUA) has inducted Allan Kirik of New York
City into its Hall of Fame in 2009. The 6th Hall of Fame class member is
probably the least well known (and least well appreciated) world class
ultramarathon runner the USA has ever produced. A classic “mystery man”, he
lingers incognito in the annals of American ultrarunning. His ultra career was
barely a blip on the global radar screen. It lasted only three years. He ran
only a handful of ultramarathons in his life. In a sport in which “camaraderie”
and “sharing the road / trail” are considered essential ingredients, he ran
almost all of his ultra training and racing miles utterly alone. And his legacy
of world class credentials was marred by minor technical glitches in three of
his finest races.
The first of these is what appears to have been his first
ultra, the 1977 AAU National 50K Championship in New York City, in which he ran
3 hours, 2 minutes, 56 seconds, but lost to Fritz Mueller. Only in recent
years has the record been corrected to reflect the fact that Mueller was not an
American citizen, and so Allan Kirik was actually one of the first official U.S.
national ultra champions.
In a sense, the rest of his ultra career was just more of
exactly the same: simply put, he ran 6-minute per mile pace for three years and
then hung up his shoes. A friend once commented on Kirik’s staple weekend long
training run: he would just go out and run 6-minute pace for as long as he
could. This was usually in the 25-35 mile range. In his races, which ranged from
60K to 100K, Kirik would do exactly the same thing. And he usually kept doing it
right up to the finish line.
In 1978, he won the Metropolitan 50 Mile in New York’s
Central Park in 5:15:54, probably his worst ultra performance ever, despite
producing the 4th fastest U.S. 50 mile time ever.
The following year, in the spring he traveled to the nation’s
premier road ultra, Lake Waramaug in Connecticut. Running all alone, he set a
world road best of 5:00:30 for 50 miles. That fall, he traveled to England for
what was then the de facto World Championship of ultrarunning, the 54.26 mile
London-to-Brighton race. There he proceeded to do what the great Ted
Corbitt was never able to achieve. He became the first and only American
ever to win this classic ultra event, running 5:32:37.
The following year, 1980, he returned to defend his title at
the Brighton, only to find Englishman Ian Thompson on the starting line.
In the mid-70s, Thompson was one of the world’s premier marathoner, with a
marathon best under 2:10. Kirik’s best marathon was 15 minutes slower. So what
did the American do? He tried to burn off the fleet Brit early and run away with
the race. He hit the 50K mark in under 3 hours, but soon Thompson caught him and
went on to win. Kirik hung on for second, despite having run 10 minutes faster
than the previous year. If 50 mile split times had been taken, his would have
been under 5 hours, with more than 4 miles still to go.
Just a few weeks later, fellow American Barney Klecker
broke Kirik’s world 50 mile best on a flat course at Chicago, so only a month
after his London-to-Brighton race, Kirik tried to get it back on the hilly
Copper Harbor 50 Mile course in Michigan. He missed by 5 minutes, running
4:56:03 in freezing, windy conditions that included a hailstorm. The course was
later remeasured and found to be short by almost 2 miles, but the essentially
solo performance translates to about a 5:07:00 for a full 50 miles.
And only a month after that, Kirik extended his range at the
Metro 100K in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, where he won by an hour and obliterated
the U.S. 100K record by over 13 minutes, running 6:37:54. Or so it seemed. A
year later when Bernd Heinrich (AUA Hall of Fame, 2007) set the U.S. 100K
record that would stand for 15 years, he ran a minute slower. Kirik’s 6:37:54 on
a certified course missed record ratification because an early out-and-back
section on the course was run slightly short. The race director caught the error
and scrambled to make up the difference by measuring and having the field run
another out-and-back section at the end of the race. But such patchwork courses
are ineligible for records. There is little doubt that Kirik ran the full 100K
distance, he just could not be credited with the record. Soon after that he
encountered injury problems and ended his brilliant, but brief ultra career.
AUA HALL OF FAME
* Ted Corbitt (2004)
* Marcy Schwam (2005)
* Sue Ellen Trapp (2006)
* Stu Mittleman (2008)
* Allan Kirik (2009)
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