One hour race

Back in the 60’s and 70’s the one hour race was popular. A race where you hope to run as far as possible in an hour (rather than running a certain distance in as little time as possible. It’s a different way of looking at a race).

And it took more support than a traditional race where you just need someone at the start and someone at the finish. In a one hour run you have to track down where each runner got to and measure the distance. In practical terms you need to do it on a track, but even there each runner needs his own data taker. Even if you aren’t concerned about cheaters no one can keep track of all the laps they’ve run after a hour (Well, I can’t, so I assume no one else can).

So they solved this by running two heats and splitting the racers into two groups (usually fast runners and slow runners); each runner would team up with someone in the other group. Then the first group would run, while the second group took data — marking down whenever their partner finished each lap (this was before chip mats or GPS watches that could do all that automagically). When the hour was up everyone stopped, and they’d measure how far along they were in the final lap. Then everybody switched, and the second group would run while the first collected data. By taking this much data it was also possible to see if anyone set any records along the way (So local runner Gary Tuttle set the American Records for the 15K, 10M and 20K during an hour run in 1975, and then Will Rodgers went and broke the same set in an hour run in 1977).

As far as I can tell, the race was occasionally run before World War 1, but after than not for another 40 years. The first “modern” running was organized by the Midwest Road-Runners Club in 1958. After a while it got sanction from the AAU (the predecessor of the USATF) which then organized a national one hour run championship race every year. To be more precise our own John Brennand organized the race most years.

Since there is a limited amount of space on a track, and there was no particular reason why everyone had to run on the same track, the race was made up of multiple heats scattered across the US (races like this were called postal races because each heat had to mail their results to John). In 1968 there were three locations (West Coast=Santa Barbara, East Coast=DC, Central=Minneapolis) and in 1975 there were almost 40. In the 60s all the races were held on the same day (and people stayed up late that night collating the results), but in the 70s that restriction was dropped and the various heats could be held any time within the year.

The last results I have for the AAU National One Hour run were from 1979 (and since the AAU was broken up by Congress in 1978 that’s probably the last running with “AAU” in the name). I don’t know if the national championship race survived into the 80s. But the hour run still exists. The most recent world record was set by Haile Gebrselassie in 2007.

In the ’60s and ’70s these were team races (as almost everything was in those days). Clubs would field a team of at least 5 runners (of whom the first 5 would score). In 1968 the SBAA (or the SBAC as it was in those days) won the championship.

As with everything else in the running world the race became very popular in the mid-70s. There were 120 finishers in 1968, and 940 in 1975. But then as the 70s wore on, it became less popular. In 1979 there were only 346 finishers. And some time after that the race died out.

John B had some of the results which he kindly let me scan and enter online. And, of course, I want to put those results into a modern format as much as possible. I want to age grade them. And there aren’t any tables for the one hour run… But there are instructions for how to deal with runs of an unusual distance (you simply interpolate between the two nearest tables). So for the purposes of age grading, I look at the results as a series of races of varying distances, in which everyone happened to finish in one hour. So I age-grade Gary Tuttle by interpolating between the 20K and half marathon tables, and I’d age-grade someone like me by interpolating between the 15K and 10M tables…

John B had some of the results. But not all of them. He loaned some of them to a guy writing a book on the one hour run and they never came back to him. So…. If anyone who reads this blog has results for the AAU One Hour Run National Championships for a year I don’t have, could you send them to me? Please? I’d like to get a complete set up on our website…

(What I’ve got so far is here.)

Thank you!


3 Responses to “One hour race”

  1. Adger Says:

    You haven’t said what years you have…

    • georgeruns Says:

      That’s because I expect any list I put here will be out of date soon (as, indeed it will be shortly). But if you follow the link above (or here) you’ll see the current listing.

  2. Richard Jay Says:

    Sorry it’s only taken me almost 2 years to find this article. We have been holding a 1 Hour Run in Indiana for the past 7 yrs at Hammond Gavit HS in Hammond, IN. I have not been able to find a National 1 Hour Run either. I sent a note to the USATF to see if there is one or which States still hold this. I can’t find any. We say we are hold the “unofficial” State 1 Hour Run. Way back in 1972 the Indiana Striders were the National 1 Hour Champs when it was still a postal Championship. 1 of our own, Hal Higdon, still holds the 45-49 age division record (set in 1979) . And he formerly held the 40-44 age division in 1973, which has since been broken. I will be glad to send you a set of our Age-Division Top 25 in the State as well as the Top 50 for the Men & Women. I have a free web site with each Age-Division and Top 50 list on it and I will send that to you as well. I will be sending a note to our State Director of the USATF to see about anyone else also holding a 1 Hour Run and maybe we can get if started again. Very nice article. I was looking on the SBAA site for any results in Indiana back in that time period. It was very helpful. Thanks for the article.
    -Coach Richard Jay – Hammond Gavit Girls Cross Country or

    See you somewhere for an Hour!

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