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The Charleston Distance Run


Eyewitness Sports' Mark Martin Known as "America's 15-Miler," the Charleston Distance Run has been a West Virginia sports staple since 1973.

As the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta started picking up steam as an end-of-summer celebration, Don Cohen was asked about the possibility of a running event being added to the schedule of activities.

Cohen, a running aficionado, was certainly receptive. The man who was responsible for bringing the National Track and Field Hall of Fame to Charleston for a short time, wanted it to be not only a quality race, but unique.

It was Cohen's mission to have as many capital city neighborhoods as possible showcased as runners made their way from start to finish.

The inaugural race started and finished at the Charleston Civic Center. Some well-known athletes were invited to the city to speak as that first race got set to unfold. Names like Olympic Gold Medal winner Jesse Owens and Dave Wottle came, along with Steve Prefontiane, Jeff Galloway and Franci Larrieu. They were all in the Mountain State to give the race a big-time presence.

Jeff Galloway of Raleigh, NC would be the winner of that first race in a time of 1:16:29. The first female to cross the finish line was Jaqueline Hansen of Granada Hills, Calif., who turned in a time of 1:39:28. She was 63rd overall in that 1973 race.

It's interesting to note that the first year had no entry fee.

As the race grew in popularity, it continued to attract some of the top marathon runners from around the world.

The great Frank Shorter of Boulder, Colo. came to Charleston in 1976 and took the crown.

Bill Haviland of nearby Athens, Oh. became the first back-to-back winner with victories in 1977 and 1978 and then added another title in 1980.

Terry Baker of Hagerstown, Md. claimed two straight victories in 1981 and 1982 before Mark Stickley of Blacksburg, Va., accomplished the same feat in the years of 1983 and 1984.

Finally in 1985, a West Virginian took the title. Steve Taylor, one of the greatest runners ever to come out of the Mountain State, was the winner with a time of 1:16:25. The St. Marys native enjoyed an incredible career at Virginia Tech. He has since enjoyed an outstanding coaching career at both Virginia Tech and Richmond.

Taylor won the race again in 1987 and 1989. Sandwiched between his victories was Don Norman who was victorious in the races of 1986 and 1988.

Mark Curp became the first runner to win the grueling 15-Miler three straight times. The Lee's Summitt, Mo. resident took the crown in 1990-92. His best time came in 1990 when he burned the course up in 1:13.47.

Following a win by Ed Eyestone of Layton, Utah in 1993, Gideon Mutisya took hold of CDR supremacy by winning four straight. In 1996, he established a new CDR record (which still stands) with a time of 1:12.24. The native of Kenya called a couple of cities in the United States home while coming to compete in Charleston. After his four in a row, Mutisya won two more titles in 2000 and 2008.

Mutisia's run of four straight is the last time a runner won consecutive races.

Two of the last three winners have hailed from West Virginia. Jason Pyles, a native of Point Pleasant and former Marshall runner, lived out a dream by winning the 2010 event. A year ago, Jeff Weiss, a teacher at Ravenswood Middle School, garnered the CDR victory.

After Hansen's win in 1973, Katy Schilly of Syracuse, N.Y. won the female division in 1974.

It was then time for Kim Merritt to take control of things. The Wisconsin native won three straight in 1975, 1976 and 1977.

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Karen Cosgrove matched Merritt with three titles by winning consecutive races in 1979 and 1980 and adding another in 1984.

Julie Isphording would surpass Merritt for most CDR female victories. The Cincinnati native won titles in 1982 and 1986 before claiming back-to-back crowns in 1990 and 1991.

In 2004, Maria Busienei won her first of four races. Busienei's first win produced her best time of 1:27.28. She won two straight races in 2007 and 2008. Her fourth win came in 2010 when she placed fourth overall - the highest finish ever for a female in the CDR.

Two-time winners have been Priscilla Welch of Bedford, England and Debbie Kilpatrick-Morris of Strongsville, Oh.

Welch won her races in 1987 and 1989 and Morris-Kilpatrick the 1992 and 1993 races.

Hurricane's Mary Heidelk was the first West Virginia female to garner first. She was 72nd overall in 1988 with a time of 1:31.19

The Charleston Distance Run has a rich history. It is a race that has been filled with the world's elite to the most novice runners. It is a fun-filled day.

And while many things have changed through the years, including the directors and the course, the Charleston Distance Run has managed to remain a cornerstone in the Mountain State sports landscape.

The Charleston Distance Run is special. It is, after all, America's 15-Miler.

--Mark Martin

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