The George Sheehan Classic was a an annual 5 mile race hosted in Red Bank, NJ. Since its inception in 1981, this race has grown in popularity, at one point, naming it an international event in Runner’s World magazines Oct 2004 issue. The race WAS cited as being ‘One of the country’s top 100 races.’ Unfortunately, WAS is the key word here!
“Well now everything dies baby that’s a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back…” Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City Lyrics | MetroLyrics
The race began in 1981 as the Asbury Park 10K Classic. Due to its notoriety as one of the major road running events on the national calendar, it was moved to Red Bank in 1994. It was at this time that the race was renamed The George Sheehan Classic to honor the memory of Dr. George Sheehan, local runner, prominent author, philosopher and area physician.
The race exceeded 2,500 participants and attracted international and national ‘elite’ runners, giving away a money purse for overall and age division winners. I recall a time when there were two award ceremonies; one for the USA winners and one for the Kenyan winners.
The nicest part of the race was that the Sheehan family were all involved in the event. The awards were handed out by individual Sheehan family members making it extra special for all participants. It was refreshing to hear stories and moments of significant memories as seen through the eyes of George’s wife, children and grandchildren.
Over the years, the George Sheehan Classic lost its stature as an international ‘must run’ race. The award ceremonies have been limited to USA participants as there are no longer a Kenyan population running it, and the absence of the Sheehan family participating in the ceremonial part of the race is truly missed.
In June of 2012, after careful deliberation over the number of participants dwindling, race director, Phil Hinck and the race committee decided to change the event to a 5K. Many loyal runners of the George Sheehan Classic were upset mainly due to the fact that there aren’t many 5 mile races left. It seems many races over the years have been downgraded to a 5K for economic reasons. Still, there are those who believe ‘tradition’ is important.
The race still attracts runners, although nothing like the caliber of the past! This year, the race has decided to leave Red Bank and combine itself with another popular JSRC race, the Asbury Park 5k. It is renamed the Asbury Park Sheehan Classic. With the change in name, location and venue, only time will tell if the race will continue to thrive?
Gone are the days of 5 miles of scenic roads which George Sheehan himself ran, and the rolling terrain of “tower hill.” Gone are the personalized trophies and mugs inscripted with a philosophical quote of Dr. George Sheehan and presented by the Sheehan family themselves. There will no longer be afternoon award ceremonies on the grass of Marine Park, surrounded by food vendors and a live band. Rather we’ve replaced the challenging tower hill with a flat course partially on the boards and streets of Asbury Park; and lunch bags or backpacks replace the elegant lucite awards signed by the Sheehan family. Personally, I think it would have been a better idea since bringing the race back to Asbury Park, to go back to the original course and name it the Asbury Park 10k Classic, but I’ll be participating this year anyway, because it’s a tradition, much like Spring Lake 5 and Belmar 5. Let’s wait and see what will be around next year!