Shelter Island 10K Celebrates 40 Years and Still Running

A pack of runners at the start of the 2015 Shelter Island 10K. Todd Plitt photo

Even though it takes place in the smallest town on Long Island, the Shelter Island 10K always had grand aspirations. The founders of the race — John Strode, Jack Faith and Shelter Island’s own, Cliff Clark — were elite collegiate runners and had a vision to make the race something more than just a recreational pursuit.

“We were runners who had a passion for the sport,” said Clark, who launched the event with Strode and Faith in 1980, making this year’s race on Saturday, June 15, the 40th anniversary edition. “John and Jack had a connection to the Olympics. I went to the Olympic trials in two events. And I wanted to put a race on Shelter Island.”

The three set out to form something special and held the first event on August 9, right in the heart of the summer season. “Our goal was, when we eventually got to 500 runners, we would move it to a shoulder month. The first year we had 726 runners show up.”

This year the event will kick off at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and as of Tuesday more than 1,500 people had already registered, according to Mary Ellen Adipietro, who took over as race director in 2000.

Today the race includes a 5K run/walk as well as the 10K, with both distances laid out on a USA track and field certified course. The race, which is a fundraising event for East End Hospice, Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch and the Shelter Island 10K Community Fund, has raised more than $750,000 for local charities.

The race found so much success right from the start, in large part, because of the elite runners who traveled from around the world to compete. This year’s race will welcome former Olympians Benji Durden and Kyle Heffner, who were members of the 1980 Olympic team but were unable to compete in the Moscow Olympics due to a boycott by the American team. Bill Rodgers, a former Olympian and four-time winner of both the New York City and Boston marathons, will run, as will Joan Benoit Samuelson, an Olympic Gold Medal winner.

“We felt like the Shelter Island run could be two things,” said Clark, who finished fifth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Olympic Trials in 1972, missing out on the national team by just one position. “You would raise the money on the masses, the moms and the dads and the kids who would come out to support the charity,” which in the beginning was the Special Olympics. “But because we were not that far out from our competitive years, we knew elite athletes and we built a reputation of having elite runners” come to Shelter Island.

George A. Hirsch, chairman of the board of the New York Road Runners, a veteran of more than 40 marathons and the publisher of Runner’s World magazine — andwho was the joint founder of the New York City Marathon in 1976 — will run on Saturday. Amby Burfoot, a renowned author and the winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon will also run, as will running legends Jon Sinclair and his wife, Kim Jones, along with Keith Brantley.

New this year will be a Masters category and purse for men and women 40 years and above. Additionally, anyone who completes the 10K run in under 40 minutes will receive a complimentary “I broke 40 at the 40th” t-shirt sponsored by Harry Hackett of Merrill Lynch, a longtime supporter of the race.

“The evolution of bringing in these legends, that has made us distinctive because it really is about running,” Adipietro said this week as she made the final push toward race day. “This race, though it is a very charitable race, it really focuses on the pure love of running and honoring those people before us who never made a lot of money but sure put in a lot of work.”

Activities will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday on the Shelter Island School grounds, adjacent to the American Legion Center, with lots of activities for children. Following the race, there will be a BBQ, live music by Points East and an after party where runners will be encouraged to dress in their best ‘80s outfits in honor of the start of the Shelter Island 10K.

“Forty years, wow,” said Clark, who is no longer on the event’s board of directors but remains very involved. “I’m not on the board anymore, but I’m a big fan. Mary Ellen and the new board have done a phenomenal job. It’s been a great thing to watch mature and grow. It’s in good hands.”

“This race is quite generational,” Adipietro said. “When you think about the adults who were running in the ‘80s, and now it’s their kids and their grandkids. It’s all about the sport of running. It keeps it alive.”

Runners or walkers interested in participating on Saturday can register online at, for an additional fee, on the day of the race. For a full schedule of events throughout the weekend, visit