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Marathon Race Directors
- By Doug Kurtis

09/26/02

Over the past twenty five years, eleven people have taken on the key role of coordinating the Detroit Free Press/ Flagstar Bank Marathon.  We have been blessed to have their talents stamped on the success of this great event.  Below, along with comments from one of the originators Neal Shine, I pass onto you some of their insights and stories.

Neal Shine (78 - 95):  After witnessing the Falmouth Road Race in 1978, Shine was overwhelmed by how much fun runners and spectators were having. He was managing editor of the Free Press and suggested that they sponsor its own marathon in Detroit. The late Ladd Neuman, then his sports editor, suggested they run it across the border and make it an international race. It was very satisfying for them to see the concept become reality.

Shine's fondest memory was seeing the first runner in that first race cross the finish line on Belle Isle while the University of Michigan marching band played "The Victors."

He would like to forget, but never will, the scores of complications that emerged during the planning of the first race. The logistical problems were incredible. He slept with a yellow legal pad next to his bed and was jolted awake several times a night with thoughts of more things that had to be done. He remembers during that time thinking that this was absolutely the worst idea he had ever had.

That first year, Shine's wife Phyllis along with the help of their children and two neighbors ran the marathon office. They worked in the Free Press building late every night in the weeks leading up to the race processing applications, collating material, stuffing envelopes and mailing the packets to the runners while the phone rang incessantly with people who had problems or needed information.

According to Shine, the toughest thing to accomplish in the first race was getting the tunnel people to agree to close it for the race. It had never been closed in its entire history and they were not easily convinced. He really believed they thought they were dealing with crazy people. Who would even suggest such a thing? The tunnel has been a solid partner ever since.

Shine retired from the Free Press as publisher in 1995 and now, at 72, teaches journalism at Oakland University.

Ed Kozloff (75-95): Became involved with the Motor City Marathon the first year it was held in 1963 and then again in 1964, as a runner. He learned of the trials and tribulations of former Motor City Strider officers trying to get help from sponsors. They were the sole providers for the event from 1963 through 1977, the year before the Free Press joined the event. Kozloff has been President of the Striders since 1975.

The Motor City Marathon was a highly regarded race nationally with a North American Record set on the Belle Isle course in 1969 with a host of Canadian champions participating in the 1970's.  In 1974 the first woman ran in the race, and in 1975 Detroiter Ellis Willis won the women's race as a high school senior and later won the Free Press marathon.  In 1976 the race was the Road Runners Club of America North Region Championship and in 1977, with over 400 participants, the event was one of the ten largest marathons in the country. 

Kozloff fondly remembers nearly 2,000 participants and the international flavor of the first event, as well as a mile and 10k race.  He enjoyed seeing Greg Meyer in 1980 run a 2:13:07 time in his first marathon race (an American record at the time) and then the next year seeing the race grow to 4,953 marathon entrants was a personal highlight.

During this era the 10k in Windsor numbered well over a thousand. In the mid 1980's, the Stroh Run for Liberty hit 2,000-plus the day before the marathon.  He was always proud to see local runners finish well and to be around when Jim Ramsey, the oldest finisher for a number of years, completed the distance and set an age-ninety U.S. best.

The marathon was a great time for Motor City Strider members to get together and help at the race.  Often, the number was close to a hundred.  Some were at every marathon from the 1978 event until the Striders final year as host club in 1998. Long time member and volunteer, Dewey Ames, continues to this day to be a valuable asset to the marathon.

The Kozloff family has always been deeply involved in the marathon.  His three kids performed a variety of jobs at the race from the time they could walk and eventually were timers in the pre-computer era.  Wife Sue also served in a variety of critical jobs that helped make the race what it is today.

Molly Anderson MacDonald (78-79): When planning began for the first international marathon her toughest challenge was controlling entry from Canada into the United States from the tunnel. After many meetings with U.S. Customs and Immigration a good system was developed for preventing illegal immigrant runners into the U.S. 

The original plan was to use the Bridge and Tunnel but Ladd Neuman had only a verbal agreement with Bridge and they changed their mind. At the last minute, MacDonald and the Free Press had to negotiate a new course and sell the idea to Grosse Pointes.  "It was a frantic time, but we pulled it off", said MacDonald.

Ideas like the marathon landed in the promotion department for funding and staffing.  At that time, MacDonald was the Special Events Manager for some 25 annual Free Press sponsored events. It was a wild nine months of pulling rabbits out of hats. The entire newspaper staff, from editorial to advertising to production to press pulled together to make the event happen. 

One situation she would like to forget was the pre race spaghetti dinner. MacDonald arrived at the hotel ballroom after doing a couple of radio and TV interviews and was confronted by Shine who announced that hundreds of runners were eating a buffet spaghetti dinner on the floor.  The hotel did not set-up tables and chairs.  It was an oversight and assumption on her part or that if a hotel was serving dinner, people needed a place to sit and a table upon which to place their food.

One person she wants remembered is Hank Szerlag who designed the long-lived logo, which is testament to Hank's strong sense of design.  Sadly, Hank died suddenly, four years ago of a heart attack, but she's certain, that his family and in particular his wife Nancy, warmly remember this talented man, each year this logo resurrects itself.

For years after coordinating the marathon MacDonald ran in small races until injuries and five childbirths in nine years ended her recreational running.  Today, she takes fast morning walks and lift weights while watching Good Morning America. 

Duane Dub (80):  Joined the Free Press in the summer of 1979 as the Public Relations Manager to manage all of the public service events and activities that the Free Press sponsored including the Marathon.  He was MacDonald's understudy that year before taking the reigns in 1980.

Dub remembers driving around Belle Isle at about 5pm Sunday night knowing that "We did it again! It seemed tough working with a plethora of different organizations and how many ways the whole event could be sidelined. And there were a few occasions in which the senior management of the Free Press had to remind everyone of the "greater good" that this event was bringing to our cities.

Dub is now the Americas Marketing Manager for IBM's Wireless Solutions and finds that the experiences he had while at the Free Press were invaluable later in his career.

Diane Taylor (81-82): Was working as an artist in the Freep promotions department when she was tapped by Shine and Neumann to coordinate the marathon.  Up until then, she only knew "marathon" as a word to describe a huge effort a definition that remained apt!

In 1980, Taylor was given a two-month leave from the drawing board to manage the marathon office and runner registration.  By 1981, she was promoted to Public Service Manager, which automatically meant Race Coordinator.

The project was a labor of love for her and led to a career in special event management.  After leaving the Free Press in 1984, she worked on the Grand Prix, International Freedom Festival, Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival as well as many other events in Detroit.

The scope of the marathon was so great and interesting that it united a lot of the editorial and business people at the paper. For Taylor, it was all exhausting but satisfying to have a chance to be part of something much bigger than yourself.

Some great memories include: Hank Szerlag overseeing all the art efforts on the early promotions and printed pieces.  He devised the slide shows about the race that were the highlight of many Saturday night spaghetti dinners.  The very first one, to the accompaniment of the "Rocky" soundtrack, was a stunner! 

Pam Weinstein (83- 86): Her first contact with the marathon was as a runner in 1980 finishing in 4:25 her personal best. Being a runner meant she saw the race a little differently, compared to her predecessors.  For example, she though it was important to have an aid station at every mile and saw it as great exposure and fun for sponsoring groups.

Weinstein considers the expansion of the wheelchair division as her biggest accomplishment. Until 1984, a handful of local wheelers had been doggedly insisting on participating in the race without any officially recognized division. Under her watch and with the help of Tony Filippis the Free Press Marathon became one of the premier wheelchair races in the U. S.

Instituting creative marketing ideas, shoring up the fundraising promotion for the MS Society and selling the first outside sponsorship were also new projects started by Weinstein.

Today at 55 years old, she is the mother of two teenagers and wife of Sports Agate Editor Jim Dwight (former FP running writer). She walks 2 miles most days, which is all her crippled back (Scoliosis) will allow her to do.

Cathy Goltz (87- 88): Began her Free Press Marathon career as a shadow to Diane Taylor and was asked to stand in as race coordinator when Pam Weinstein was pregnant.  At 26, she was the youngest race coordinator.

She was part of the 10th anniversary and created a new logo and theme for the race as well as playing up the anniversary.  There were few disappoints except when the race ceased to run through the Grosse Points after publisher Dave Lawrence couldn't negotiate an agreement with the Eastside Ministers to run through Detroit up into the Pointes.  She really thought it would be worked out.  Still the race had an International start, the tunnel into Detroit and the finish on Belle Isle. 

Like many of today's sporting events, she sees the race as more commercial than during her reign but views that as a better for the participants. Goltz still walks15-18 miles a week and is an account executive in television sales at WXYZ Channel 7. 

Barb Bennage (89 94): The Marathon became part of her job responsibilities as Promotion Coordinator for the Detroit Free Press.  She also had no clue how large the running community was and how passionate runners are, but liked being a part of the metamorphosis of the whole event.  She enjoyed planning from ground zero and working with a marathon committee comprised mostly of volunteers working endless hours.

Here favorite memories include: Getting rid of the out and back on Michigan Avenue in 1992, acquiring Mazda as the title sponsor from 1990 to 1997. Working with Ed Kozloff who mentored her. During nine of the last twelve years she has had the opportunity to be in the pace vehicle and found it to be an exhilarating experience.

She would like to forget 1993 when renovations of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel didn't complete in time and an All American course was created for the first time. To make matters worse, race morning was a downpour.  By the time the pack was crossing the finish line, runner's numbers on sweat bags were not legible, the band they hired to play was unable to perform and the awards ceremony had to be moved to underneath Hart Plaza.  It was at that point that she broke out in the worse case of hives her doctor has ever seen!

She is proud of the marathon's ability to run international using the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit Windsor Tunnel and to utilize so many unique finish line areas (Belle Isle, Hart Plaza, Tiger Stadium, Chene Park and Ford Field).

Bennage is still part of the marathon organization and runs a few races a year including many Crim 10 milers. Both her husband and son Brandon have been supportive of her passion for the Marathon and have volunteered their services most every year.

Doug Thurston (95) :  Was recruited by International Management Group (IMG)to produce the event after working with them on running events in California. IMG needed some expertise with the operations of an urban marathon and Thurston had considerable background.

He liked being part of the long history of the marathon. He was fascinated with Detroit's cultural and running community and raced in many local events, trained with several local running clubs. He was inspired by the Kozloff family and the Motor City Striders. He considers them legends in the race-directing world.

Yelling and shouting from strikers at the awards ceremony during his years with the event was disappointing. He felt it detracted greatly from the courage and efforts of the thousands of marathon participants and volunteers.

Thurston set his personal best in the 1990 Detroit Marathon with a time of 2:40 while he was still directing the Columbus Marathon. He now owns his own race directing and consulting firm in Sacramento, California and coordinates a dozen shorter races a year

Jeff Orloff (96-98): Took over as race coordinator while also working for IMG as the Race Director of the Detroit Grand Prix.

He found some similarities between the two and loved seeing the look on runner's faces as they crossed the finish line, especially those that were just in it for the accomplishment. He also enjoyed sitting in the pace car and seeing the race develop.

He found that working out the layout of the course to be one of the toughest things to be concerned with because there always seemed there was some construction to work around.

He is proud of IMG's marketing and corporate support they gained for the event. He said that the race was a positive learning experience in his life.  Orloff is now IMG's Vice President, Director of Facilities and Operations, North America.

Doug Kurtis (99 00): When I was offered the director's position it was unexpected. In hindsight my involvement in other races and with other directors groomed me for the position. It was a scary and wonderful at the same time. It gave me an opportunity to use the knowledge I had gained from spending time with many marathons all over the world. Every year there are new challenges and its very demanding of your time. You learn to thrive on organized chaos.

Getting the approvals to use the Ambassador Bridge for the first time in the race's history and then added bonus of using Tiger Stadium made my first year as director unbelievable.  It got the runners excited again and energized new and old staff members.  Witnessing all the emotions at the finish line, especially the first timers and their families, gets my tear ducts flooding too.

I will remember seeing Tiger stadium lit up before the start of the '99 race. It was mystical.  Creating the "greenie" numbers for first timers and the great logos for the back and front of the finisher medals were favorite accomplishments. I won't forget the look on the faces of my barricade buddies when I almost broke my neck falling out of a truck the night before the marathon.

I'm thankful for what the Cities of Detroit and Windsor do for the marathon. Trying new things every year, especially a new course involves a lot of risk in making sure it comes out to runner's expectations.

I ran my first of 15 Freep Marathons in 1979 and won it six years in a row starting in 1987. Currently, I'm the technical director and course designer. I also work at Ford Motor Company and write a running column for the Free Press.

Patricia Ball (01 02): The 1982 Free Press Marathon was her first "official" marathon. In 1999 she became involved with the marathon as manager of the team captains, customer service representative, and volunteer coordinator.

She took the helm of the race in 2001. The year 9/11 occurred just six weeks before the event. Initially, there was concern that the event might not be held because Detroit's resources were already heavily stretched. But publisher, Heath Meriwether, worked directly with then Mayor Archer to insure not only that we would have a marathon, but that the marathon would be safe. Mayor Archer made several public service announcements regarding the marathon and he even showed up on race day to participate in the 5K event. He was the first Mayor to participate in its 24-year-history.

This year, thanks to Patricia Kelly at the Detroit Newspaper Agency and Joan LeMahieu, General Manager, Ford Field, they were able to negotiate the finish at Ford Field.  Then Daphiney Caganap of Immigration and Naturalization, who had just finished her first marathon last year came to the rescue and spearheaded approval of an international route.

Ball is first person in her family to have received a college education and also the first woman to trek the continental divide from Canada to Mexico. She completed the almost 2,600 mile in 5-months. 

Like previous race coordinators, Ball's mission exemplifies their goals and achievements. It is to give the ordinary person an extraordinary experience.

Contact Doug Kurtis at Detroit Free Press, 600 W. Fort St. Detroit, 48226

or dkurtis@earthlink.com


Doug Kurtis the former Race Director for the Detroit Free Press/Flagstar Bank International Marathon is the world record holder for most career sub 2:20 marathons (76) and most marathon victories (39). Doug is a five time Olympic Trial Qualifier 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996. He was voted into the RRCA Hall of Fame in 1998 and Michigan Runner of the Year - 1985 and 1990. Doug coached two 2000 Olympic Trial Marathon Qualifiers.

Personal Bests:
26.2m - 2:13:34, 25km - 1:17:58, 13.1m - 1:04:51, 20km 1:02:37
10m - 48:33, 15km - 46:01, 10km - 29:44, 8km - 23:25

 

 

You can e-mail Doug at:
dkurtis@earthlink.com

 

Doug Racing at
Dexter Ann Arbor

 


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