1963 – Leonard ‘Buddy’ Edelen

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15-Jun-1963 – Polytechnic Marathon – 2:14:28 – Onitsuka Tiger Super Marup
Date of birth: 22-Sep-1937 (died 19-Feb-1997 – aged 59)
Nationality: American
World Record Duration: 11 months, 29 days

The athlete:                
Leonard ‘Buddy’ Edelen had started his athletics career in shorter distances, before steadily increasing the length of his races. It was on the advice of his coach, fellow athlete Fred Wilt, that Edelen took the risk and moved from the USA to England to pursue his running career in late 1960. He threw himself into his training, running as much as 135 miles each week.

Results were sporadic but promising, with Edelen continuing to find speed. His first marathon was in 1962, and after finishing 9th he felt the torture and pain were not worth it. Clearly changing his mind, he started improving, and got his first win at the 1962 Welsh Marathon.

Edelen had competed in no less than six other marathons leading up to the 1963 edition of the Polytechnic Marathon. This was arguably the most prestigious such event in England, having been based on the marathon route used for the 1908 Olympics, starting as it had then at Windsor Castle.

It was also where the standard distance of 26 miles and 385 yards was first used for the marathon. In an excellent article by the International Society of Olympic Historians, some of the myths around this are explained and debunked. In essence, the 1908 Olympic marathon started within Windsor Castle to provide some privacy to competitors and officials, and the final lap around the stadium changed direction to give more spectators the ability to view the finish. The extra distance was to avoid some cobblestone roads along the way. Despite the legend that the last stretch was extended to allow attending royals to view the finish, the event was always going to finish in front of the royal box.

As for Edelen, one of the previously mentioned six marathons included the 1963 Marathon to Athens, set on the course of the 1896 Olympic Marathon and based on the legend of Pheidippides. He won while setting a new course record, 38 seconds faster than the previous best set by one Abebe Bikila.

Still not fully recovered from those heroics, he started the Polytechnic Marathon at a slower pace, apparently chatting with fellow runner Ron Hill about his new baby. After this first five miles the pace began to build, and Edelen started pushing. Although his body was feeling every mile he crossed, Edelen felt strong by the finish. His time was the new marathon world record.

Edelen would travel back to his home country in 1964 for the Olympic Trials. Despite the race being held in hot conditions, Edelen won by an astonishing 20 minutes and setting himself up for the 1964 Olympics. Unfortunately nerve injuries hampered his race, such was the pain that Edelen tilted his upper body backwards to relieve the pressure.

His injury woes only got worse, with Edelen in agony again at the 1965 Polytechnic Marathon. Even so, while he didn’t win, he still finished only seconds behind his personal best. He would eventually retire from running in 1968. While his name is not as well-known as Frank Shorter or Bill Rodgers, Edelen still helped lay the groundwork for future American runners.

The shoes:                   

We know definitively that Edelen wore Onitsuka Tigers, as the article chronicling his victory at the Polytechnic Marathon states it. The article goes on to note that Edelen was free from blisters thanks to his shoes. Looking at the picture of the race itself, although not the clearest, you can still make out the three stripes on the midfoot.

The first two are linked together, which is the style that was featured on the Onitsuka Tiger Super Marup. They were hugely popular and worn by many of the top runners of the day. You can find out more about them in my article on Toru Terasawa here.