Running: Celebrating 40 years of Shelter Island races

The day of the big race is always a big one on the Shelter Island calendar.

“This is the start of summer on Shelter Island,” said Mary Ellen Adipietro, race director of the Shelter Island 10K Run.

This year it was even a little bigger. The Shelter Island 10K turned 40 on Saturday, quite an achievement for a well-loved road race that has drawn, and continues to draw, some of the biggest names in running, like former Olympic and national champions Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit-Samuelsen, Frank Shorter and Kim Jones.

Embraced by the small island that hosts it, runners are attracted by scenic views and images of small-town America that could have been taken from a Norman Rockwell painting.

“This is a real racer’s course,” said Rodgers, who competed in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal and won both the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon four times each. “There are hillier courses, but there’s enough to make it interesting. It’s a little like cross country. It’s very beautiful and idyllic. It’s just a classic race.”

“This is a tight-knit community, you know, and it’s a beautiful place,” he continued. “Runners like to run, well, we run everywhere, the big cities, whatever, but you also like the beauty. It’s very beautiful, but it’s hard. It’s tough.”

He should know. Rodgers, 71, figures he has run the Shelter Island race about 10 times.

Even the great Bill Rodgers faces challenges, though. Hamstring trouble prevented him from running last year’ race, so a strain to his left hamstring had him concerned Saturday. “I’m a little nervous still, but I’m going to have fun,” he said before the race.

Rodgers, who promoted his new book, “Marathon Man,” didn’t let that hamstring stop him, though. Wearing bib No. 2, he still completed the race in 52 minutes, 23.53 seconds, finishing among the top third of 10K runners.

Former Shoreham-Wading River High School and Albany State runner Ryan Udvadia said the key to the race is anticipating the hills and pacing yourself. He evidently did both well enough to run his fastest time on the course, 31:40.96, good for sixth place.

Udvadia, a Shelter Island 10K veteran, was also pushed by some top runners. “It’s a nice event,” he said. “I mean, it’s competitive on the front end. We get a lot of guys from Ethiopia that are running under 30 minutes, low 30s. Yeah, it’s fast.”

The event saw 1,016 finishers in the 10K, 646 finishers in the 5K and two in the wheelchair race.

“This race is special … because there’s a million races … but this race has always been about the passion and the purity of the sport of running, and that’s why we have Joan Benoit-Samuelson, we have Bill Rodgers,” said Adipietro, who has been the race director for about 20 of the Shelter Island 10Ks. “We honor their efforts and their hard work, and they work as hard as any athlete in any sport and they don’t get the accolades or the money, but the sport of running is to be honored.”

That’s what the Shelter Island 10K has been now for 40 years running.

[email protected]

Photo caption: Nuhamin Bogale of White Plains (3), Urgesa Kedir Figa of New York City (21), Tariku Demelash Sbera of New York City (5) and Eliud Ngetich of Queens (35), the eventual winner, were among the frontrunners early in the 40th annual Shelter Island 10K Run. (Credit: Bob Liepa)