While most folks prepare the turkey dinner next Thursday, more than a thousand runners will participate in an iconic running event. At 10:30 a.m., as has been the tradition since 1908, nestled in the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania, Berwick's Run for the Diamonds will be contested.
Back in 1908, 13 runners lined up on Berwick's Market Street early Thanksgiving morning, and except for a two-year hiatus during World War I, they've been doing so ever since. In 2009, the race celebrated it's centennial anniversary. A record 1,985 runners competed in the centennial race.
More than thirty Olympians, including Boston Marathon winner, the late Johnny Kelley, have competed at Berwick, and the course record for the grueling 9-Mile race is an astounding 43 minutes, 21 seconds, set in 1980 by two-time Olympian Pete Pfitzinger.
Weather conditions in central Pennsylvania on Thanksgiving morning are unpredictable, to say the least. Sometimes, spring-like temperatures prevail; while often the air is frigid, and occasionally, like in 2010, a sleet storm reduces visibility and turns the course into a slalom run.
The course is unique, and has remained virtually the same since it was designed in 1908.
For the first two miles, runners are treated to a pleasant, relatively flat terrain, and at the 2-mile mark are running 600 feet above sea level. From 2 to 3 miles runners ascend more than 300 feet to 900 feet above sea level at the 1/3 point in the race. By 3 1/2 miles, runners have climbed to 1000 feet, and after a brief downhill, climb to the apex, a breathtaking 1100 feet, at 4 1/4 miles into the race. From there, a fast, nearly 5 miles remains until the finish, and, after having completed a loop, runners cross the finish line in downtown Berwick.
The top seven men receive diamond rings; while the top seven women earn diamond necklaces.
Richer than diamonds, however, is the tradition and the hospitality of this race. Race Director. Margaret Livsey conducts a first-class event. Great runner, and an even greater individual, Bill Bull, has been a fixture of this race for many years, and makes sure the race runs smoothly.
If you go to Berwick, (it has been a favorite race of Canadian runners since 1908), you will probably run into legendary runner/coach/author, Mark Will-Weber. One of Mark's very fine running books is entitled, "Run for the Diamonds: 100 Years of Footracing in Berwick, Pennsylvania." The book is an entertaining history of the race. Mark will be happy to sign a copy for you, and he'll be more than happy to join you for a cold, post-race Yuengling beer.
Berwick's Run for the Diamonds is definitely a race you want to run sometime in your running career.
Check out: www.runforthediamonds.com for more information.