The Beachcomber Fall Festival Guide

For Some, 18 Mile Run Is a Pleasure No Matter the Conditions

Sep 22, 2017

Like many distance runners who have been running it for years, Bruce Eppinger enjoys the Long Beach Island Commemorative 18 Mile Run.

“Being on the Island, running along, seeing all that it offers and being surrounded by the great people is a treasure,” said the 59-year-old from Wayne, Pa., who’s made the trip to the Island for Columbus Day weekend 25 of the past 26 years. “It’s a flat course and I know it by heart. I know every marker, every water tower. Every year I run the race, it brings back a lot of memories.”

Along with hundreds of others on Sunday, Oct. 8, Eppinger will line up at 10:30 a.m. to compete in the 45th version of the event. Since 1973, it has been run in honor of the 11 Israeli Olympic athletes murdered during the Munich Games of 1972 and, in recent years, of those lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“A lot of younger people aren’t aware of what happened in 1972,” Eppinger said of the Munich massacre. “But it means a lot to guys like me who lived through it and know the impact it had. And, of course, the 9/11 attacks ... we can’t forget that day and the importance of remembering those who died. Both were real tragedies. But the spirit of what brought this race together is great. It means something.”

Sponsored by St. Francis Community Center in cooperation with the Jewish Community Center of Long Beach Island, the 18 Mile Run is mostly a straight run up Long Beach Boulevard from south to north, with the exception of the last quarter-mile, when runners turn up Fourth Street in Barnegat Light and soon after end up in the parking lot near Barnegat Lighthouse.

The course is flat and relatively fast, depending on the wind, which most years comes out of the north in some variation. Last year, Eppinger finished 81st in 2:45:46.97, amid a scant 344 runners who completed the race in brutal conditions – a roughly 30 mph north wind and a steady rain during the last half of the race. By the end, runners turning from Fourth Street onto Central Avenue were met by gusts off the bay of some 40 to 45 mph.

“I actually got hit by a wind gust on the Boulevard just before I made the turn onto Fourth, and it hit me so hard I was stopped cold,” said Eppinger, who decades ago spent some time working for the Long Beach Township Beach Patrol and today has a house in Haven Beach. “I literally had to stop running for a moment. Once it let up, I was able to keep going. I was happy just to finish that race last year. A lot of people didn’t even get halfway through it before bailing out.”

Eppinger’s long-time friend Steve Greene, who flies to Philadelphia from Petaluma, Calif., so he and Eppinger can run the race, was one of about 60 runners who started but didn’t finish it.

“Coming from California, he’s not used to the weather here, so he started developing hypothermia around the seventh mile,” Eppinger said. “Sometimes you just have to call it quits or you’re going to hurt yourself. Those conditions were really tough.”

For local Tommy Smith, a Ship Bottom lifeguard and physical education teacher at Tuckerton Elementary School who routinely runs in every local race on the schedule each year, last year’s conditions weren’t enough to deter him.

“I actually enjoyed it,” said Smith, who’s run LBI’s big race six times and finished 14th last year. “It was a mental challenge, for sure, but I don’t mind those challenges. I went into the race knowing that I wasn’t trying to run any special time or with any specific goals in mind. Last year, it was just all about finishing the race.”

For most who have run the course more than a few times, it’s not a revelation that, despite its being flat, the almost straight run for 18 miles can be a challenge. First-timers to the race often struggle through miles 15 through 18, even though the lighthouse is mostly in view on the horizon.

“Early on, the crowd carries you, keeps you moving,” Smith said. “Once you get through Surf City into North Beach, and then into Harvey Cedars, it gets tougher because you break away from other runners and then you hit this stretch where you might be by yourself. And Loveladies is the longest part of the race because you see the lighthouse but you don’t realize how long that stretch is.”

And then you reach the sign welcoming you to Barnegat Light.

“That’s when I get really excited and pick up the pace,” Smith said. “That last mile is usually one of my fastest in the entire race because I know the lighthouse is there at the end and I’m closing in.”

Eppinger also tends to get a bit more bounce in his step as the lighthouse gets closer.

“For me, if I can see the finish line, that’s the best part,” he said. “And with the 18 Mile Run, once you get past the Harvey Cedars water tower, then into Loveladies, you know you’re getting closer. But then you get into Barnegat Light and, even if you’re suffering, it’s a huge boost. At that point, most runners can say, ‘OK, I’m going to make it.’ And for me, even if I have to do the Dead Man Shuffle to the finish line, I know I’m going to get there.”

Of course, having the right mindset helps. Smith cautions first-timers not to get caught up in pace – run a steady pace at the outset and then pick it up later if you’re feeling well enough, especially against that north wind.

“Because it’s flat and straight, it’s easy to go out really fast,” he said. “But a lot of runners do that in this race, and by marker 10 or 11 they’re toast. You have to be careful about going too fast too early. You’re going to get beat down.”

But regardless of whether you get to the finish line relatively quickly – in, say, two hours – or it takes a lot longer, you will be happy to be treated like royalty by all the volunteers. Oh, and remember to say hello to the guy overseeing the finish-line operation.

“I love giving Don Myers a high-five at the finish line,” Smith said. “That’s always fun, and it’s nice to see all the people helping out. The volunteers do an amazing job with the whole thing – from the people at the water stations to those providing the meal after the race. It’s a great event to be a part of.”

David Biggy

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