By Clay Shaw as told to Karen Hendricks
The York White Rose Run began in 1977. At the time, there were very few races in Central Pennsylvania. In fact, the Red Rose and White Rose are the longest-existing races in Lancaster and York; for Harrisburg, it’s the Harrisburg Marathon. A five-mile race distance seemed to work; a 5K seemed too short, and a 10K was a little longer, but the unique 5-mile distance seemed just right. The White Rose Run is something that put York running on the map–and showcased York. We’re still trying to do the same thing–trying to showcase the most interesting blocks downtown.
I had just started running and I participated in the first Red Rose Run in Lancaster in June of 1977. The first White Rose Run, held in November, was likely organized by the Chamber of Commerce, and I was there as a runner. I think the course was long in 1977 and short in 1978 but Jeff Bradley won them both anyway. In 1979, I was more of a runner and had become YRRC president. I ran 30:01, and wanted to break 30 minutes but there was no clock at the finish line (for me to see I was seconds from meeting my goal). Ha, I never got to run in the race again, as I became the race director in 1980. I directed the White Rose Run for the next 29 years, until 2008. (I did get a 29:59 in Lancaster’s Red Rose.)
Photo History of York’s White Rose Run
The White Rose Run was held in November until my time as race director ended. It was commonly held after the high school cross country season ended and before winter weather kicked in. Patrick Hickey and Ryan Myers directed the race from 2009 to 2016, and they moved the date into October, then to September. In 2014, the location and course changed and a partnership was established with the White Rose Bar & Grill on Beaver Street. That partnership continues still today. In 2018, race ownership went to the YRRC. The course has always been downtown with starts and finished on George St, Market St, King St, and now Beaver St. The course has always featured Farquhar Park and the infamous hill. And the course has generally always featured a course that travels northwest of York’s downtown.
High Profile Winners from Near and Far
Jeff Bradley of Lancaster won the White Rose Run the first three years—1977-79. John Doub of Waynesboro won it a record five times: in 1981, and four straight, 1984-87. Greg Cauller was the 1983 winner. A resident of Lancaster at the time, Cauller had just returned to the area after working in Yellowstone National Park. Cauller went on to become a longtime teacher and coach at Northeastern HS, as well as a York resident.
Joe LeMay set the race record of 23:17 in 1990—in pouring rain. Fifteen years of African dominance began in 1994, with male runners from Morocco, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia crossing the line first. Kennard-Dale HS grad Matt Grey won in 2011—he was a resident of Lancaster at the time.
Perhaps the most epic White Rose Run took place in 1992, when York County native Keith Dowling (a graduate of York Catholic) ran an all-out duel with U.S. Olympian Steve Spence, who represented the U.S. in the marathon earlier that year in Barcelona. Both men were timed at 23:37 with Dowling winning by a step. The television cameras were there and crowds lined King Street to see both men battle it out. Spence, born in Elizabethtown, graduated from Lower Dauphin HS, and is a longtime Shippensburg University cross country coach. The top women in 1992 were also notable: Misti Demko of Hershey was the female champ in 27:17, and a young Sonia O’Sullivan of Ireland was second in 27:40. O’Sullivan would later win Cross Country Worlds in 1998, and she won the silver medal at 5,000 meters in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Loretta Claiborne, likely York’s most famous athlete of all time, won the first White Rose Run in 1977. Caroll Myers of Kralltown, York County won four of the early White Rose Runs. Myers, who won the Harrisburg Marathon ten times (including a 2:44:00 record) is likely York County’s greatest female marathoner. York area athletes Jennifer Bair (Foster) and Donna McLain (Vitacco) were also female champs in 1981 and 1987 respectively. Misti Demko of Hershey, a professional runner in the 1990s, won the White Rose Run three times: 1991, 92 and 98. U.S. Olympian Anne Marie Lauck of New Jersey crossed the line first in 1999 and 2001, while Olympian Kate Fonshell of the Philadelphia area won in 2002. Over the years, there has been one female winner from Kenya, three from Ethiopia, one from Great Britain, and one from Russia. Since 2009, there has been a different female winner each year—but all of them have hailed from the region.
Fast Finish in 2003
The women’s most competitive finish happened in 2003. It was a Russian sweep, as Tatyana Petrova (Arkhipova) got the win over Tatyana Chulakh and Yuliya Gromova, as the three crashed through the chutes. Petrova and Chulakh were timed at 26:54, with Gromova a second behind at 26:55. (Petrova would go on to win bronze at the 2012 Olympic Marathon in London.) Catherine Berry of Great Britain was fourth in 27:00 (and she won the following year in 2004). Denisa Costescu of Romania was fifth in 27:07. In fact, the top ten women in 2003 were all under 30 minutes.
Running Talent at the White Rose
Today, runners and walkers of all abilities, shapes and sizes participate in the White Rose Run. It’s a great way to experience the city of York on foot, and on streets where runners don’t normally have the chance to run. But in the earlier days of the race, most runners were seeking competition and chasing awards and fast times. Talent was always and is still close by, pulling from the Mid-Atlantic Region and attracting runners from Harrisburg, Lancaster, and York, but also Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and beyond. Once we began offering prize money in the middle 80s, the level of competition top runners faced at the White Rose Run looked great on their running resumes. If you look back at the photos, you’ll often see guys running in Brooks gear—that’s because Brooks’ shoe company was in Hanover, and their promotional people would sponsor runners to wear their gear at the White Rose Run.
Many of the women who ran at the White Rose Run, like Loretta Claiborne, were pioneers in the sport. When you look back at the photos–for example, there’s one of Carol Fridley of Elizabethtown–you realize that women’s running apparel has come a long way. She’s wearing panty hose and knee socks because it was a cold day and running tights didn’t exist yet. At one time, she set the U.S. half marathon record during the 1970s.
Today, all of the White Rose Run’s logistics are plotted on an 11-page spreadsheet. There are 70 assignments (locations) for course volunteers, given all the intersections the race traverses. In 2018, there were between 90 and 100 volunteers who made the race possible.
In one of the first White Rose Runs, Jeff Bradley and the first 10 guys got across Newberry Street, but then a train came by, so the rest of the pack had to wait for the train and it created a gap. Today, we contact the trains and make sure they adjust their schedules so they don’t come through during the race.
In 2014, the race organizers altered the course so that runners would finish at the White Rose Bar & Grill which totally makes sense especially since you can have a great race party there afterwards.
The course showcases the city of York in five miles, from historic homes and bed & breakfasts, to revitalized neighborhoods, William Penn Senior High School (also known as York High), the bridge which I think the city should name the Loretta Claiborne Bridge because she used to live right there, and Farquhar Park which has always been part of the race.
The White Rose Run’s Bagpiper
For 20+ years, Rodney Yeaple has played the bagpipes to help runners up the last hill by Farquhar Park. I got the idea from doing Canada’s Nunavut Midnight Sun Marathon. It’s above the Arctic Circle, and while you’re running on these vast hills, the sound carries. You could hear this bagpiper playing on the hills, and I’m 75% Scottish, 25% Irish, so the idea stuck with me and I brought it to the White Rose Run. The first piper was a city policeman and I literally had to pay the piper–$50. Rodney Yeaple has been doing it now for more than 20 years, and I think the runners really appreciate hearing him around mile four. It adds flavor—it’s not something you have in your normal everyday race.
A few other details people have appreciated through the years—right after 9/11 in 2001, I added an American flag into our logo. It was the right thing to do. And there was a runner, Greg Kerek, who ran the entire race with the American flag.
Preserving the Tradition of the White Rose Run
In 2008, I had directed the race for 29 years. The hardest thing was securing volunteers for the course and I started burning out, because we had the misfortune of having rain for several years and we started losing sponsors and participants. The race needed different eyes, and putting a race through a city has to be done right, and I decided to give it up.
Patrick Hickey and Ryan Myers took it over in 2009 and soon partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters as a charity, who in turn provided volunteer support. They did a great job and directed it for the next eight years. In 2017 ownership of the race was transferred to Big Brothers Big Sisters, which seemed like a good fit. But the biggest problem was that the head of the agency and the would-be race director both found other employment during 2017. Two weeks before the White Rose Run’s 2017 date, there was word from the city police department that they were holding a sergeant’s exam the day of the race, and therefore they couldn’t provide the 15 officers who normally would be covering the race. So with that curveball and timeline, an advisory board of non-runners told them to cancel the event. Personally, I was only an advisor to the race, and I had just had knee surgery, so I was unable to even plot an alternate course. It was heartbreaking for me.
The day of the would-be 2017 race, 25 people showed up and decided to run the course anyway; two were actually interested in the race’s organization moving forward. We found a good core group of people including some in their 20s and 30s who hopefully will love the race as much as it needs for it to continue. As a result, the York Road Runners Club took ownership of the White Rose Run and brought it back for 2018, which was very rewarding for me personally. My wife Karen Mitchell is YRRC president and I know she’s doing it for me. We now contract with a flagging company to provide road closures and ensure the safety of the runners. But a city police sergeant (Officer in Charge, OIC) still has to check and approve that the course is ready on the morning of the race. In 2018, I made sure all of our t’s were crossed and I’s dotted; every barricade was in place. And the most rewarding thing was the sergeant saying after the race that we set the standard for how a race should be done in York. I’d like to think the White Rose Run is back on track, keeping the tradition of great racing alive in York.
About Clay Shaw: A native of San Francisco, Clay Shaw has lived in Central Pennsylvania his entire adult life. While attending City College, San Francisco, as a photography major, he was hired by the Golden State Warriors as their photographer. He was 20 at the time. When he arrived in Central Pennsylvania, he was photographing the Washington Bullets and Philadelphia 76ers, then started covering professional hockey and football, college sports such as the University of Maryland and Penn State—and then running events. He published a book in 1983, Elite Runners of the Roads, a media guide for elite runners. Running Times and Runners World regularly published photographs Clay Shaw took at national running events. Several of his York White Rose Race photos were published in Runners World. And one of his photos from Washington D.C.’s Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run ran on the front page of the New York Times. He regularly shoots photos for numerous international, national, and regional running events. If you keep an eye out at the White Rose Run, you’ll see Clay on bicycle near the finish line, with a camera around his neck.