By TIM KELLY
Make that 43 in a row.
Bill Kehner was supposed to have lined up with an expected 1,200 fellow runners Saturday afternoon for the 50th anniversary running of the Captain Bill Gallagher Island Run in Sea Isle City.
That plan changed when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the city and the Sea Isle Beach Patrol to cancel the race this year with safety precautions in mind. But that didn’t stop Kehner, a 68-year-old Rowan University employee and resident of Pitman, from lining up anyway.
“Who knows what tomorrow may bring?” Kehner said about his decision to line up for the start of the “race” at its originally scheduled time (5:30 p.m.) and place, in front of Beach Patrol headquarters at 44th Street and the Promenade.
“I’m healthy, in fair shape, and I’m in Sea Isle,” he added. “Why not follow through on the plans I made with my wife and family last year?”
Kehner made his intentions to run known almost immediately after the city’s cancellation and announcement the 50th anniversary event had been re-scheduled for Saturday Aug. 14, 2021.
He said he saw “no point in waiting more than a year” to participate in his favorite race.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he wasn’t alone.
Also showing up for a makeshift Island Run were about a dozen other folks, including Drew and Claire Brooks, of Margate, and Maggie, Aidan, Jack and Pat Nolan, all of Media, Pa.
“It was all his idea,” Maggie Nolan said, motioning toward family patriarch Pat.
For his part, Kehner said it wasn’t a hard decision to stage his unofficial race. The last time Sea Isle held an Island Run without him, Jimmy Carter was in the White House.
“It’s such a unique event,” he explained. “For me, summer wouldn’t be the same without it.”
He also received a not-so-subtle nudge from Diane Terry-Kehner, his wife of 36 years.
“After the race was canceled Bill kept training but was having doubts about running anyway,” Diane said. “I told him I wouldn’t allow it. He wasn’t going to break his streak.”
So there Kehner was with the Brooks family and the Nolans, but without the customary 1,200 other competitors, the Beach Patrol support team, or Gallagher, the former SICBP captain, official starter and namesake of the event.
“I’m proud of him and I support him all the way,” Gallagher said. “It’s great that he is so loyal to the event.”
Kehner’s running resume includes 26 marathons and 28 Gallagher Run age group trophies and 10 age group championships. He’s finished as high as third overall, and his personal best time of 54 minutes, 25 seconds would have won last year’s event by 16 seconds.
Things were different this year.
“With no competition, I treated it more like a long training run. The idea was to finish,” he said.
But just like most previous Gallagher Island Runs, his staged event proved to be as punishing as the official thing.
“As usual, the sun was blasting, but there was a nice breeze that revived me,” Kehner said. “There were some points along the way I felt lightheaded. I just took walking breaks and took my time.”
Kehner said he “ran and walked” for the first six miles and walked for a large portion of the last mile. His time was 1 hour, 55 minutes, but that’s not the point.
The time took nothing away from his feeling of accomplishment when he crossed the finish line on the beach adjacent to the start of the loop course.
“I know that whether I ran this year or not, the streak would officially continue next year,” Kehner said, “but I didn’t want a lost year in there.”
“To me, the important thing was getting in one more Island Run this year … official or not,” he concluded.