More than 1,000 runners are expected on the starting line Aug. 3 for the Captain Bill Gallagher Island Run. (Photo courtesy USA Race Calendar)

 By Tim Kelly

Saturday marked exactly four weeks until the 49th running of the Captain Bill Gallagher 10-Mile Island Run in Sea Isle City.

What began as an event contested by approximately 25 lifeguards over 14-plus miles has evolved into a mega-race that attracts more than 1,000 starters for one of the most unique 10-milers in the sport.

“It’s different, it’s definitely not like a typical road race,” said Beach Patrol Chief Renny Steele, who will celebrate his 50th anniversary with the Beach Patrol next summer, when the race also marks a half century.

The race takes place 5:30 p.m. rain or shine on Saturday, Aug. 3. The loop course starts and finishes at 44th Street. Approximately 2 miles are run on the macadam of Sea Isle’s oceanfront Promenade and 8 miles on the beach.

There’s still time for runners to register, either in person at SICBP Headquarters at 44th and the Promenade, or on line at  Race packet pick-up will be on Saturday, Aug. 3 between 12 noon and 4:30 p.m. at the Sea Isle City Community Lodge, 300 JFK Blvd.

“Applications are running a little bit ahead (of normal),” Steele said. “Conditions were great last year, and when that happens we see a little spike in sign-ups.”

Sea Isle City Beach Patrol Chief Renny Steele and the Captain Bill Gallagher Island Run will both celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2020. (Photo Courtesy SICBP)

It’s still too early for a race day weather forecast. However, other conditions look good, Steele said.

“Low tide will be (about 45 minutes prior to the starter’s horn),” Steele said. “That should give us two hours of a nice running surface. Only the very slowest finishers might notice the tide creeping up on them a little bit.”

There are not expected to be any exposed jetties this year for runners to hurdle, Steele said, and only a few spots were ponding ocean water might get in the way for a few steps.

Changing conditions from year to year are one of the unique features of the race, and one of the reasons veteran runners like Bill Kehner, 67, of Pitman, sign up every year. This August’s race with be Kehner’s 41st consecutive.

“The wind direction, tides, beach, and of course temperature and humidity are variable from year to year,” Kehner noted. “That’s a big part of the fun, or in some cases the challenge. You don’t always know what you’re going to be looking at until you get out there on the beach.”

“One thing that doesn’t change and you can count on is some of the best spectator support you’ll find anywhere,” he added.

Fans line the course for most of its length, cheering on the competitors and offering support and water. Some hold up signs.

Bill Gallagher was captain of the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol when the race started in 1970 and has it named in his honor.

Runner amenities are another attraction. Age group trophies are awarded, T-shirts are of high quality, water stations are numerous and each mile is marked.

Nevertheless, Steele encourages runners to compete, not worry about going for a personal record. Successfully navigating the course and finishing is the idea. 

The course heads north on the Promenade, packed with runners in a “cattle chute” effect for the first mile. The field empties from the Promenade at the north end, where the field spreads out onto the beach and continues north to Strathmere.

The runners turn around and head south for the length of the island to the Townsends Inlet Bridge, and the final turn for home. The run ends on the beach at 44th.

“I tell people don’t look for a great finishing time. It can be a really hard race,” said Steele, who ran the event many times himself. “It’s definitely a test.”

Runners head down the Promenade during the 2018 race.