Stockade-athon celebrates 40 years

In the beginning there was Frank Shorter, winning the Olympic Gold Medal in the Marathon in 1972, and taking the Olympic Silver Medal at the 1976 Olympic Games while being world ranked in both the 10K & Marathon for nearly a decade. Shorter’s performances including 4 consecutive National XC titles and 4 Fukuoka World Marathon Titles, ushered in the first running boom, approximately 40 years ago…and a small municipal 15K road race in Schenectady NY, created in 1976….rode the wave of his popularity, as baby boomers reaching their athletic prime put on running shoes and took to the streets; and the first generation of road races came into existence.

Frank Shorter, who grew up in Middletown NY, was the honorary guest speaker at the 40th anniversary Stockade-athon VIP dinner on Thursday November 5th. Later he welcomed 1200+ runners at Early Packet Pickup at Fleet Feet Sports on Saturday and was the honored official starter of the 40th Anniversary race on Sunday, while also giving a motivational speech to our youth just prior to the start of the new 1 mile downtown course for kids, that drew a record number of enthusiastic participants.

National Rankings

At the 40th anniversary dinner, the Stockade-athon celebrated 4 decades of memories and remarkable growth from a race that initially drew 80 local runners for a first time tour of Schenectady, to an event that has now drawn 1500+ finishers for 5 consecutive years, while ranking on the short list of best 15K road races in the USA.

The Stockade-athon is recognized as the oldest major 15K road races in the USA, among those Top 10 15K races that draw over 1500 participants. In two short years, this nation’s largest 15K road races, Gate River Run National Championship in Jacksonville Florida and the Utica Boilermaker will turn 40.

Locally, the Adirondack Distance Classic will turn 40 next year, followed by the FRW women’s 5K in 2017.

As a competitive 15K sporting event, the Stockade-athon typically ranks as one of the big 4 15K road races Nationally, joining the Utica Boilermaker, the Gate River Run, and the NYC based Ted Corbitt 15K, as nationally ranked 15K races in the USA. Last year, when 16 USA Elite men ran sub 50 minutes, the Stockade-athon ranked second in the nation to only the Gate River Run National Championship. This year, a record 14 Elite women ran sub 60 minutes. This should rank this years Stockade-athon women’s field among the top 3 nationally.

When you add in the intangibles such as the Stockade-athon’s historic urban course, where it falls on the race calendar, the typical ideal racing weather, the convenience of parking and state of the art indoor venues all within walking distance of the start / finish area…..the Stockade-thon is uniquely positioned to be a significant championship caliber road race with regional and often national implications each and every year. One only has to look at the upcoming USA Olympic Marathon Trials next February, to see many familiar names of top tier distance runners who competed at the Stockade-athon and will now participate among the very best of our countries top distance runners vying for a chance to make our Olympic team.

Community Support

While the Stockade-athon’s National Rankings are truly impressive, what matters most is local community support. The Stockade-athon has always been first and foremost an event put on by runners for local runners within the community.

With the support of local non-profit MVP Health Care, the Stockade-athon made important changes to its historic course last year to move the race start and finish downtown, and this year introduced a new 1 mile kids run that started and ended at City Hall. MVP Health Care partnered with the downtown Schenectady YMCA to reach out to local schools and let parents know the 1-mile kids run was free this year to enter. As a result, a record 175 kids participated after receiving a vigorous warm up led by the Willow Street AC women, followed by Frank Shorter’s motivational speech…”children should have limitless potential, participate in as many sports as possible, enjoy the experience and perhaps one day, you could become an Olympian! “

In the adult 15K road race, 7 out of every 10 runners live in Schenectady, Albany or Saratoga Counties. Add in Rennselaer County (Troy), and local towns of Amsterdam, Cobleskill, Schoharie, Hudson and Kinderhook, and nearly 9 of every 10 runners drives less then 45 minutes to participate in the Stockade-athon each year.

Only 12% of the participants travel one hour or more, again emphasizing the support this race receives among the local community.

Fleet Feet Sports with two popular stores within the community, plays an important supportive role, by hosting Early Packet pickup at their Wolf Road Colonie location, and setting up tents at the race start at Veterans Park to provide runner amenities very early on race morning. FFS with their partner Brooks, also awarded $40 gift certificates to every 100th finisher to help celebrate this special anniversary. Of course, CEO Charles Woodruff and FFS also were instrumental in convincing Frank Shorter to make the trip to Schenectady, which was no easy feat due to unpredictable flight delays.

Leading presidential candidate Hillary Clinton once said,…”it takes a village to get something done”. To paraphrase Clinton “ it takes a community” and with 100 HMRRC volunteers out on the course, AREEP handling timing, results and equipment at the start & finish, YMCA and MVP volunteers providing water and support for the kids run at the finish, and professional Audio and MC work provided by the Firecracker 4, INC with support from Brian Debraccio, a multitude of community organizations worked together in a cohesive effort to make this event special for the greater running community that visits Schenectady each year for the Stockade-athon.

MVP employee Leah Thompson showed why she was selected from several worthy auditions to sing the National Anthem at Veterans Park.

Jessica Northan, a volunteer course marshal this year said it best last year “ It is the one race all year that the whole running community attends, everyone I know is here!”

Memorable Performances

It is certainly inspiring to watch a local runner develop into a world-class athlete in a relatively short period. Hannah Davidson 26 won a close rendition of the Stockade-athon in 2013 with a time of 54:12 and finished a distant second last year while improving her time 52:59. This year, Davidson was dominating as she won her second Stockade-athon title in 51:19, besting the strongest field of women ever assembled at the Stockade-athon Road Race. The runner up Salome Kosgei ran with Davidson for 4+ miles and posted the best runner-up time in race history 52:17. The 3rd place women Jodie Robertson 53:59 made the “A” standard for the Olympic Marathon Trials earlier this year, while the 4th place finisher Karen Bertasso posted a 1:17:45 half marathon in preparation for her Stockade-athon debut. The 5th place finisher Katie O’Regan (PA) has placed in the top 5 each of the past 3 years, while the 6th place women Renee Tolan ran sub 58 minutes as a master’s runner for the second consecutive year. Only 2 other women have accomplished this feat multiple times after turning 40. Yet among this stellar field, Davidson stands out…her yearly improvement is remarkable, and at the world-class level what often separates competitors is the mental preparation, patient coaching, the intangible desire to do the hard work to succeed, while remaining true to oneself and the ideals of a champion. Davidson appears to have it all, and it will be exciting to watch her continued growth in the years to come.

Yonas Mebrahtu was born in war torn Ertria and claims to be related to Meb Keflezighi who arrived in the USA as a teenager from Ertria via Italy and who’s resume includes a Silver Medal at the Olympic Marathon and subsequent victories at the NY and Boston Marathons. Mebrahtu is awaiting a test to become a US citizen shortly, and has been training in Flagstaff Arizona and racing professionally across the country since graduating from Iowa State a few years ago. At the Stockade-athon Mebrahtu ran patiently with Sam Morse and Thomas Young (NJ) with Eric MacKnight trailing that trio by just a few seconds, until Mebrahtu made a strong early move after 5K to separate from the lead pack. He was easily the best on this day, but Macknight, Morse, & Young ran on strongly to finish only seconds apart in a thrilling finish for the runner-up award 46:41, 46:45, and 46:49 respectively. While MacKnight and Young plan to close their seasons at the Philly Marathon in 2 weeks, Morse was racing just 8 days after making the Olympic Marathon Trials Standard at Rock & Roll Philly Half in 1:04:38. With Morse’s 3rd place Stockade-athon finish; he has earned the distinction of finishing in the top 3 for 4 consecutive years. No male athlete has had 4 consecutive top 3 finishes since Tom Dalton won twice and finished second twice from 1989 through 1992. While Morse has not won during his 4 years, the men’s fields during his era are as strong as any men’s fields since the 1980’s.

William Dixon of Brattleboro VT won his third Age-Graded title at age 68 with a world class ranking of 90.83% while posting a 59:38 finish time. His first age-graded title came in 1998 at age 51, and he won his second title in 2000 at age 53. Dixon has run world-class times on the Stockade-athon course in 6 different years and only Ed Whitlock (Canada) has run sub 60 minutes on the course at an older age that Dixon was this year. While most runners believe the new downtown course with the downhill finish is faster than the previous course starting in Central Park, Dixon has a contrary opinion. He feels the current course with early inclines followed by twisting turns and rolling hills in Central Park, prior to the quick downhill finish makes it more difficult to find an early rhythm and he found this course more difficult.

Two women set new 5-year age-group records. In the 35-39 Division, Salome Kosgei 52:17 broke the record set by Lori Hewig in 1995. In the 75-79 Division Marge Rajczewski 92:00 broke the record by a mere two seconds, a record previously held by the incomparable Anne Stockman since 2008.

Lifetime Recognition Awards

Dixon and Whitlock followed prior Age-Graded greats including Norm Green (PA), Margret Betz, Diane Lagarre (Canada) and Bill Borla (CT) who all ran world class performances on multiple occasions on the Stockade-athon course after age 50. The World Masters Association Age-graded tables were created in 1989 and first used in the capital district in 1993 and 1994 when the Stockade-athon hosted the National Masters 15K Championship. Chris Rush, who directed the Stockade-athon during this time was recognized at the 40th VIP Stockade-athon Dinner for his early role of introducing AG tables while highlighting masters performances, now a common occurrence at most major races but at that time, a rare novelty.

Also receiving a lifetime recognition award was Mike MacAdam, the senior sports journalist for the Gazette Newspaper who has provided excellent print and on-line news articles on the sport of distance running for nearly 30 years, with the highlight of his year long reporting on exhibit each year at the Stockade-athon Road Race. One would only need to read his excellent piece “Another lap around Cold War era sports” a few days after the Stockade-athon Road Race to understand his grasp and depth of knowledge while covering the sport of distance running.

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