A Look into the Past - The Origins of the HMRRC Winter Series

by Don Wilken

Among those races was a series of winter races of increasing distances to help runners prepare for the spring racing season and, in particular, the Boston Marathon. I moved to Boston in 1965, started running and a year later began participating in races. I joined the NMC and loved attending their low key races, frequently run from the homes of runners, with minimal course directions and amenities. Being new to Boston, the location of these races in communities throughout the Boston area gave us an opportunity to see and visit places we normally would never have visited. It also introduced us to a wide variety of interesting characters who participated in what was then, except for the Boston Marathon, mostly an underground sport.

Of course, some of those races were in winter. Being from New Orleans, running in bitter cold, snow and ice sounded insane. But Fred Brown encouraged all and I began to relish the experience. The winter races were mostly run as loops in Franklin Park, starting at and circling back to the bandstand, where we always had a hard core of family or friends of runners to greet us and offer encouragement.

So, when I moved to Albany in 1968, those winter races held very fond memories for me. Jump forward to September, 1971, and the gathering of 10 Capital District runners at the YMCA by Washington Park. The HMRRC was formed and we immediately set about organizing a series of fall races. I suggested we mimic the old NMC series of winter races with increasing distances. With almost no races in the immediate Capital District and with the spring running of the Boston Marathon on many of our minds, the HMRRC stepped in to fill the gap with a collection of 6 fall and 4 winter events. The HMRRC Winter Series was born.

Being affiliated with the State University at Albany, I was able to obtain permission to use the almost new physical education facilities. Since I was on the shelf with an injury, I got to the PE building early for these initial winter races and made sure we had access, sometimes with difficulty because someone forgot or had not been notified that we had permission. As others arrived, they helped set up a table or two for registration and for the minimal refreshments we made available. In that 1st Winter Series the number of participants varied between a total of one and two dozen in the couple of races usually scheduled.

It was also very reminiscent of the old NMC series of winter races in Franklin Park. The races started in front of the PE building (the RACC did not exist then) so on cold, bitter, windy days, family and friends of runners could be just inside the doors of the building and step right out to greet runners a few yards away as they came by after completing each loop. Of course, the big difference from Franklin Park was that there was an inviting warm indoor facility to return to and in which to take a hot shower.

As we all know, over the ensuing years the series survived and thrived thanks to the efforts of many. People like Burke Adams and Bill Shrader Sr. were critical to the founding and early functioning of the club. But for the Winter Series itself, as the years passed and the size and needs of the races grew, it was the dedication of the race directors and volunteers that allowed it to become a beloved winter destination for runners. When one thinks of the Winter Series, there are 2 people I think are especially worthy of acknowledgment. Paul Rosenberg joined the HMRRC in 1972 and before long he was putting his unique imprint on the club and the Winter Series. In addition to expanding the club program to include zany races with names like “I’ve Gone Bananas” and the sextathlon, a competition with 6 very odd events, he also significantly impacted the Winter Series by bringing unusual, fun and sometimes goofy prizes for the participants. He also created the New Year’s Day races, the Hangover Half Marathon and the 3 mile Sober Up Run (now named after Bill Hogan). During the latter part of the 1970s, Paul was an extraordinary contributor to the continued development of the club and the Winter Series.

The second individual is Ed Thomas, who was involved with the HMRRC from its inception. In the 1980s Ed took on the responsibility, for the Winter Series as well as other races, of liaison with the University at Albany. This is a critical task that sometimes requires delicate negotiations, given the propensity of an isolated few runners to create issues with the campus police. He also began to hold the Winter Series meeting of race directors at his house in Delmar, arrange for the “survivor” awards and take care of the countless other tasks associated with the growing series. Ed served in that capacity for over 30 years and was scheduled to have the 2016-7 Winter Series meeting of race directors the week after his untimely death in a rock climbing accident on November 1.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the club owes a special thank you to the University at Albany, whose facilities we have continuously used for 45 years.

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