by Josh Merlis
It’s not going to look like this tomorrow. About 17 hours before the race started on Saturday, March 11, 2023, I stood in the small parking lot near the harbor and chuckled at the unfortunate coincidence of the weather headed our way - for the second year in a row. In the days leading up to the race, the forecast changed many times, but ultimately it settled on (what would be) an inconvenient truth: it was going to snow. The day prior would be fine and the day after (a Sunday!) would be beautiful. Alas, the show must go on.
I enjoy racing in “bad” weather. Often, it serves as the only variable that can change how a race unfolds; where mental toughness, and also simply dressing appropriately, can make a big difference. On nice weather days, race plans can more easily go “according to plan.” Slipping and sliding in muck? Ha! These are the days that those who scorn the treadmill revel (or at least hope that they finish before their treadmill-inclined age group nemesis).
I truly detest producing events in bad weather because it is awful for our equipment and supplies. Extreme cold, precipitation, and wind can wreak havoc on electronics, rip apart banners and other signage, topple tripods, and even if all of our equipment “survives” the event, drying everything out requires an enormous amount of space and a lot of extra time to physically achieve. And in those conditions, when it is rather cold (and wet), we generally end up with frozen fingers; a lot of tasks require a level of dexterity that is hard to achieve with gloves on. Regardless, it is our creed and highest priority to always deliver a high quality race experience, no matter the weather.
While this was, generally speaking, the 3rd year of the event, there were plenty of modifications both inward (operationally) and outward (runner experience) from last year. For starters, it was now a 10K instead of a 5M, essentially a forced change due to the DOT shutting down a bridge on the prior course for safety concerns, with no funding in place for its replacement. As such, it’s possible that the Sunnyside Rd bridge closure will persist into 2024, leaving us no choice but to maintain this event as a 10K. Our primary police contacts at the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office and the City of Schenectady were new; there’s nothing inherently negative about this, but it does remove some of the year-over-year operational convenience of being able to say “the same as last year” (which, to be fair, no longer applied in the Glenville and Scotia sections, but the Stockade section was otherwise the same as the last year’s 5M course.)
A few weeks before the race, Rivers Casino contacted me to say that we would not be able to use their parking lot for the finish due to a major event going on there and their need to have access to all those parking spots. As the 10K course was already slated to start just outside of their lot, this had less of an impact than it would have with the 5M course. Ultimately, we shifted the race to finish in the small parking lot towards event sponsor Druthers, who not only donated free beer (coupons) to each runner, but also literally opened up their doors to us for runners to stay warm (and use the restroom!) pre and post race.
Due to a few competing needs of the venue, we couldn’t have the race finish on the street - and it was also preferred that we not have it finish on the path, itself. As such, while I wish there were a way to avoid it, the race did have a turn within the final ~50 yards. The silver lining was that it brought runners closer to Druthers, but certainly is not ideal.
Internally, this year’s event was uniquely more cumbersome because it was held while our operations were otherwise “in storage”; after 8 years of renting space on Railroad Avenue, we fully vacated that location in January, palletizing and otherwise boxing up everything and packing it into a compressed space in our under-construction building near downtown Albany. As such, our office team was fractured (working from our own homes), and many of our items were buried and practically inaccessible due to the heavy machinery and supplies of our contractor. In addition, our vehicles/trailers were being kept at 4 different locations in Albany and Menands. Put simply, there was a lot of extraneous time spent that we joyfully will never have to deal with again because we officially move into our new building tomorrow! (Seriously, YAHOO!)
In changing the course from 5M to 10K, not only did we add 1.2 miles to the course, but in now using Dutch Meadows Lane instead of Sunnyside Road for runners to get from Glenville to Scotia, nearly the entirety of the new portion of course (2.1 ‘net’ different miles) was on major roads, and yes, this also added a crossing of train tracks at the 1.4M mark. On the positive, we would barely have 14 minutes of runner activity at this crossing which ‘essentially’ guaranteed us the ability to avoid a train - namely we were in contact with CSX in the days leading up to the race and had an established plan by which we’d know by 8am if a train were anticipated to cross there between 9:37am and 9:51am (the timeline of runner activity), and if so, we were going to slightly delay the start to avoid that train (yes, with the expectation that no two trains that morning would be within 14 minutes of each other - thereby allowing for all runners to cross without a delay.) And yes, shortly before 8am that morning, as the snow blew into the truck where I stood, the alarm on my phone sounded reminding me to call the rail line, upon which I was told, “All good, no trains until the afternoon!” Game on!
We launched this event in March of 2021, a time during which practically no other events were being held. While (thank goodness!) races have returned, considering when this event lands on the calendar, it’s our kick-off road race of the year (in all ways this year due to the postponement of one of our client events a week earlier), and also serves as the first non-Winter Series race of the year for most of our participants. This year we were also excited for it to be the first race in the 2023 USATF Adirondack Grand Prix Series, and, it sure did not disappoint with our first two finishers coming across the line within barely 1 second of each other!
ARE Event Productions directs 10 of its own races each year, with them spanning the spectrum from low-key/no frill races to “full-scale” events. We have great appreciation for Nark Running and Strength (NRS) and Bountiful Bread (BB) for their support of all of our major events, providing funding that enables us to elevate the experience. NRS is also the proprietor of the Run 4 The River Half Marathon (Labor Day Weekend) and we are thankful for their commitment to both offer high quality racing experiences and to foster community around the sport. BB is part owned and operated by a fitness enthusiast, himself, and we are thankful for their many years of support and partnership in further promoting something they hold dear through our events.
Lastly: Will it snow for next year’s edition? We hope to see you there to find out!
Winner Jack Huber had this to say about the race:
"The forecast for the morning of March 11th didn’t call for ideal running weather. It was going to snow overnight and it would be 32 degrees at race time. I knew it would be difficult. A PR was probably off the table, but the whole field would brave the same conditions, and someone was still going to win. I knew that it would either be me, or my teammate, Cam Davis.
Despite the nasty conditions, the turnout for the race was encouraging. Druthers was bustling with people eager to race. I warmed up on the course so I could get a feel for the footing. It wasn’t great. Once the gun went off, the weather didn’t matter, and it was just about racing. Cam doesn’t like to lead races, so it was up to me to set the pace for the first few miles. By the time we hit mile five, it was just Cam and me. We ran a hard final mile together and I was able to pull out the win by less than a second."
Looking forward to the Delmar Dash!
Josh Merlis is a highly motivated and skilled event director and race timer with 20 years of experience timing a wide variety of sporting events from running events to snowshoe races, stair climbs, triathlons, even a C-130 airplane pull. In addition, he is an elite runner who contributes frequently to The Pace Setter.
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