Distinguished Service Race: Why It's Special to Me

by Jon Lindenauer

In all honesty, amongst all the races I have completed in my life there are actually relatively few that are close to my heart.

When I lived in the greater Boston area from the period of 2016-2018, my mentality – with the abundance of races of varying distances continually available – was often "I already did that race, why would I want to go back and do the same one again, let's try something new."

Over the years there have been a few exceptions to that. The first road race I ever completed was the Run Like The Wind 10k in Ellenville. It was held in the town where my parents grew up and I made a point of going back several more times. I lived in the town of New Paltz and my favorite race there was the New Paltz Challenge Half Marathon, so I made a point of going back to do it several more times even after I had moved away from the area. The Kingston Classic has historically been one of my favorite road races and is still the course where I have my 10k personal best. The Palio Half Marathon in Saratoga was formerly one of my all time favorites just because of the course and location. Those are amongst the few races which hold a special place for me, and three of them no longer exist. The New Paltz Challenge and Palio Half are defunct, and the Run Like The Wind 10k was nixed in favor of just having a 5k.

In the New York Capital Region, if you are an avid runner / racer it does not befit you to skip races because they are ones you have previously completed. Instead, there are a number of races you would not want to miss because the experience of participating in them is so much better than any other race.

  The Firecracker 4 Mile is one such race.
     The Corporate Challenge is another.
        The Troy Turkey is yet another.

It would be odd, for example, to be seeking out a race to complete on the week / weekend of Thanksgiving when you live in the Capital Region and settle on something else other than the Troy race (you could even hypothetically sign up for both races there, as the 10k and the 5k begin several hours apart).

For me, the first race I ever competed in after moving to the Capital Region happened to be the Distinguished Service 8 Mile at UAlbany in 2018 (note: this is an edit from a previous article I wrote in which I indicated the Distinguished Service race was "amongst the first," but upon further research I have deduced it was the very first). I had a great deal of uncertainty in my life at the time, leaving my previous job, moving to a new area, but the one thing I knew was always going to be a constant for me no matter what would be racing. There is also the cliché of a person finishing a race and getting to break the finishing tape. I have always loved the thought of that but have rarely been able to do it just because many races do not have finishing tape. The Distinguished Service race did, and even though I felt like my performance was middling I loved the feeling and the photo op which came with being able to break the tape.

I would describe my relationship with the race as love-hate, in the sense that I love running it, but I feel as though it hates me in return. It is typically very, very hot. It is the day after I have already completed a different race on Saturday. It always feels like a death slog from start to finish (or maybe more accurately from the 1.5 mile mark to the finih). Particularly that last point. Most races, especially more low-key ones, become a blur as time goes on and more and more new races have been completed, yet the 2022 Distinguished Service race sticks out razor sharp in my mind as one which brutalized me to the pit of my soul.

                                                 Notice: Jon is airborne from the start!

This year, I already had my best 5k of the year at the OK 5k race that the day before. Certainly, I had a valid excuse to take the day off, the same as I had the previous year when I completed the Lifesong Dash the day before. It was something I had wrestled with that night.

"What am I really hoping to accomplish?" I thought.

"I have already previously done this race. I have already won it. I have already run a time I was happy with. I was already happy with my first race this weekend - why do another, longer one on a day which is supposed to be very, very hot?"

Something I remember telling myself over and over throughout the late winter and early spring of 2023, racked with pain and injuries which made it so I was barely able to manage going up and down the stairs of my house, was "Probably just about anyone else in the world would not being running or racing right now, but... can you? Is it humanly possible?"

Jake Irwin, a friend of mine, was diagnosed with multiple stress fractures in his legs, multiple bone spurs, a torn tendon and compartment syndrome. When I asked how long he would be unable to run, he said he was still running and not taking time off. He said, "I'm just gonna push through."

Running Distinguished Service again in 2023, I felt unusually great. Mentally and physically, it stood out to me against the previous years as one in which - somehow, some way - it was actually enjoyable DURING the race. And it occurred to me the main reason I had run it was just because I could. There have been times in which this race was cancelled. There have been times in which I was unable to run any race due to injury. There have been friends I have known through running for years and years who have permanently hung up their shoes due to severe recurring conditions. And so, I have learned to never underestimate running in a race just because it is possible, and because it is close to your heart. It is an additional motivation, though, when your other favorites have been permanently cancelled.

Top Five Men

Top Five Females

50th HMRRC Distinguished Service Race 8 Miler (Grand Prix)


Event History

List of HMRRC Distinguished Service Award Winners

Jon Lindenauer is now one year shy of sharing the record of five wins with Dale Keenan.

Ed. Note: This race is designed to celebrate the winner of one of the HMRRC’s top awards: the  Distinguished Service Award. This year the award was presented to Coach Frank Myers of Colonie by HMRRC Vice-President Denis Hurley.

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