Capital Region

The roads less traveled: COVID leaves huge hole in Capital Region holiday racing schedule

Runners went virtual for this year’s Christopher Dailey Foundation Turkey Trot.
Runners went virtual for this year’s Christopher Dailey Foundation Turkey Trot.

Perhaps a new pair of running shoes will show up under your Christmas tree.

Maybe you’ve teed up a New Year’s resolution to get fit and lose weight by hitting the pavement with a running routine. And you’ll stick to it. This time.

It’s a great idea, but one that won’t be supported in the Capital Region — for awhile, anyway — by one of the most effective ways to motivate runners: a target race for which to train.

With the COVID-19 pandemic putting strict limitations on public gatherings, the local road race schedule has been decimated since March, and one of the most popular spots on the racing calendar, New Year’s Eve, has felt that impact, too.

Among the events that took a hit when the annual First Night Saratoga was canceled was the popular 5k, which will be sorely missed by those who have used the race to kick off their New Year’s Eve events or as a head start on the next year’s resolutions.

Some long-standing races, like the Troy Turkey Trot, have offered virtual options, but the Saratoga First Night 5k is not among them. That will leave a gaping hole in the calendar for many runners, especially since it’s common for runners to turn it into a family affair and not just an athletic pursuit.

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“The [Saratoga Springs High School] girls’ team typically runs in that race every year, and myself and my husband either go to watch them or participate in the race,” said Dana (nee Ostrander) Bush, a former star distance runner for Shenendehowa who has two high school-age children who run for the Saratoga Blue Streaks now.

“It’s just a great culmination of holiday break, to be with family. We’ve always enjoyed it. It’s kind of a celebration of the new year for all of us runners who enjoy that kind of thing.”

The numbers have been down the past three years, but the First Night Saratoga 5k has drawn an average of more than 1,100 runners over the past 10 years.

The race begins at 5:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, right around when the rest of the First Night festivities get into full swing, and the race course is mostly confined to the Skidmore College campus.

Last year, Emily Bush, Dana and Rick’s daughter, finished 12th overall, and she ran with her brother Ryan, currently a junior at Saratoga, in 2016, when Ryan finished 24th in a field of 1,010.

In 2018, the parents gave it a whirl, as Rick, also a former star distance runner at Shen, was 14th and Dana was 20th.

“They put on a great race at Skidmore,” Dana said. “Most of the race takes place in Skidmore and north Broadway. It’s in the dark, like 5:30 p.m. Sometimes it’s nice, sometimes it’s freezing, but they do a great job keeping the roads clear and offering lighting.

“A lot of people participate in that race and then go out to the First Night events afterwards. It’s a great experience. People are out cheering. There’s been music on the course from time to time. It’s under the lights, and it’s just a unique experience. There aren’t very many races that occur in the dark, so it’s a great atmosphere and a great way to bring in the new year.”

It’s pretty meager pickings for a race schedule right now.

Typically, websites for the Albany Running Exchange Events Production and Hudson Mohawk Road Runners Club would be chock-full of opportunities, even during the holidays and winter months.

The MVP Health Care Stockade-athon 15k offered a five-week window to submit virtual finish times through Dec. 15, and the 73rd Troy Turkey Trot, which tabulated results for a 5k and 10k, pulled off a successful virtual race, with a total of 2,632 participants from 36 states, two Canadian provinces and the nation of Turkey from Nov. 26-28.

That field was way down from what the Troy Turkey Trot usually gets — there were 6,400 last year — but runners got in the holiday spirit by donating an event-record $18,500 to the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York and Joseph’s House & Shelter during online registration.

“It’s extremely gratifying that so many people continued to support the Trot during these challenging times,” Troy mayor Patrick Madden said in a release. “The pandemic has caused a tremendous amount of isolation and our hope was to bring friends and families together through our custom mobile app, which allowed participants to race with others, real time, regardless of their location. The app gave Trotters a memorable experience and helped families with loved ones around the country feel like they were connected.”

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“This event was a huge success in terms of raising funds to fight two insidious disorders in our society, hunger and homelessness,” event director George Regan said. “To raise more money than we have ever raised with significantly fewer participants says something special about Trotters’ giving spirit.”

Also on Thanksgiving, the popular Christopher Dailey Foundation Turkey Trot in Saratoga Springs held a virtual race, and many chose to run the actual course, the same one used for the Saratoga First Night 5k, that morning.

Dana Bush said her crew frequently goes on family runs, but “there aren’t a lot of options right now.”

For the record, the HMRRC schedule does list the Adirondack Runners 34th Annual Shamrock Shuffle 5-Mile in Glens Falls on March 28, 11 days after St. Patrick’s Day.

With a little luck o’ the Irish, maybe it’ll happen.

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