SCHENECTADY — When MVP Stockade-athon race director Brian Northan says field size for this Sunday’s race is “not what it was before,” he’s not talking about 2020.
Based on registration numbers, the Stockade-athon will draw fewer than 1,300 runners for the first time since 2009.
Still, the race is back to what runners have expected from the popular 15K, first run in 1976, but relegated to “virtual” status last fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic that amounted to a paltry 100 or so people submitting 15K times during a four-week window.
There were about 1,275 signed up for Sunday’s race as of Friday afternoon, so Veterans Park next to the MVP headquarters on State Street — as well as the other many familiar streets and landmarks between the Stockade and Central Park — will again be alive with moving feet and puffing lungs.
With some purse money on the line, that field will also feature an elite contingent that includes 2019 women’s champion Cara Sherman and 2016 men’s champ Louis Serafini, both former Section II stars who appear to be the ones to catch on Sunday in their respective divisions.
“Where I am [Boston], nobody really knows the Stockade-athon, and it’s great for me to shoot down the Pike, and it’s a hometown race, it’s an awesome course, the weather’s almost always great,” said Serafini, a Niskayuna High graduate who ran for Boston College.
“So you do never know who’s going to show up, but at the same time you do know that you’re going to get a competitive field, and it’s going to be a fun one.”
“Stockade-athon’s my favorite road race,” said Sherman, who ran for Mohonasen and UAlbany. “The course really fits for my abilities. There’s a few hills in the beginning, so two years ago I kind of hammered those a little bit early to put a little bit of a gap, and that worked out really well.
“I’ve been training on the hills again this year, so I’m looking forward to that, and the finish helps because, by then, you’re really tired, so that downhill is a lifesaver.”
Northan said runners should expect a pared-down version of the Stockade-athon, in terms of pre- and post-race amenities, as race organizers have made concessions to the ongoing pandemic.
Registration closed online at 9 p.m. on Friday, and runners will be encouraged to wear facemasks in the starting area and to space themselves based on projected finish time at the start to alleviate crowd congestion.
The elite men and women had been afforded separate starting chutes in recent years, and although that won’t be the case this year, Northan said they want to return to that well-received feature sometime in the future.
“We are not completely back to normal,” he said. “People might be mad at this, but there’s no gear check this year, because we did not want people crowded together in line for gear check. We wanted to minimize the time they spent in the YMCA.
“I’m sure people are going to complain, like ‘Oh, man, why is this so no-frills this year?’, and it’s safety. We have a lot of older racers, and I’ve gotten emails from people wondering how safe it’s going to be. They want to do the race, but they’re concerned. It’s not normal yet, so we wanted to keep it outside as much as possible.”
Besides Sherman, some of the top women lined up for the Stockade-athon include:
- Karen Bertasso-Hughes, who ran in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon
- Christine Myers, who won the Hartford Marathon in 2:48:32 on Oct. 9 and was second to Sherman at the 2019 Stockade-athon
- Caitie Meyer, fourth at the Freihofer’s Run for Women 5K in Albany
Sherman won the 2019 Stockade-athon in 54:24 while running negative 5K splits from start to finish. After taking some time off this summer, she has been gearing up for Sunday with some 5K racing at the Utica Boilermaker and at Freihofer’s, typically run in the spring but moved to Sept. 25 this year.
She finished second there in 17:14.
“I felt good,” she said. “I could definitely tell that I wasn’t trained for the 5K, per se, but I definitely felt like my endurance was better than my speed, which will be good for the Stockade-athon.
“I did a lot better than I thought I would [at the 2019 Stockade-athon]. It was a great effort, and I was really happy with it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I was still on the UAlbany cross-country team, so I was training with the team and doing workouts similar to how I would for cross-country. So I wasn’t really sure how that would translate to a road race, but it translated pretty well.”
Serafini won the 2016 race in 45:23 and, like Sherman, has been cranking up his training this fall with the Stockade-athon in mind.
He has been keeping a six-day-a-week training schedule of 80-90 miles per week, with one day designated for intervals on the track and another for tempo fartlek works on the road.
“You never know who’s going to show up and who’s going to be in shape,” he said. “I know Jon Aziz, I know Dan Lennon, I saw some other names that I’m not familiar with. Those guys are both good marathoners. They’ve both run 2:16, I’ve run 2:16 … it’s anybody’s guess who’s going to be ready to roll.
“When I won the race, I felt like I had a big advantage because I grew up running those streets and know them like the back of my hand, but I haven’t been home in a while. You’ve got a nice steady climb with the new course, so patience is almost a little more important.”
Reach sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]