It’s a tricky balance, offering a race that appeals to top-notch elite runners while maintaining its most important characteristic as a community event.
The 37th annual Daily Gazette Stockade-athon 15k has achieved that like never before this year.
When the race starts at 9 this morning, the field will be headed by such talent as Maegan Krifchin, a rising U.S. marathon star who was 13th at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships last month, and Fred Joslyn and Jodie Robertson, past Stockade-athon champions who each competed in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials this year.
At the same time, the race provides a fun day and a challenging test of fitness for the everyday runner who perhaps doesn’t exactly have Olympic aspirations. And everyone between.
All the empirical evidence you need to support that is revealed by another record turnout.
Today’s Stockade-athon, which is run at a quirky distance that doesn’t necessarily appeal to all recreational road runners, has drawn 1,859 entrants, up from the record of 1,794 who signed up last year. Registration closed on Saturday.
Race director Vince Juliano likes to compare the Stockade-athon with prominent 15ks like the Utica Boilermaker and the Gate River, which is the USATF national championship for that distance.
The Boilermaker regularly draws Olympians, but has a massive budget for prize money and appearance fees.
The Stockade-athon was fortunate in recent years to be provided with $4,000 in prize money by FleetFeet Albany.
Of that, $3,000 is allotted for the top five men and women in the open division, and $1,000 is for the top three masters men and women.
That has helped the Stockade-athon draw top-notch talent from outside the Capital Region, but the prize money is minuscule compared to the bigger races.
The Stockade-athon offers a professional event for elite athletes in more subtle ways, which will be enhanced this year by the addition of an elite athlete station where they can stow their belongings, and get water, Gatorade and massage treatment.
They’ll also have a few private portajohns, a perk not to be underestimated at a crowded race.
“Runners don’t look at budgets; what they look at is the quality of the race, and the runners themselves are saying, ‘This is a race you’re going to want to come to,’ ” race director Vince Juliano said.
That doesn’t mean the race gives short shrift to the rest of the runners. On the contrary, everyone benefits from such features as chip timing.
The Stockade-athon takes that component a step further than races that just have a chip mat at the finish to record times.
There is a mat at the start so that the results will provide net times, and there are mats at the 5k and 10k checkpoints so runners can get split times, too.
Course changes this year were designed to alleviate traffic trouble and make it more manageable for course marshals and police, without destroying the traditional characteristics of the course, although some sacrifice was necessary to achieve that, such as eliminating the State Street hill.
Another change this year will be separate lanes at the start for men and women so that women in the front of the field can comfortably get away from the line without having to fight through the crowd.
Juliano said part of the Stockade-athon’s appeal is that, like races like the Freihofer’s Run for Women, it gives average runners a chance to compete in the same event as professionals, something unique to the sport of running.
“I want to keep that flavor,” he said. “We’re trying to put on a quality event for every runner, community runners, but also trying to bring the next young group of American runners from New York and New England and showcase those athletes and have people say, like, ‘Wow, there’s Maegan Krifchin. This is a big race.’
“You may not know who Maegan Krifchin is, but you should know. She is a real big deal.”
Past champion Mark Mindel, who helped design the original Stockade-athon course, is trying to keep his streak alive as the only person to have run in every Stockade-athon.
He has been nursing a torn groin, and said he is “questionable,” but hoped to upgrade to “probable” by today. . . .
Ed Whitlock, an 81-year-old multiple age world record holder who has become a beloved figure at the Stockade-athon, won’t be running because he has a sore hip after demolishing the marathon WR for 81-year-olds with a 3:30 three weeks ago. Juliano said Whitlock is scheduled to drive from Toronto to help with the awards ceremony, however.