It wasn’t easy for Mara McErlean to get the majority of her extended family out of bed and into running clothes on a day traditionally reserved mostly for eating, but that’s just what she did.
Gathered in the cold morning air of Central Park on Thursday, she and 16 of her relatives prepared to run the Cardiac Classic 5K.
“My job was to get as many people out of the house as possible for as long as possible,” she said, explaining the family matriarch, her mother Toby McErlean, needed elbow room to make diner for 30 at her home in Altamont.
Pleading, bargaining, even blackmail — all forms of persuasion were on the table.
“I called them at work,” she said, “and shamed them into coming. I implied terrible things about their manhood if they didn’t show up.”
“I want to go on record that Mara threatened me,” said Ken Valentine, who hasn’t run since high school. “She makes the best twice-baked potatoes and told me I couldn’t have any if I didn’t do this.”
There was one family member she didn’t have to convince. David Schneidman rode in the “Hotter’n Hell Hundred” bike race in August, which covers 100 miles through Texas at the height of summer. In comparison, a meager 5K in Schenectady looked like a nice, slow start to his day. As a 64-year-old with coronary artery disease, he’s what McErlean called “a born-again athlete.”
a special race
A dozen years ago he underwent open heart surgery and a quintuple bypass. He lost his father and a brother to heart disease, so it runs in the family. For more than a decade he’s been getting himself into great shape just to stay alive, and his passion seems to have rubbed off on his extended family.
Thursday he was followed around by an 8-year-old great-nephew, but even he wasn’t the youngest to run the race. Carried in a papoose by his aunt, Leah Nelson, 7- month-old Theodore marked the fourth generation to circle the park.
The Cardiac Classic is organized by Ellis Medicine, with all proceeds going to fund their work in cardiology.
Schneidman is from Long Island and wasn’t treated at Ellis, but even so, he said the heart-centered race is special to him.
“I know I wouldn’t be able to do the things I can do today if there weren’t races like this,” he said.
McErlean and her family were 17 of 1,900 runners bounding off the line at 9 a.m. According Ellis Medicine spokesperson Donna Evans, that family-centric attitude has grown the event by a few hundred people each year.
“People who ran as children are running now as parents with their own kids,” she said. “In some cases, families have been running this race for decades.”
Many families are already together on Thanksgiving, making the early morning race a popular group outing. The Troy Turkey Trot, which also took place on Thanksgiving, drew nearly 8,000 runners from 33 states.
Members of McErlean’s family traveled from as far away Texas, Minnesota and Florida, and as near as Albany, Saratoga and Schenectady.
“Thanksgiving is the only holiday we are all together,” Schneidman said.
He hoped to complete the race in just over 30 minutes, but pointed out the event is more about fun and family than a great finish time.