Mike Farber had a different kind of adrenaline rush Saturday. As he pounded the paved path around Iroquois Lake in Central Park and struggled to keep up with his boss, he was feeling the adrenaline that comes with camaraderie and good-spirited competition, and of course, the adrenaline that comes when blood pumps to your heart during cardiovascular exercise.
Usually, the 10-year firefighter with the Schenectady Fire Department gets his adrenaline rush on the job.
“It’s very physical,” said Farber, sweat dripping down his face just minutes after he crossed the finish line at the fourth annual Schenectady Firefighters Run 4 Your Life 5K fundraiser. “You’re using tools, you’re pulling hose lines, you’re ripping down doors, breaking through walls, pulling ceilings down. You’re really doing a lot of physical work, so I think you’ve got to be strong muscularly, but the heart is huge. The heart is neglected. You take it for granted.”
That’s why he and his fellow firefighters were running Saturday morning. Schenectady Fire Lt. Brian Demarest founded the annual race four years ago in his quest to promote heart health and fitness among fire professionals. All proceeds go to the American Heart Association.
Farber is a heavyset guy, but all muscle beneath his navy Schenectady Fire Department T-shirt. He jokes with his colleagues — in between catching his breath — about who finished first and who beat whom this time around.
He has participated in Run 4 Your Life since the beginning, in the hopes of combating a statistic that often lingers in the back of his mind.
“The leading killer of firemen is heart attack,” he said. “That’s the leading cause of death in the United States because there are a lot of demands. Your heart rate can go from 60 to 200 beats per minute, quite literally in just a couple seconds. So that’s the stress on the heart and that’s why heart disease and heart attacks are the leading cause of death on this job.”
The race, which consists of a 5K run, walk and Kid’s Fun Run, is for all ages, professions, shapes and sizes. Plenty of uniforms come out to participate — firefighters, police officers, paramedics and EMTs. It also draws a lot of local organizations, with local law firm Martin, Harding & Mazzotti sponsoring this year.
Demarest said the event drew upwards of 650 participants this year, a good sign given the race’s humble beginnings with just 240 runners. The goal is to raise $10,000 this year, he said.
“I gotta lead by example,” he said breathlessly, before racing off toward the Central Park Pavilion.
Ron Philipp finished Saturday’s race in a breezy 20 minutes or so. Despite having the appearance of a lifelong runner, the salt-and-pepper-haired Bleecker man only just began devoting his free time to running a few years ago. He turns 60 next month.
“I decided to start running because I wanted to live longer and get healthier,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s really my quest to have better health. I also wanted to lose some weight, and I found that running actually worked best for me. Plus, it helped me relax and cut back on stress because I can just go out anytime and run. I don’t have to prepare really. As long as I have a pair of shorts and a shirt and sneakers, I can just go out and run.”
An engineer at General Electric Power & Water, Philipp can often be found running around the Schenectady campus during his lunch break, logging four or five or six miles in 30 or 45 minutes’ time.
GE has become known over the last few years for pushing its employees toward healthier lifestyles. It builds fitness centers into its facilities, and hosts two races a year for its employees.
The GE cohort showed up in large numbers Saturday. The first-place winner of the 5K was recent college graduate and GE newcomer Pat Carroll. The 21-year-old Albany man decided to run the course on the spur of the moment, after noticing a sign-up sheet at the GE Power & Water facility in Schenectady.
“I liked this one because it’s mostly road and flat, so it goes pretty fast,” said Carroll. “The first two miles there weren’t even really any hills or anything. And I like a quick race.”