A year ago, Ed Salvo was on a respirator at Ellis Hospital, tubes coming out of him in every direction.
Outside on Nott Street, Gazette Stockade-athon runners flowed by in a steady stream.
For just the fourth time since the race was first held in 1976, Salvo wasn’t one of them.
He plans to rejoin the crew on Sunday, when the 38th annual 15k is held on the city streets, and when he does, he’ll represent a small group of runners who remarkably have been able to compete in the Stockade-athon at least 30 times.
They include former champion Mark Mindel, the only person to have run in all 37 Stockade-athons.
It’s a measure of the appeal of the race that, despite a difficult course at a quirky distance on the roads, the Stockade-athon has been able to maintain such a loyal following for decades.
“I made a vow to come back,” Salvo said. “It’s a great course, it’s great for the city. It’s an event to look forward to.”
“It’s just another year, but it’s still a significant event, like a decade birthday,” said Jack Berkery of Latham, who will hit the No. 30 mark this year and hasn’t missed a Stockade-athon since 1992. “It’s a notch on your belt.”
Berkery, a retired computer software engineer, spent several hours compiling a list of those who have run the Stockade-athon at least 20 times.
There are 20 on the list, and Berkery will be the sixth to hit the 30 mark.
The others are Chip Button, Pat Glover and 82-year-old Anny Stockman, who has so many age-group awards from this race alone that she doesn’t know where to put them all.
“The first time I did it, I thought, ‘What did you get yourself into?’ ” she said. “I’ve got dishes and cups, pens and bags. I don’t know what to do with it.”
Salvo, a real estate attorney with an office on Clinton Street, first ran the Stockade-athon in 1978, when he was a member of a group called the Parkview Flyers who trained together around the cemetery on Fehr Avenue adjacent to Central Park.
As it has for many people, the Stockade-athon, whose course used to go up that hill on Fehr, became a tradition for the Parkview Flyers.
“Actually, I was surprised I had all those years,” Salvo said.
He doesn’t have last year because he needed a triple bypass and an aortic valve replaced.
By October, Salvo was experiencing shortness of breath during routine jogs.
“My cardiologist said, ‘I think it’s time.’ That kind of eliminated the Stockade-athon, ” Salvo said with a laugh. “I was fortunate not to have a heart attack, but I was on the doorstep.”
After going through cardiac
rehab, Salvo began doing some slow jogs on the bikepath in March.
With the support of his family, he has returned to a five-times-a-week routine and is looking forward to crossing the finish line in Central Park for the 34th time.
“The human body is very flexible, and I’m very, very thrilled to attempt it again,” he said. “It’ll be great. I’ll be thrilled about being on the line. Period. I hope the city police don’t sweep me off the course. ‘OK, buddy, it’s been two hours.’ ”
Coincidentally, heart trouble also prevented Berkery from running the 1991 Stockade-athon, but he hasn’t missed one since.
He had a heart murmur since he was a child, and it finally caught up to him during the 1990 race, when his pace fell off considerably on the hills.
After getting a valve replacement, he was able to resume running in 1992.
“I was told that sometime when I was in my 40s, it would catch up to me, and it did on that hill,” he said.
Berkery ran for years without actually racing, and the 1978 Stockade-athon was the second race he ever entered.
He was hooked, a sentiment echoed by many despite how tough the race is.
“One time I didn’t run because I was laid up,” Stockman said. “But I went back every year. Cold weather, whatever, it didn’t make any difference no matter what. It wasn’t very easy; I can’t believe I ever did it.”
“It’s in your blood,” Salvo said.
“It’s like a fish returning home when it’s spawning,” Berkery said. “It’s where I belong. It’s a challenge every year, but the way I set up my race schedule, it’s the culmination of the year.”
On-line registration for the Stockade-athon is closed, but runners can still enter from 4-7 p.m. today and Friday at FleetFeet Sports on Wolf Road in Albany.
Runners are encouraged to pick up their race packets from 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday at the Gazette plant at 2345 Maxon Road Extension in Schenectady. Families can register kids for the one-mile fun run at packet pickup, but there will be no 15k registration.