The Stockade-athon finally got too big for its own skin.
The 15k road race, which I have covered every year since 1988, will essentially molt by the time it is run on the city streets for the 39th time on Nov. 9.
I have confidence that this creature will be just as beautiful as it’s always been, but it will undergo a substantial and profound transformation that will take some adjustment by those who have watched it grow for almost four decades.
Part of what will be shed is title sponsorship by the Gazette, which will be replaced by MVP Health Care, for the first time in 31 years.
We’ll continue as a media sponsor and supply comprehensive coverage, but the next time I write about this race, I’ll call it the MVP Health Care Stockade-athon, and it will take some conscious effort to override my autopilot fingers to do so.
It’s been a big part of our identity for so many years that a comparison to the frequent new-pair-of-shoes naming-rights changes you see on bigger events and arenas falls flat.
As a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan who went to one of their home games last year, I just quizzed myself on the name of the stadium. “Pro Player . . . no, no, it’s Sun Life.” I don’t know what Sun Life does for a living.
The Gazette and Stockade-athon have been so closely intertwined, though, not just nominally but on an organic level, that it will seem strange to refer to it otherwise. The Stockade-athon has always been a way for us to show our face to the public and a source of personal pride for me.
Anyway, perhaps runners, who have come out in greater and greater numbers in each of the last eight years, will see the sponsorship change as merely cosmetic.
Much more significantly, they’ll face an extraordinarily different race, which brings me back to the opening paragraph.
If you’ve ever run the Stockade-athon once over the last 38 years and intend to run it again in November, you’ll recognize most of the race’s features, but they’ll be rearranged in a new order, with new contours that create an entirely different challenge.
Up will be down, down will be up, and the clock hand will turn in an opposite direction.
There have been some course changes over the years to get the field off busy streets and make it a more enjoyable experience, but nothing like this.
Central Park, the traditional start and finish, is now the turnaround point.
The Stockade-athon will start at the MVP headquarters on Nott Terrace and State and finish at City Hall a few blocks away, after the runners go uphill for much of the first half of the race and downhill for much of the second half. It has always gone downhill first and uphill second. State Street between Proctors and Nott Terrace has been utterly declawed.
If you’re not a runner, this may seem like small potatoes, but the course change creates a new, easier puzzle that probably will be embraced by many and met with disappointment, perhaps even rejected, by traditionalists. Course and personal records become obsolete, for one thing.
This is important stuff to people who come back to this race every year, because now they’re adding rings to a different tree.
The trade-off is that what was an increasingly cumbersome number of runners for Central Park to handle will be better served by having all of the pre- and post-race hassles and activities consolidated to a downtown location. The bars and restaurants open on Sundays probably won’t be complaining.
The total finishers has rocketed from 1,110 in 2007 to 1,871 last year. Race director Vince Juliano said downtown can handle parking demands better and is confident that the Stockade-athon can co-exist with the Greenmarket, which will be back indoors by then. The city will let him use the garage on Broadway for free, and he’s working on another big lot, which affords close access to I-890.
One aspect that is without doubt is that the new course will alleviate traffic conflicts, at least while the race is in progress (before and after . . . hmm).
The biggest headache has always been crossing Erie Boulevard, but the field should clear those two intersections in a matter of minutes shortly after the start, compared to 35-45 minutes with the Stockade as the midpoint of the race as it has been since 1976.
The Central Park picnic pavilion, site of the post-race refreshments and awards ceremony, has also become a sore spot. It’s too small and difficult to manage in bad weather. Juliano has been granted permission to use Key Hall adjacent to Proctors for those purposes, and also has agreements with the YMCA to supply showers and has booked a floor of the Hampton Inn for out-of-towners.
Another consideration is that, after last year’s bomb scare, the police want to implement a bag claim area.
“This is the reality,” Juliano said. “The question is how do you stay true to the race? We tried to keep it as residential as possible and keep the historic neighborhoods and every inch of Central Park as possible.”
The runners will see less of Nott Street, and much less of State Street. They won’t see Lawrence the Indian, but they’ll see the Mohawk River along that section of park in the Stockade.
They’ll see Grand Boulevard, removed because of a course tweak in recent years, again, from a different direction.
They’ll turn right at the Rose Garden and run around Iroquois Lake, and it’ll be akin to my autopilot fingers if the age-old muscle memory in their legs goes into finish line mode for a moment.
But then they’ll just keep running.