On July 31, 1976, at the Montreal Olympics, 67 runners started the men’s marathon, and the no-name East German Waldemar Cierpinski beat Frank Shorter for the gold medal.
Less than four months later, 80 runners finished a no-name 15k race in Schenectady called the Stockade-athon for the first time.
At that point, the running boom took off in the U.S., in large part because of the attention that Shorter, the 1972 gold medalist in Munich, had brought to the sport.
Carried along on that wave — while reinforcing it, as well — was the Stockade-athon, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in style at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, with none other than Shorter himself as the guest starter.
It’s a proper tribute to a race that has grown to over 1,600 finishers the last four years and is considered one of the best 15k road races in the country. That’s reflected not just in quantity, but in the quality of the elite field, as well, and the 2015 edition, sponsored by MVP Health Care as of last year, is no different.
Neither defending men’s or women’s champion is scheduled to return, but nevertheless the women’s field could be one of the best in years. And an intriguing men’s field will be led by Yonas Mebrahtu, 2014 runner-up Sam Morse and newcomer Kiplangat “Kip” Tisia, a native Kenyan who has been living and training in Rochester for the last three years with aspirations of making the 2020 U.S. Olympic team in the marathon.
Shorter, a native of Middletown who has been hailed for decades as the father of the running boom, was the guest speaker at a sold-out Stockade-athon 40th anniversary dinner on Thursday, and was scheduled for public appearances at FleetFeet Malta on Friday and at FleetFeet Albany off Wolf Road from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.
“I just love going back to certain events that are from that time,” he said at the dinner. “The connection here, to New York State, to running, and the heritage of running at the elite level . . . the great Dick Buerkle of Rochester, Don Paige, Barry Brown, from right up the road. That’s why I’m here. I’m coming full circle on a lot of these things.”
The late Brown, a Colonie native who died in 1992, won the 1980 Stockade-athon and held the U.S. masters marathon record (2:15:15) for the better part of two decades.
There has been a new men’s champion in each of the last seven years, and that will be the case again on Sunday.
The 32-year-old Morse, a former Clarkson University cross country runner from Camden outside of Syracuse, has been inching his way up the Stockade-athon ladder.
He was second behind Josh McDougal last year, third behind Michael Fout and Josh Simpson in 2013 and third behind Christian Thompson and Fred Joslyn in 2012.
He’s coming off a 1:04:38 in the Philadelphia Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon two weeks ago, good enough to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials next February.
Morse ran a 46:42 in the Stockade-athon last year, when the course was reconfigured to start and finish downtown, instead of in Central Park. He finished in 47:36 in 2013 and 47:54 in 2012.
“He told me he’s a big fan of the race, and ‘I may not be at my best, but I’ve got my goal time,’ ” Stockade-athon race director Vince Juliano said.
Morse, who ran 47:17 in the Utica Boilermaker 15k this summer, will have his hands full with Mebrahtu and Tisia, who beat Morse by 39 seconds to win the Lilac 10k in Rochester in May and has won the Buffalo Marathon the last two years, posting a personal-record 2:15:59 in May.
Mebrahtu is a USATF-certified native of Eritrea who lists Flagstaff, Ariz., as his residence, and his performances in the U.S. over the last three years suggest that he should be the Stockade-athon favorite.
This year, he was sixth in the New York Half Marathon in March (1:03:59), sixth in the B.A.A. 10k in June (28:51) and posted a 48:58 in the EQT Pittsburgh 10-miler in October. He ran 45:30 in the Utica Boilermaker 15k last year.
Another late addition to the field was Thomas Young of New Jersey, who ran 50:15 in the Broad Street 10-miler in Philadelphia.
Some other top runners in the men’s field are Matt Brooker of Albany, who won the Bridge of Flowers 10k in Massachusetts with a time of 33:50 in August; Eric MacKnight of Ballston Lake, who was eighth (47:22) in the Stockade-athon last year; Jaime Julia of Albany, ninth in the 2015 Stockade-athon who ran a PR 2:24:03 in the Chicago Marathon this year; and Scott Mindel, John Busque, Connor Cashin, Aaron Lozier, Tom O’Grady, Chuck Terry and Shaun Donegan.
“There are a couple new shooters I’m excited about,” Juliano said.
The women’s race appears to be a battle between 2013 champion Hannah Davidson and Jodie Robertson, the 2011 Stockade-athon champion (54:47) who was second to Maegan Krifchin in 2012.
Robertson qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with a 2:34:22 to win the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon last year, and backed it up with a 1:13:38 at the 2015 USATF Half Marathon Championships in Houston in January.
Davidson, the 2007 Class A cross country state champ for perennial powerhouse Saratoga Springs High, is preparing for the Philadelphia Half Marathon in two weeks.
“It could be a great battle between Jodie and Hannah Davidson, with maybe Sara Dunham, Katie O’Regan, Karen Bertasso and Hannah Brooker in the second tier,” Juliano said.
Hannah Brooker is married to Matt Brooker in the men’s field. She was second to her Willow Street AC teammate Bertasso (37:46) in the Bridge of Flowers 10k with a time of 38:38:20.
“She hasn’t run a 15k, but she’s got a ton of talent,” Juliano said of Brooker.
A late entry to the women’s field is Salome Kosgei, a nine-time MAAC champion for Iona College who was 20th (17:27) at the Freihofer’s Run for Women.