The MVP Health Care Stockade-athon 15k is taking steps to become more of a downtown event for the community, not just runners.
In the meantime, the race itself continues to grow in stature among the top runners in the Northeast and is no longer confined to the best of the Capital Region or even New York state.
The overall field size will be down from last year, when some runners may have been attracted to the extra buzz of a 40th anniversary for this tradition-rich race.
Nevertheless, the elite field, particularly on the men’s side, is loaded with some of the top runners in New England and presents a difficult handicapping puzzle.
Entries closed on Friday for the Stockade-athon, which will start from the foot of the State Street hill adjacent to the MVP building at 8:30 a.m. The defending men’s champion, Yonas Mebrahtu, is not entered, while former Saratoga Springs High School and Providence College star Hannah Davidson is a clear-cut favorite to run away with the women’s race for the third time in the last four years.
The men’s elite field is chock-full of new names ranging from outside the state who will be battling a few familiar Capital Region faces for the championship, which carries a total prize purse of $4,600 for the top five open men and women, compliments of FleetFeet Sports.
Long-time race director Vince Juliano can trace a line from the early days of the Stockade-athon, when it quietly grew from a small, strictly local race to a period in the 1980s and ’90s, when it became an east/west New York state showdown.
“What has transpired in the last two years is, now, it’s a whole New England race,” he said. “We’ve got runners from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey . . . and they’re all good runners.
“This year, it’s happened more than ever.”
Besides the appeal of prize money, word of mouth about the quality of the race, from the competition level to how it is organized and conducted in a professional manner, has made it attractive to elite runners.
Among the newcomers this year are John Raneri, a former University of North Carolina runner from Connecticut who is training in Flagstaff, Ariz.; Jake Sienko of Rhode Island, who qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials with a 1:04:35 half; and two former Syracuse University runners, Dan Lennon and Omar Boulama.
Lennon was on the Orange’s first national championship team in 64 years last November.
There was also a pair of late entries from Connecticut who will have impact on the lead group, training partners Jonas Hampton, who was named 2015 New England Runner of the Year by New England Runner magazine, and John Busque, who was fifth in the Stockade-athon last year.
Some runners with local ties include Niskayuna High graduate Louis Serafini, who was fifth in the Stockade-athon two years ago and is coming off a second in the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon; Eric Macknight, who has been working his way up the Stockade-athon standings since 2012; Matt Brooker, a Pennsylvania native who won the Albany Workforce Challenge in the spring; and Jonathan Aziz, another former Syracuse U. runner and a Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons grad.
“After a really thorough look, I personally think there are five guys who can win this,” Juliano said. “You can’t rule out Lou Serafini. There are about five guys in here who are 1:04:30 in the half marathon; you need 1:05 to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
“They all have pretty close resumes. This will be a true New York-New England championship. It used to be easy versus west, but we’ve gone beyond just upstate New York.”
Davidson, a 2007 cross country state champion for the Blue Streaks, was named 2015 New York Runner of the Year by New England Runner magazine, and won the Stockade-athon by a whopping 2:42 to finish 15th overall in 51:19.
She is coming off a 33:36 in the Tufts Health Plan 10k for Women, a 5:25 mile pace that suggests she’ll have no trouble being well under 52 minutes again in the Stockade-athon.
“It should be Hannah and a great race for second place,” Juliano said. “Unless she stubs her toe, she should be around 51 again. If someone from the rest of the field pops a 55 or a 56, that would be excellent.”
Race organizers are expecting over 1,600 entries, down about 100 from last year.
Although registration is closed, kids can still sign up for the one-mile Children’s Run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during early packet pick-up at FleetFeet Albany on Wolf Road.
This will be the third running of the Stockade-athon since the course was altered to shift the focus downtown. The overall loop remains essentially the same, but now Central Park is the halfway turning point instead of the start and finish.
To better accommodate families, the Stockade-athon has set up Kids Zone activities at the Y where parents can stay warm and wait for family members to finish the race.
Two blocks from the finish, Pinhead Susan’s will offer a post-race craft beer party at 10 a.m. featuring beers from around the state. Runners can show their bib numbers for a free Mad Jack Brewery beer.
“There are all kinds of things we’re working on with the downtown area,” Juliano said. “The Y has been a terrific partner, and MVP puts up the money.
“This is the second step since we moved the start and finish downtown, to try and improve the community aspect of it.”