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Behind the scenes with ice-cold Stockade-athon volunteers

Behind the scenes with ice-cold Stockade-athon volunteers

By race time, hundreds had been working outdoors for an hour or more
Behind the scenes with ice-cold Stockade-athon volunteers
During the Stockade-athon on Sunday.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

With temperatures hovering in the mid-20s early Sunday morning, it was the coldest Stockade-athon in many years.

Despite that, 1,492 (out of nearly 1,700 who registered) runners finished the race. That's more finishers than last year, but fewer than in many recent years, for the race that is one of Schenectady's marquee November events.

While runners were registering, stretching and watching their breath in downtown's Veterans Park before the 8:30 a.m. start of the 42nd annual 15-kilometer Stockade-athon, others were playing key roles behind the scenes.

RELATED: Estremera, Turner are Stockade-athon champs


By race time, hundreds of volunteers had been working outdoors for an hour or more, setting up wooden barriers, taking registrations and getting the three water stations ready.

At Water Station No. 2, at Central Parkway and Dean Street, coordinator Cathi Butryn of Schenectady arrived before 7:30 a.m. so she and about a dozen other people in the crew could set up folding tables and start filling paper cups from the 32 gallons of jugged water they were given. Knit hats, gloves and winter coats were the standard attire.


It's the 15th year of water station volunteering for Butryn, whose husband Peter and son Ben are both sometime-runners, sometime-water servers. The 49-year-old direct care provider at Living Resources began handing out water when her husband was a runner and Ben, now 23, was in second grade.

At the time, it was about keeping the family involved while dad raced — as he did again Sunday. But Butryn has now worked with a lot of different volunteers, including, for the last two years, students from Mechelle's Way Taekwondo in Schenectady, who helped pour water, hand it out to runners and then clean up the mess afterward.

The fastest runners tended to be focused, but as the great horde of runners came through, many slowed long enough to thank the volunteers.

"I'm just happy and proud that the kids are stepping up," Butryn said about 9:45 a.m., as the pace of runners slowed after nearly a half-hour of non-stop action. "It's just very gratifying. It's the feeling of a job well-done."

This year, for the first time that Butryn could remember, an ice problem developed as runners tossed their cups aside. Fortunately, nobody fell.

For those unfamiliar with the running world, here's the lowdown for what happened: It's customary for racers to be offered water while they run, and nearly all — except for the most elite of runners — take a cup if it is extended to them.

They then gulp the liquid — with widely varying degrees of efficiency, there can be a lot of splashing involved — without slowing down, and they toss their cup into the street. The result: a lot of small splashes in the street. This year, that water froze on the paving, to the point that shouting warnings about slippery ice became an added water station duty for Ben Butryn and others.

"In 15 years I've done this, it's never been so cold we had ice," Cathi Butryn said.


The official low temperature overnight was 22 degrees, National Weather Service meteorologist John Quinlan said. That was no record, but it was well below the normal low for the date of 33 degrees, Quinlan said.

Butryn's water station was just past the 5-mile mark, a little more than halfway through the race. That meant a nearby race marshal could let the volunteers know when the runners were off, and once they were off, it would be nearly a half-hour before the fastest runners reached them.

She gave a quick pep talk, to remind volunteers of the process: The filled cups are layered on the table, separated by cardboard sheets — it's called a "water lasagna" — and the volunteers stand in front of the table and extend cups to the runners, who grab, gulp and toss.

"There are 1,700 people coming through and we need to be a well-oiled machine," Butryn told the team. "About 20 won't take water. That's why we do water lasagna."

Joan Celentano of Schenectady has run the Stockade-athon 20 times and planned to do it again Sunday, but realized on Saturday that a strained leg muscle would keep her out of competition. Instead, she bundled up and turned out to help distribute water.

"I thought I'd come out and help my friends," the 64-year-old said.

As the last runners passed, an hour into the race — the fastest-racers having long-before arrived at the City Hall finish line — the water crew was moving on to its next task: scooping up those hundreds of discarded paper cups.

Not the glamorous part of the job — there were picks, garbage backs and even a snow shovel involved — but that's how it goes behind the scenes.  Despite the low temperatures and manual labor involved, the Butryn family will be back to volunteer next year, and so will the others.

"It's kind of a community service project," said Mechelle Smith, who runs Mechelle's Way Taekwondo. "It teaches them about community, and last year we had a great time."

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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