By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
The Labor Day storm that packed 115-mile per hour winds changed the Central New York landscape, and inflicted extensive damage on the electric and telephone networks. Repair crews from Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation and Bell Atlantic Telephone Company worked around the clock to restore normalcy to over 200,000 citizens.
On Sunday October 4, residents of the Syracuse's East Side will join the Syracuse Chargers Track Club to celebrate the rebirth of their community, and to recognize the workers of Niagara Mohawk and Bell Atlantic at the Syracuse Festival of Races. In appreciation for the efforts of these unsung heroes and as a token of appreciation, employees of these two companies are invited to run in the Festival at a discounted entry fee.
Now in its sixth year, the Syracuse Festival of Races was first conducted in 1993 as a replacement for the Syracuse Freihofer's Run for Women. Race director Dave Oja developed the Festival as a first-class road running event to serve the needs and interests of local runners, and to attract non-runners and acquaint them with the benefits of running.
The Festival has become one of the area's few road races featuring separate men's and women's runs with a deep cash purse for elite athletes, as well as a kids' fun and fitness run. Local sponsorship of these events permits such an extensive schedule.
The festivities start at 9:30am with the Gold's Gym Women's 5K race. The flat out-and-back course starts on East Colvin Street, outside Syracuse University's Manley Field House, and follows Meadowbrook Drive till the turn-around at Euclid Avenue. The Syracuse Police ensure the safety of the runners by closing the entire course to vehicular traffic.
The Gold's Gym Women's 5K race is followed by the United Healthcare Child Health Plus 3K Fun and Fitness Run. The out-and-back course follows the first and last 1,500 meters of the 5K course, and is entirely closed to vehicular traffic. This event is not scored as a competitive race. However, students, teachers and parents enter in large numbers for fitness and school pride. Everyone is a winner at the end of this race.
The day climaxes with the Gold's Gym Men's 5K race. Once a year, this event features the fastest runners on Syracuse roads, including many international competitors.
The festivities conclude with the Nestle Run for Kids. This event introduces our youngest citizens to the sport of running, with short dashes of 100, 200 and 400 meters, all in the confined safety of the parking lot.
Over its history, the Syracuse Festival of Races has attracted several world-class runners. The USATF-certified 5K course has been the site of seven U.S. single-age records. Former winners include 1992 Olympic Medalist and 9-time US cross country champion Lynn Jennings; Khalid Khannouchi who ran the fastest debut marathon ever in 2:07:10 at the 1997 LaSalle Banks Chicago Marathon; Olympian and top ranked New Zealand distance runner Anne Hare; and US Cross Country and 5,000-meter champion Tim Hacker.
Hacker set the men's course record of 13:52 in 1995, and Hare set the women's course record of 15:36 in 1994. To entice the elite runners into running fast strategic races, rather than settling into tactical races, Stickley Furniture offers course record bonuses of $1,000 each for the men's and women's fields.
This year's 5K fields are estimated between 400 and 500 runners each. Elite men's runners include two-time defending champion L'Houssine Siba and Paul Mbugua. Elite women entered to date include Christine McNamara and 1996 champion Molly Watcke.
Local runners can expect an intense competition for team titles. Open and masters team competition, both for men and women, promises a perennial rivalry among teams from Syracuse, Rochester, Ottawa and Buffalo, to name a few.
In an effort to encourage family participation, the 5K races include family team awards in 8 categories and great post-race refreshments. In addition, middle of the pack awards and last-20 finishers awards reflect the belief that all finishers are winners.
As electric power and telephone service returns to Central New York, and emergency crews take a well-deserved rest, Niagara Mohawk and Bell Atlantic workers interested in entering the Syracuse Festival of Races are invited to contact Melissa Piper and Brian Lynch respectively, before October 1, to arrange their participation.
Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at email@example.com.