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Dr. J. on Running

Upstate Cross Country

Series Offers Five Races

Published Sep 6, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Labor Day ushers in the end of the summer, the return to school and the start of the cross-country season. Besides scholastic and collegiate harriers taking to the trails, the Upstate New York Cross-Country Series offers post-collegiate runners a great opportunity to run and to race.

In its tenth year, the series features 5 races on various trails in Upstate New York. The season opener takes place on Saturday September 11 at Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua. Two weeks later, the competition moves to St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, then to the Genesee Valley Park in Rochester for the USATF Niagara Association Open Championships on October 10. The last two races are held on October 31 at Genesee County Park in Batavia and November 13 at Letchworth St. Park in Mt. Morris.

Peter Glavin, the Series director, describes cross-country as "natural, earthy, primordial. On narrow wooded trails and sweeping grassy fields. A fresh wind whipping out of the north. Rain, perhaps making the inviting green grass soggy and slick. Twisted roots lying under golden fall leaves. Steep uphill pitches and blazing grassy downhills. Just you and the ground."

Poetry aside, the Upstate series provides a perennial rivalry between Glavin's Genesee Valley Harriers and the Syracuse Chargers Track Club. In addition to one year's supply of bragging rights, the winners get to advance to regional and national competition.

David Patruno, the competitive teams coordinator for the Syracuse Chargers, beamed with confidence as he outlined the team's goals for the 1999 season: to win the Niagara Association Championship and the Upstate Series, and to finish among the top three teams at the Mayor's Cup.

Patruno considers The Mayor's Cup at Franklin Park in Boston his Holy Grail of cross-country running. Competing against such powerful teams as the Boston Athletic Association and major shoe companies, an all-amateur Chargers team needs more than luck to place near the top.

In a sport where milers and marathoners alike abandon their familiar surroundings to meet half way and do battle on the trails, cross-country can be gutsy, dirty and exciting to watch. For an event where elbows are sharper than spikes and finishing place matters more than time, Patruno may have assembled a dream team.

On the men's side, the Chargers harriers return Scott Weeks (8:33-3000M), Brian Clark (30:55-10K), Chris Getman (31:07-10,000M), Nate Getman (31:32-10K), Jim Nicholson (1999 Niagara Association XC Champion), Mark Gaffney (1995 Upstate NY XC Champion), Bill Rathbun (NCAA Div. I All-American), Johan Eliasson (2:32-Marathon) and Javier Martinez (4:27-Mile).

Newcomers expected to make an immediate impact on the quality and depth of the team include Mike Melfi who ran 24:17 8K cross-country at Notre Dame last year; Mike Platt, a 6-time NCAA All-American with a 13:52 PR at 5000 meters; and Derek White a former Upstate New York XC Champion.

Not to be overshadowed by the men, the women's team provides both quality and depth. Tonya Dodge (9:39-3000M), who recently finished fourth in the steeplechase in the USATF national championship, leads a talented open team including former collegiate national champions Jennifer Patruno (9:48-3000M), Heidi Swarts (16:57-5000M) and Heather Swarts (17:09-5000M), and recent college graduates Nicole Branck (10:06-3000M), Deb Springer (9:50-3000M) and Theresa Trudell (10:12-3000M).

The youth of the women's team is complemented by the experience the Olympic Trials Qualifier in the Marathon Christine Sisting, Corporate Challenge champion Kristin Schiesswohl (23:16-4M), national masters champion Patti Ford (10:05-3000M), former Canastota and Ithaca College standout Mary Beth Romagnoli (17:26-5K), Julie Donnelly (10:00-3000M), Michelle Franklin (16:37-5000M) and Leatha Damron (10:12-3000M).

The scoring system used in cross country offers an opportunity for camaraderie and the rewards of team participation, more so than in any other running competition. The depth of the Chargers teams assembled for this season is unparalleled in recent local history, and is evidence that there is life after college. And for those of us who cannot imagine life without running, this cross-country season is further evidence that running and racing can be a lifelong joy.

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 world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at

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