Sunday, February 13, 2011

Buffalo's Incredible Running Tradition


Recently after connecting with, and looking around the excellent site,www.buffalorunners.com, I began to think about the long and rich running history Buffalo has.I had lived in the Buffalo area all my life until June 2000 when I moved to Raleigh,NC where I stayed for for a year and a half. I remember how surprised I was when I discovered that Raleigh,a city that was bigger and had more readily available running places than Buffalo,couldn't begin to compare with what was going on in Buffalo running-wise.There were more races,more runners and more running clubs in Buffalo.I have never spent too much time in Boston but I believe that,outside of Boston having more famous runners connected with their area, that Buffalo had and still has, a running community equal to Bostons'. To those few who don't know,Boston is one of a handful of cities in the U.S. that is considered the running "mecca," or place to be for runners.
The following are some of my early memories about running and racing in Buffalo. You may not live in this area but I'm sure some of the following will lead you to think back to when you first got into your local running scene.
The first local road race I ran was in the mid to later 70's and was at a place called the Eldredge Bicycle Club in Tonawanda,NY. It was a staggered race that sent runners out in stages based on their best time in I believe the mile run. The course was probably between 2 and 3 miles long,we started by going out the side door of the gym after the race director told us to Go! Back then it was not uncommon to see staggered races. Not too long after that I ran what came to be called the "Turkey Trot" on Thanksgiving Day. The race was small enough at that time where you could register on the day of the race. Today, this is no longer possible because the race has grown and has an entry number set at 13,000. By the way,it is said to be the oldest continuing foot-race in the United States.The thing I loved about the race was that it was basically 5 miles(8k) straight down Delaware Ave with inclines and declines along the way.All the really good runners from Buffalo and out-of-town would make it a point of racing here on Turkey Day.
You know at the heart of every running town is the running shops.We had two Runner's Roosts stores on Hertel Ave,one if you can believe this,was totally dedicated to selling only Adidas shoes and products. What was nice about these shops back then was that the staff were runners who actually knew about what they were selling. I recall that Ralph Zimmerman worked at the Adidas store for awhile.
Also essential to a running community,running clubs. The early clubs that had a real impact were the Greater Buffalo Track Club,Buffalo Philharmonic AC, Belle Watling AC and Checkers AC. Many were comprised of good runners but they also had a number of,for lack of a better word,"unique" personalities among their ranks. There was a tradition among a few of these clubs to qualify for, and make the annual trek to Boston to run the marathon. May I quickly add that this was back during the days when qualifying for Boston was a real challenge.
Of course, what would a running town be without your running bars. There was Checkers on Hertel Ave which was owned by a guy who ran,I'll always remember the big poster of Bill Rodgers that was on the wall. Then there was Coles on Elmwood Ave,they had a yearly race that finished right in front of the restaurant. The night of that race they always had a dinner/party of which I frankly don't recall too well for reasons I'd rather not get into here.
With a great running town there is always a great marathon.For Buffalo it was the Skylon marathon which went from downtown Buffalo,over the Peace Bridge into Canada and then along the waterfront to Niagara Falls,Ontario. If I'm not mistaken, I believe it was the first international marathon run in the U.S.,the other one is based out of Detroit. Skylon was also the site for two Olympic Marathon qualifiers in 1980 and 1984.
When you speak of running towns, you know they always have to have a central place where it seems everyone runs,from the jogger to the serious runner. For Buffalo,that place was and is Delaware Park, a 1.779 mile loop surrounding a golf course.
I could go on but I think you see what I mean when I say Buffalo has a rich running history. The great thing is,is that Buffalo still has a vibrant running community.If you go to the Buffalo Runners site written above you will see for yourself.There are a phenomenal amount of races throughout the year with big numbers running in most of them.
They are now in the process of establishing a Western New York Running Hall of Fame,there are so many people who could be eligible for this Hall. I am thinking of the runners who made up the running scene from the 70's,people like: Lanny Doan,Alex Trammell,Margarita Ekiss,Ralph Zimmerman,Nancy Mieczak,Harvey"Skip" Sipel,Gloria Brown, Marjorie Bessell, Matthew Hellerer,Dan Loncto,Joe Campbell,Tom Donnelly,Dave Bogdan,Carl Pegels,Dave Broad,Joan Zirkelbach,Tony Napoli,Bill Maloney,Dick Kendall,Henry May,Hank Shealy,Richard Sullivan,Jesse Kregal,Jack O'Sullivan,Jack Meegan,Gordon Walker,Mike Mieczak,Fred Gordon,Richard Saunders,Fran Emmerling,John Felix,Tom Courtney and I am sure there are others I can't recall at the moment.
Here's to Buffalo and all the great runners,past and present, that have made it into the great running town that it is.

2 comments:

  1. Do you know whatever happened to Nancy Mieczak?

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    1. From what I understand--she is retired from running and still living on Grand Island with her husband.

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