Boilermaker Blog

A Month of Thanks

November 22nd, 2016

November is one of those few months where we have two National Holidays- Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving (biggest running day of the year)-both days built around thanks.
So I’m going to write a bit about thanks.
This month I was incredibly honored to be nominated and awarded this year’s Road Race Director of the Year Award. There is nothing more humbling than being acknowledged by your contemporaries for a job well done.
However, in my opinion, this award speaks as much (more!) about the Boilermaker than of me.
You see, I’m not the first, nor even the second, Boilermaker to receive this honor- I am the third!
My brother Earle received the award in 1998 while Bob Ingalls was recognized in 2007: no other race has achieved this feat: now that’s pretty cool.
A week later, the race was awarded the ‘2016 Outstanding Philanthropic Organization’ by the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Central New York.
In both cases the reason the Boilermaker was singled out for honors was for its continuing community outreach.
Things like, our charity bib program, the wheelchair challenge (where we’ve given away 28 racing wheelchairs), the West Utica Public Market and Boilermaker Urban Garden (BUG).
You see we are, in the end, a 501c3 organization whose mission is to improve the health and wellness of our region with (obviously) a heavy emphasis on long-distance running.
So about thanks…
I give thanks to our tens of thousands of participants who circle that second Sunday in July on their calendar.
Thank you for coming.
I give thanks for the incredibly loyal volunteers, sponsors and staff who support us with ‘time, talent and treasure’.
Thank you for helping.
And finally, I give thanks that I have the opportunity to be a part of an organization as awesome as the Boilermaker.
Thank you for putting up with me!

The Currency of Caring

November 1st, 2016

I was honored to be asked to be the Keynote speaker for the 100 year celebration of the Utica Kiwanis Club, a terrific service-based organization.
Below is the speech I gave dealing with that most finite of things- time.
After I gave the talk I thought about our sport and time- we are one of the few sports where time, as opposed to goals, touchdowns and home runs, define how you measure success- pretty cool!
The Currency of Caring
If you were to ask someone what is the most valuable currency on the planet what do you think would be the answer?
The dollar, the euro, perhaps diamonds or gold?
Interestingly, in my opinion, it is a currency that is possessed equally by the President of the United States and the blind beggar in Calcutta.
It is the currency of time.
Time is the great leveler of man- 7 days, 24 hours, 1,440 minutes- no more no less.
It is my belief that how we spend this invisible currency that defines us as humans.
For the sake of this conversation I call it the currency of caring.
A saying that often runs in my head is ‘tell me how you spend your time and I’ll tell you what you think is important.’
So I’d like to take to you this evening a bit about the Boilermaker and transition into some thoughts about service in general.
Let me start when I say we fool folks that the Boilermaker is about the second Sunday in July when in fact it’s the other 364 days that are important.
The Boilermaker sets as its goal to be a change agent for health and wellness within our community or more simply changing people’s lives.
The Boilermaker or perhaps better said Boilermaker Spirit creates in the individual the belief that they can achieve a goal that formerly felt unobtainable. It’s not about giving out ‘free stuff’ and making ourselves feel good about ourselves with ambiguous results.
For example we outfit wheelchair athletes with a racing wheelchair only after they manage to do the race in a standard wheelchair and finish within a prescribed finish time. To date we have given out over 28 wheelchairs.
The Boilermaker is blessed to have a cadre of nearly 5,000 volunteers that act as the backbone of the race. They do for free what no amount of money can buy: they donate their time.
Think about it, there is nothing more selfless than helping someone who you don’t know and in all likelihood you will never meet again.
On occasion I feel like Tom Sawyer convincing folks that whitewashing the fence really is fun!
Our move of Boilermaker Headquarters from Genesee Street was more than getting ourselves closer to the Finish Line, it was a commitment to what is the poorest neighborhood in the City of Utica.
Because that’s exactly where we belong.
This year we have established a Public Market that not only provides fresh fruits and vegetables to the food desert called West Utica but offer education such as cooking tips, addictive services and financial fitness.
The Boilermaker Urban Garden or BUG has offered 20 inner city children were given the opportunity to tend their own garden bed and find out that zucchinis aren’t grown in the store and actually don’t taste bad. Perhaps more importantly, we have in a small way instilled in these kids things like ownership, discipline and teamwork as they toiled ‘alone together’.
Next year we plan on the core of these teenagers to run a smoothie bike business where they will make healthy smoothies via a stationary bike with products from the Public Market.
Over the past 4 years we have supported local charities via the Boilermaker Charity Bib Program raising nearly $500,000.
So now a bit about service.
When I looked at the Permanent Objects of Kiwanis it seems like our two organizations are certainly in alignment- a couple of examples:
To render altruistic service and to build better communities,
To give primacy to the human and spiritual rather than to the material values of life.
So what is our biggest challenge, well in my opinion, it’s the biggest challenge of any service-based organization- it’s called the Millennials, those folks who are now 18-35, also known as the ‘me-me generation’ or ‘trophy kids generation’ perhaps an homage to AYSO where ‘everybody wins’.
I don’t know about you but we are seeing the ‘graying of the Boilermaker volunteer base’: many have been with us for decades and as I’ve said countless times ‘immortality is a lousy succession plan’.
While I’m a huge believer that the most powerful force in the universe is guilt, or at least it felt that way when I dealt with my Mom as a kid service over self really has to be a thing that resides and grows within us. How we mold these young folks from selfish to selfless without selling our souls? As the owner of three sons in this group I’m open to suggestion!
Here’s the great thing about service, last time I checked there are more than a few problems on this planet, it’s not a graded event to do the right thing for others- you don’t have to find the cure to cancer to make a difference.
In fact, often I find the smaller the task, for lack of a better term, the better. You will have a greater chance of success, it’s measurable and you will team build- let’s face it everyone wants to be on a winning team.
However, service ain’t for sissies, there will be times you get your heartbroken, you will say to yourself “and I’m doing this because…?
Saying that if not you-then who?
So think about how you ‘spend your time’ cause it’s the one buck you don’t get back.
We will not be remembered by the things we had but rather the things we did.
As Mohammed Ali said “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
Thank you for listening to my rambling and far more importantly thank you for your caring to make this place we call home a better place.

Complete Streets Make Complete Sense

September 19th, 2016

There was a recent article in the Observer Dispatch about the City of Utica adopting a Compete Streets policy. It piqued my interest as the Boilermaker ‘lives’ on the streets of Utica.
I think it makes a ton of sense: but let’s back up- what exactly are Complete Streets?
Well according to The National Complete Streets Coalition “they (complete streets) are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”
Certainly one of this issues are that roads don’t begin and end at a specific city, town or hamlet. Likewise their care and maintenance might be the responsibility of the State, County or the respective community they run through. That adds another level of complexity to forming a comprehensive solution as bike paths and sidewalks mysteriously ‘disappear’ as you cross a town or city line. Be they a city street, county highway or state roadway it only works when they work together. Communities that do it well use complete streets as a competitive advantage to lure businesses to their region.
Build systems where people will be, not where they are.
Our area is in the midst of a transformation- creation of loft apartments, buildout of the Nano facility at SUNY, the Utica harbor project, a potential new downtown hospital, an updated arterial system and a rebirth of downtown retail. All of these will have a profound effect on where we live/ work/play and how we get there.
Don’t figure out an integrated compete streets prior to these projects and it will take literally years to make them happen.
Make room enough for everyone.
At present, in our region, there are few bike lanes integrated into the street system.
There are, in my opinion, two groups of bike riders: those that want to ride a bike and those that need to ride a bike.
The ‘wanters’ ride primarily for fitness, the ‘needers’ are folks who simply cannot afford a car and the affiliated costs they entail.
Transportation is a major,major issue for the low-income population. Last winter I saw bike riders on any given day navigating through the snowy city streets, grocery bags hanging from the handlebars.
So it’s more than just a great quality of life improvement, for many it’s a lifeline.
Perhaps look at making some roads one way which would free up some ‘road real estate’ for bikes?
In the end this becomes a conversation about what we want our community to look like, from an infrastructure perspective, which offers all modes of transportation an efficient and safe way to travel.
Let’s travel this road together.

Comin’ back from the Crim

September 1st, 2016

“The wheels on the bus go round and round..”
Well the Boilermaker Bus made it back safely from Flint: and what a trip it was.
The decision not to use the Canadian route out to Michigan added time, a great deal of time! Besides the added mileage, we managed to hit significant rush hour traffic.
We left at 8:00 AM and just managed to hit the Expo which closed at 8:00 PM.
At our dorm rooms every faucet had a very large filter mounted on them, a clear reminder of the on-going lead crisis.
It is certainly interesting to get a chance to participate in someone else’s event: if you don’t learn something you simply weren’t paying attention.
Things I liked a lot:
A wide open start line that was 5 car lanes long, the ‘old school’ red brick road!
Start line and finish line were literally about a block apart (no the race wasn’t just a block long!). This made the use of shared assets so much easier than what we deal with having miles of separation.
A very flat course, no steep inclines Boilermaker runners encounter on the golf course and the Burrstone Bridge.
They get nearly 2,000 to run an event called ‘The Michigan Mile’ that takes place the night before the main races. So jealous, I’ve always envisioned a community mile run through Proctor Park during Boilermaker Week- just has never gotten the traction!
There is a 5k, 8k and 10 mile that all take off from the same start, just different routes and start times. Some folks ran the 10 miler and then ran the 5k, a bit more than a half marathon.
As for myself, the 5k was just fine thank you. I passed a few, was passed by many- good news was those that passed me were all MUCH younger than me!
Nice touch, giving out a wet cloth after you cross the finish line.
We set up a small tent at the Post Race Party and shared with the “Michiganders some Utica staples- riggies, greens, tomato pie and, of course, F.X. Matt products”.
We assumed coming back to Utica should be sooo much easier with no rush hour traffic.
Nice thought: instead of cars we encountered massive rain storms that, again, added a couple of extra hours to the trip.
In spite of the long trip the overwhelming sentiment of “the Crimsters” was this should become an annual event.
What’s also nice when you go to another race is you are reminded about how special the Boilermaker is!
From spectator support, exceptional volunteers, course entertainment, water stations galore and a pretty cool Post Race Party: our race really does excel!
So the 40th Crim is over and in 2017 the 40th Boilermaker begins.

Faithful to Flint

August 24th, 2016

There are places where you mention their name and thoughts and images immediately pop up.
Say New York City-maybe it’s the Empire State Building, the Yankees or Central Park?
San Francisco- perhaps it’s the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars or Chinatown?
Woodstock- hey man, it’s all about the music!
So when you hear Flint Michigan what is the first thing you think of?
Unfortunately, it’s probably lead, as in lead poisoning due to a disastrous (manmade) calamity with their water system.
No doubt Flint is one of those classic rust belt cities when the flight of high paying manufacturing jobs left behind a needy community. When the jobs left most of those with means departed as well.
Flint is currently the second most poverty-stricken city for its size in America (a population of 104,000).
Then to add insult to injury the water crisis hit.
So now we have those with the least amount of means punished with bad water- it’s beyond unfair.
When the crisis first broke, in January of this year, Utica was among the first municipalities in America to ship bottled water to Flint- 143,000 bottles filling three tractor trailers! “Boilermaker Nation” was a large contributor to that effort.
But, in spite of the really tough times Flint has/ is enduring, they do have the Crim Fitness Foundation.
The Crim and the Boilermaker are alike in more than both putting on road race events. We are similar in bringing a sense of pride to our respective communities and acting as advocates for health & wellness regardless of one’s social/ economic status.
My friendship with the folks at the Crim far predate the current water crisis. We have often talked about how two agencies that are so similar in vision could in some way partner and make communities better.
So I think I figured something out…
One thing the city of Flint has been concerned about is that they will be forgotten.
Let’s face it, the media often moves from disaster to disaster leaving the folks in the same sad predicament after the cameras stopped rolling.
So on Saturday August 27th the 40th running of the Crim Festival of Races will take place- the Boilermaker will be there.
Roughly 20 of us will be taking a ‘short’ 8 hour bus trip this Friday to support our Flint brothers and sisters: some of us will run, some will walk and a couple will be there to cheer (that’s very important too!).
I plan on chronicling our journey and our experiences to share with you.
It’s going to be great!
“Charity begins at home, but does not end there.”
Thomas Fuller

Boilermaker 39 Has Left The Building

July 31st, 2016

Boilermaker 2016 was over three weeks ago but in some ways it feels like it was three months ago. The buildup to the race, punctuated by Boilermaker Weekend, is being hit by a three-day cacophony of sign and sound, hitting its crescendo on Boilermaker Sunday, then followed by an eerie silence.
Well slowly but surely I’m getting back in phase giving me some time to reflect on what the heck happened, or didn’t happen, that second weekend in July.
I jokingly called Boilermaker 39 ‘the uneventful event’ at the day after press conference. This was not to diminish the hard work of the participants who took on the course, but in light of recent domestic incidents, that nothing bad happened.
I believe that in the world of mass gatherings there was BB and AB- Before Boston and After Boston meaning Boston Marathon. After April 13, 2013 race directors, have been forced forced to deal with issues far, far different than heat and humidity. Indeed, everyone hosting events hosting large number of folks now have added planning tasks.
To add to the situation was a series of high profile shootings taking place throughout the country.
Certainly the Boilermaker is challenged in having a big city event in a relatively smaller community.
Saying that, the combined resources that are brought to bear from a Federal, State and local level are indeed Impressive.
There is much that the general public sees, and much they don’t: and that is the way it should be.
It is a fine line we walk offering a venue that is as secure as humanly possible without sucking the fun out of the atmosphere- I think we nailed it!
It was not lost on me that a simple photo of two Utica Police officers taken at the Expo posted on the Boilermaker Facebook page, thanking them for their service, garnered over 2,000 likes, 151 shares and 51 (all positive) comments.
On a different note this was one of the safest in Boilermaker history from a medical perspective.
I assume the cooler temperatures and I pray folks who had trained properly equated to a quiet medical tent.
Perhaps the biggest controversy was did it rain on Boilermaker Sunday- an occurrence that has not happened in the previous 38 races.
Does a gentle mist quality as rain?
I suppose that’s a battle to be fought amongst meteorologists!
And, as crazy as it sounds, plans are already underway for Boilermaker 2017- the big 4-0!
It is going to be one cool (don’t hold me to the race day temperature) event.

So Here It Is, Boilermaker 39

July 8th, 2016

This will be my last blog prior to the running of this year’s Boilermaker.
A few phrases to live by this weekend:
Be Patient- Our community will be inundated with humanity this weekend! There will be lines of traffic, lines of folks in the grocery lines for Boilermaker parties, lines of people picking up racing bibs etc. etc. . The addition of all these people acts as a major injection of revenue to many of our local businesses. How cool to for us to be ‘big city’ at least for a weekend.
Be Helpful- All of us become ambassadors of our community: we have people literally arriving from around the planet coming to ‘our house’. You can set the tone of a visitors experience by your helpfulness or the lack thereof. We are offered a unique opportunity to spread the word throughout the country about of our community: let’s make it a good word. BTW runners- say thank you, to some of the people giving up their time so you have a good time!
Be Safe- Runners, you have (hopefully) trained diligently for Sunday: run the pace you are capable of- listen to your body. As your mom might have said- don’t be dumb! To our volunteers just be careful: we want to return you home to your families safe and sound.
Have Fun- While the race is the centerpiece of the Boilermaker, there is much, much more! The Kid’s Run, 3 Mile Walk, Expo, and the Volunteer Party. Everything we do has to have an element of fun. Likewise, everyone involved needs to have fun be it the participants or volunteers.
So that’s it, say hi if you see me at the Expo.
If not, will catch up with you on the other side of the weekend.
Peace out.

Goodbye Wayne, But Hopefully Not Farewell!

July 4th, 2016

“It is good to have an end to journey toward: but it is the journey that matters in the end.”
Ernest Hemingway
Our small, intrepid, band of perennials, those who have run every Boilermaker since it’s inception in 1978, will be at least one fewer at the end of Boilermaker 2016. The Observer-Dispatch revealed that Wayne Decker, recovering from quadruple bypass surgery, has decided to ‘hang up his running shoes’ and forgo this year’s race.
Of those that ‘toed the line’ 39 years ago, and every succeeding year, they will be winnowed down to ten (assuming all the rest complete this year’s race).
Perhaps what makes this story the most remarkable is these folks were, for the most part, a bit older when they ran that first Boilermaker! Many that ran in those early years were competitive runners- they were ‘the competitors’ rather than ‘the completers’ (folks just trying to survive the race). Checking out John Pitarresi’s book that chronicled the first 25 years of the race showed at Boilermaker 25 (2002) there were 20 perennials with an average age of 55 years old.
I can only imagine how hard it will be for Wayne this Boilermaker Sunday. I remember a few years ago, a friend who was a long-time Boilermaker runner was suffering a knee ailment and feared he wouldn’t be able to run the race. He said “Tim, if I can’t run it I’m planning on leaving town Boilermaker weekend, not running the Boilermaker will be more painful than this knee!”
There is no doubt that being head of the Boilermaker is one of the coolest gigs in town. Sometimes, when dealing with some ‘Boilermaker drama’ (and yes, we have it on occasion) I think to myself as I’m heading home “why am I doing this”.
Well, Wayne reminds me 38 times and ten others, in a week, 39 times why this is so important.
These folks were not part of the ‘one and done’ crowd.
I’m sure there were years when physical injuries or thoughts of ‘it’s just too darn hot to run today’ could have ended their streaks.
But they didn’t.
They live their running life like the unofficial postal motto “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”.
And, for one day in July, for 9.3 miles, they, and thousands of others, are acknowledged by the general public.
Wayne, I hope you can be there on the sidelines clapping for those runners as they head out on their own journeys.

Tick tock

June 24th, 2016

“Time waits for no one, no favours has he
Time waits for no one, and he won’t wait for me
Hours are like diamonds, don’t let them waste”
The Rolling Stones “Time Waits For No One”

Well the 2016 Boilermaker is over.
Well technically it’s not over, we still have a few things to do like the Youth Olympics, Expo, Kid’s Run, the 3 mile walk, and the 5k and 15k races.
However, what is, in essence, done are the massive logistical efforts to make these events happen.
Racing bibs are printing, finisher’s pins/ glasses are in storage and banners have been delivered. Food, water and beverages are on their way. Tents, portajohns and refrigerated trucks have been rented. The Boilermaker Program Book has been printed, the race course bands/ dj’s have been booked and the volunteer tee shirts and credentials have been handed out.
Then there are the meetings, countless meetings.
We’ve got staff meetings, operational director’s meetings, medical meetings, security meetings, traffic meetings, sponsor meetings, charity bib meetings, start line meetings, finish line meetings, communications meetings, transportation meetings, media meetings and meetings about why we’re having so many darn many meetings (I made that up).
It is staggering as I sit and contemplate the amount of hours spent to support a few days in July!
But I guess that’s what makes the Boilermaker special: we certainly try to ‘sweat the details’.
At the final Boilermaker Committee Meeting, held this week, my ‘words of wisdom’ were “Hey, the racers are coming irrespective if you are prepared or not. The race is now a couple of weeks away: if you haven’t taken care of what you need to, it’s probably too late.”
Not being fatalist, just factual.
You don’t invite nearly 20,000 folks to your ‘house’ and sort of wing it!
Am I nervous- you bet: I thankfully forget this feeling most of the year.
Am I confident- you bet: we have a simply tremendous volunteer base- for most this is not their first Boilermaker rodeo!
So I guess the big question to all our participants isn’t are we ready, but with a bit more than two weeks to go, are you?

Of Scholarships and Scrambled Eggs

June 3rd, 2016

There are times where I can get a bit down dealing with the Boilermaker, perhaps it’s folks that don’t get along, perhaps things that didn’t go as planned, perhaps something I messed up (most likely)!
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
One thing that never, ever gets me down is the annual Boilermaker Scholarship Breakfast that took place at our offices this morning. It sort of acts as the unofficial kick off of events that take place leading up to ‘the great race’.
This event, which has taken place since 2005,reminds me there are really wonderful young people in this community and the future of distance running will be in very, very good hands.
The award winners are nominated by the runners coaches (no parenteral nominations thanks!). It’s very interesting to see the school districts the kid’s come from. It becomes pretty clear the coaches that are willing to ‘go the extra mile’ for their kids and the ones who must ‘check out’ at the end of practice.
Awards are in two categories: Outstanding Achievement in Distance Running and Outstanding Commitment to Distance Running. Outstanding Achievement is easiest one to understand, these are the folks that pretty consistently were the ones breaking that first place finishers tape. The Outstanding Commitment are those runners who might not have always been the top dog, but gave every bit of themselves to be the best they could be.
I always get a chance to speak to the kids to pass along some ‘pearls of wisdom’- my focus this year was around the word thanks.
Thanks to the young men and women who chose running as their sport of choice. Running is both an elegant and brutal sport.
Elegant in its simplicity, a course, a timing watch and you. Run faster that all the others you win: you don’t, well, then you don’t.
No excuses about broken plays, tipped pucks and bobbled passes- it’s just you.
Now the brutality.
To be a great runner is to be one who puts in the miles in spite of the weather.
At pre-dawn to swing out of bed and lace up those running shoes while you mind is screaming at you “No, no: back in bed, more sleep!”
Running as your face is being pelted by icy snow crystals as you feel a frigid claw of oxygen rasping down your throat with each inhale. All the while watching for slick patches of ice and potholes waiting to twist your ankles or remind you of the awesome powers of gravity.
To “keep on, keeping on” when your body is saying “that’s quite enough of this- let’s stop: let’s stop now!”
And the next day you come back for more…
Thank you to the parents who have been there through thick and thin.
While running certainly is ‘the solitary sport’ parents are there in sprit invisibly urging their child.
To be there in times of triumph and defeat and to remind their son or daughter there are positive lessons to be learned from both experiences.
And thank you to the coaches.
I fear you will never get rich on the small stipend, but your time and guidance is priceless to those you have on your team.
Thank you for inspiring them
Thank you for (hopefully) reminding them that even though it may be a race they are, in the end, racing against themselves.
So while I know we’re called ‘the human race’ for the sake of this blog I feel like calling it ‘the humanity race’ because I feel like I saw a bit of the purity of humanity on display today.
Run hard and strong as you embark on this next phase of your life!