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A Truly Shocking Race

January 13th, 2014

Over the year I gather stories that are a bit quirky that have at least a bit of involvement with running or health. We have many months where the race is just a memory for many so I need stories that are somewhat timeless- this is one of them.
As the sport of running has exploded so has the proliferation of niche events like color runs, theme runs and mud/ survival runs. I want to focus on one of these ‘boot camp’ type runs which took place in Philadelphia last June.
This race had rather unique features to its obstacle course named the Electric Eel and Electroshock Therapy. The event promised the participant the chance to “run through a field of live wires”. Add to this, you have runners who are soaked with water, sweat and mud (a wonderful electric conductor). Suddenly the local hospital was dealing with runners suffering from unusual aliments besides the more common strains, sprains and muscle pains.
The emergency room treated 16 people who had suffered various degrees of electrical injury. Victims suffered from electrical burns, lacerations, seizures and inflamed hearts.
Dr. Marna Dreenberg, director of emergency medical research at Lehigh Valley Hospital pointed out you can train for distance running; it’s not quite as easy to train for electricity. I remember as a young child plugging in the Christmas tree lights and inadvertently having my finger toughing the metal part of the plug. As I ‘became one’ with the electric current I was literally knocked backwards- decided not to do that again!
I’m not surprised (or should I saw shocked) that things like this happen; events often push the boundaries to promote participation and establishing they are different. Certainly there are responsibility issues here, both on the part of the race organizers and the participants. Be careful what you ask for!
When I was in the Army a sergeant told me “son, there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity, don’t cross it!”

Starting up a Brand New Day

January 1st, 2014

So we stand at the start of the New Year- a time of new beginnings, a time when all things are possible. It’s like we press this big reset button on our lives to correct those things in our lives that we know are wrong but for whatever reason we keep doing them. We are like Chicago Cub fans at the opening day of baseball season- this time it’s going to be different (all apologies to Cubby fans).
For me 2014 will be a milestone; it will mark sixty years I have been on this planet-wow!
I recently read that 49% of Americans usually make New Years Resolutions. Number 1 resolution? No surprises here- losing weight. Other popular ones, smoking (as in quitting), organization and money matters.
So let’s make some resolutions and hope we can make them stick!
Patience- I fully expect the race will sell out faster in 2014 than 2013, a bit of perspective we sold out last year in 68 hours. What this will invariably cause is a series of emails asking about waitlist (no, we do not have waitlists). Let me remember there is a reason I get these emails, it’s a good thing to get to be in charge of a popular event.
Manage moving- I mean this one in both a literal and figurative sense. At some point this year, our offices will be moving from downtown to West Utica. The benefit of being a stones throw from where the race ends is exhilarating; the thought of dealing with a major building renovation is terrifying.
Last year marked a significant moment of the race being a community change agent with the launch of the Charity Bib Program. Expect more of the Boilermaker becoming an advocate for the promotion of the health of our community. Now saying that…
Good to go?- One of the reasons we moved registrations from January to March is because of those thought about it/ didn’t do it resolutions.
So if you are contemplating running the race for the first time, think long and hard about what you are about to get into. To graduate from being a sedentary individual to one capable of running 9.3 miles in the middle of July takes some real commitment. Besides beginning a regular exercise regime, throw in nutritional changes and perhaps dropping bad habits. While this is tough stuff (if it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it) the letters I get saying how preparing for the Boilermaker has so changed people’s lives shows it can be done. You just need to begin!
So today we have thrown away the rear view mirror and focus on the road ahead of us. I hope all of you reach the finish line you envision.
Please excuse the auto racing/ road racing mixed metaphors.

And the Answer Is?

November 21st, 2013

Over the past couple of months a repetitive question has been emailed to me by so many- ‘when is registration opening for the 2014 Boilermaker? ‘
For the past few years our tradition has been to open registration at the half-way point of the running of the Boilermaker. If we had followed that tradition registration would be opening on Saturday January 11, 2014. However we’ve decided to break tradition- signups will start on Saturday, March 22nd at noon (EST). Why you might ask? Here are a few reasons:
The quick sellout of this year’s Boilermaker (15k-3 days, 5k- 4 days) pointed out, in my opinion, a herd mentality that stampeded. One phenomenon that we have seen is a greater no-show rate than in the past. While we (as well as most races that sell out) would be challenged if everyone showed up we have seen a 3-4% more no-shows than in the past. While I suspect that we will see a quick sellout in 2014 perhaps we’ll see a few more at the start line.
We felt that postponing registration might give a participant greater vision to an obligation that might have trump running the Boilermaker (could there be such a thing!). Weddings, reunions, or that once in a lifetime trip can, on occasion, happen.
Then there is the New Years factor with registration formerly opening so close to that day of new beginnings. According to statistics 45% of the U.S. population makes a resolution on January 1st- unfortunately only 8% will achieve that goal. Running the Boilermaker in the middle of July is not an easy feat (or easy on the feet); this year was a particularly tough one with both high heat and humidity. A first time runner may find themselves having to adopt multiple changes in lifestyle, be they exercise and nutritional, to tackle the 15k. A later registration gives that person a chance to make an honest assessment they can do it.
And why go to a noon opening rather than midnight? If we were to have to handle a computer issue I would rather be dealing with it in the afternoon rather than at zero dark thirty.
Finally, we decided to stick with a Saturday rather than a weekday both because we don’t want to promote workers ‘playing hooky’ or students having to miss classes.
So set your clocks; March is right around the corner!

Walking (and Running) on the Moon

November 4th, 2013

In elementary school when we would be asked ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’
My reply would be ‘an astronaut’.
As a child of the 60’s, people like John Glenn and Neil Armstrong were the new American heroes.
Unfortunately, an intense hatred of all things math and science combined with poor eyesight obliterated any slim chance I would have to break Earth’s gravity-grip.
However, I recently had a chance to do an out of this world workout.
I received a call from Mike Gus, an orthopedic clinical specialist with Function Better located in Yorkville. I had rehabbed with Mike after getting one of my knees scoped a few years ago.
He said ‘Tim you’ve got to stop by and see this new piece of equipment we have; it’s a low gravity treadmill.’
The treadmill called an AlterG looks in most respects like a normal treadmill except for a plastic tent-like material.
You put on a very snug rubberized garment over your workout pants. Step on the treadmill, pull the plastic enclosure waist high, zip in and press the start button.
The magic begins…
The treadmill measured your body weight as the tent inflates.
As you reduce the gravity load on your lower body it pressurizes the tent and squeezes your body. Note-make sure you have gone to the bathroom prior to using the AlterG!
You can reduce your body weight to 20%, while gravity on the moon is approximately 17% you get pretty close to experiencing what astronauts experienced scampering across the lunar surface. Point of fact- a lunar spacesuit weighed 180 pounds of additional weight you don’t wear on the AlterG so the moon-like experience must be very close.
Like a normal treadmill you can control both speed and incline. This is the hardest I have been able to run in years with no pain either during or after workout.
There are currently only 3 AlterGs around upstate besides this one- Albany, Buffalo and one at Lake Placid for Olympic training (these machines are very, very expensive).
Mike made it clear that the versatility of the AlterG from runners in rehab or training to people working on simple balance issues.
I’m not a professional endorser, nor do I get a thing from Function Better for writing this. All I know is there are plenty of runners (and walkers) who are ‘on the blocks’ but want to maintain an active lifestyle. You really should check it out!
That’s one small step….

The Boolermaker; a frighteningly good time!

October 31st, 2013

The idea of a kid’s run around Halloween had been floating around in my head for over two years. I finally took the plunge and said to my Boilermaker Directors ‘we are going to do this’.
We employed the KISS philosophy (keep it simple stupid) by replicating the run course that we used at Masonic Care Community prior to our Expo move to MVCC. It had been successful in the past with up to 1,800 kids participating. A huge added bonus was the ability to park up to 500 cars on campus that was unavailable when we had the Expo at Masonic.
The ability to pull this off on such a short timeframe (we began work on it in mid-August) stands as a testament to the dedication of our volunteer base. I cannot count the amount of times I heard the words, ‘Tim, what can I do to help?’
Likewise, the Boilermaker name made acquiring healthy treats for our little ghosts and goblins an easy task. No less than eleven organizations donated product to be handed out.
While we had ‘set the table’ for 1,200 participants (again, using our Expo experiences), our inaugural group of runners numbered slightly over 400. While initially disappointed, in hindsight it was a really manageable number not stressing our parking or Boolermaker activities we had in the Masonic gym. Hey, the first Boilermaker had well under 1,000 runners; a pale comparison to our current registration.
The vast majority of our participants were in the 4-6 year old age group who were simply the cutest in their Halloween garb.
Simply the same ones I encounter with the Boilermaker; weather and the safety of our participants. You know those things I usually have very little control over. Ended up getting the same lousy night’s sleep I have the night before the Boilermaker.
Up at 5:30 am and by 6:15 finishing up last minute setup work at Masonic.
At 8:00 families began to stream into the gym. Kids bobbed for apples, were fingerprinted by the Sheriff’s Department, and petted a ferret courtesy of the Utica Zoo. Clearly one of the highlights were the face painters and spay on tattoo artist.
While there was a bit of a biting wind the rains held off. The Ride for Missing Children shepherded pirates, princesses and various characters along the course.
Those that participated received a cool Boolermaker backpack bag loaded with healthy treats.
Looks like we have the beginning of a new Boilermaker tradition!

The Boolermaker Kid’s Run (scaring up a good time)

October 16th, 2013

Halloween has become monster holiday; it is expected that total U.S. spending in 2013 will top seven billion dollars! The vast majority of spending for Halloween (big surprise) will be on candy; over 7% of total candy sales for the year are generated by Halloween-wow!
The Boilermaker has had a deep commitment to youth fitness; the Utica National Kid’s Run and the Bank of America Youth Olympics both held during Boilermaker Week are but two examples.
Over the past two years I had envisioned a Halloween-themed, untimed, run but had never pulled the trigger- well the gun is finally locked and loaded! On Saturday, October 26th, kids from ages 4 to 12 lace up your sneakers because…here comes the Boolermaker!
Since this is the first time we have ventured out to have an athletic event outside of traditional Boilermaker time we went with things we know have worked in the past. The Masonic Care Community offered a kid-friendly course we had used in the past as well as a fair amount of parking. Although we have managed runs in excess of 1,600 kids, we are capping the Boolermaker at 1,200 to maintain control and security.
While we wanted to reward the kid’s for a run well done, it seemed rather ironic that we would give them candy after working out. Therefore we gathered a number of healthy snack alternatives from raisins, yogurt, apples, fruit bars, cider and more.
Plus, the participants will receive dental floss and toothpaste, from Excellus and Zalatan Dental respectively that they can put in a commemorative Boolermaker bag.
Activities begin at 8:00 am; runs begin at 10:00 am. Activities include, face painting, finger printing, the zoomobile, games and education.
Signups ($5 a child) will be at Sangertown Square (Center Court) on Saturday, Oct. 19th, from noon-5:00 pm. If we don’t sell out on Saturday a second registration will take place Friday, Oct. 25th, from 3:00-7:00 pm.
There is no race day signup!
A big thank you to Adirondack Back stepping up to be the Presenting Sponsor.
Want to learn more? Check out boilermaker.com and click on the Boolermaker Pumpkins (that look very cool).
We also have some kid’s Boolermaker logoed tee shirts that glow in the dark for sale on our website.
The Boolermaker; where getting fit isn’t scary!

Time Flies!

September 12th, 2013

Labor Day marked more than the unofficial end of summer; it also marked the end of the Boilermaker Countdown Clock! Let’s back up…
August 31st began as a humid day with heat building throughout the day. It just felt like something was going to happen.
Well ‘the happening’ took place early in the evening. As I was at home watching TV, I glanced out the window and saw the trees swaying- really big trees swaying! The wind chimes were sounding an alarm.
Next came curtains of rain punctuated by frequent thunder and lightning. It was feeling eerily familiar to a Labor Day Storm we experienced five years earlier.
The lights flicked off, returned for 2 seconds and went black. I could tell this was going to go on for a bit so I went on the great flashlight hunt.
I knew there was a working one in the hall closet. It is at these moments that I am reminded what creatures of habit we can become. As I opened the closet door and peered into the blackness what was the first thing I did? Why flip the light switch of course! Note to self; lights don’t work when the power is off. I groped in the mound of hats, gloves and mittens and extracted the flashlight.
My cell phone rang….
‘Tim, this is Jan (Jan is the wife of Race Director Jim Stasaitis). The Boilermaker Countdown Clock is laying on Genesee Street.’ ‘Jim has a couple of people headed over to get it off the road’
I later learned that the clock ended up a half a city block away from our building. A runner came and helped the group move the clock, now in 3 or 4 pieces, next to our building and secured.
The next morning I saw the dented mess whose time had passed. We loaded the remains into a truck sent by the company that originally built the clock. It was very, very heavy; a testament to the power of the storm.
Now the Countdown Clock had been in existence since January of 2010. The clock and I have a love/ hate affair. When the race is over 100 days away we get along very well. However, when we hit the two digit mark our relationship takes a dramatically bad turn. A dreadful electronic reminder of so much to do, with time slowly, slowly, slipping away.
I must admit, I will miss looking out the conference room window and seeing people in cars at the stoplight pointing at the clock or taking pictures of it with their cell phones.
As most are aware we have our building for sale. The first question I’m asked ‘where do you want to relocate’? Second question, ‘What will happen to the countdown clock’? So I guess it has become a fixture (or in this case no longer affixed) to the area.
So now we deal with the insurance company- a rather funny conversation with the agent out of Philadelphia explaining having an electronic countdown clock for a road race on our building and its demise.
So perhaps a countdown (or count up) till we get the countdown clock….
BTW- a ‘credit shout’ out to Paul Buckley who came up with the title of this blog; my original titling was ‘time got away from us’. Buck, you had the better lead!

The day after the Boilermaker

August 2nd, 2013

‘So Tim, what do you do after the race is over?’While the racers have left and the beer taps are dry (perhaps that’s why they left) there is still much to do.
Getting stuff put away:
The sheer amount of material we use to put on Boilermaker Weekend is perhaps as impressive as the thousands of our participants. Literally miles of snow fence and plastic barriers, hundreds of tables and chairs and banners and flags need to be placed back into storage.
Thank you notes:
My Mom drummed this in the Reed kids heads the importance of sending a thank you note (hand written) and in a timely manner (though I must admit my brother and sisters are much better at it than I). It is amazing that the written word seems to be on the near-extinction list.
The ‘we coulda done better’ list:
Right after the race is over I give a ‘homework assignment’ to all of the races Operational Directors that they document everything we can do better. I usually get some good feedback from runners. Memories are funny; they often fade fast. At our first Directors Meeting in September we will discuss those ‘we coulda done better’ moments and (hopefully) eliminate them.
The events after the event:
Within the race are a series of sub-contests that are celebrated after Boilermaker Sunday is done. Each of these events has an awards night. Among these are:
The Utica Police/ Fire Competition
This event pits runners from these public safety departments against each other in ‘friendly’ completion. This year, in a break from tradition, the Utica Police Department took first place. I had to laugh as the policeman carrying the trophy passed me walking off stage and proclaiming ‘Hey we won one in a row!’
The Corporate Challenge
Nearly 800 runners from 70 organizations compete in fastest team times running the 15k. We award three $500 checks to charities nominated by each team and chosen by a drawing. This year The Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Doctors without Borders and St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center were the lucky winners.
The School Challenge
High school runners are recognized for performance in both the 15k and 5k races. This event, sponsored by Empower Federal Credit Union and held in their Utica office, is a real delight. There is a certain camaraderie that is forged among runner regardless of what school they represent.
Charity Bib Reception
Really looking forward to this one! Our inaugural class of charity bib partners raised over $102,000- simply outstanding. I know I’m going to cry at this one.
Finally, planning for next year’s race (can you believe it).

The Last Runner (or running with Neil Young)

July 22nd, 2013

The last finisher (albeit unofficially) of the 36th Boilermaker 15k hit the Finish Line on Sunday July 21, 2013 at approximately 1:00 pm; a full week after the official event.
That finisher was me.
Let’s go back in time…
I’ve been ‘on the blocks’ from running for two years with knee issues. It’s a long story but I have felt I’ve significantly recovered to make a Boilermaker run possible.
Although traditionally Boilermaker Committee members run the race the week prior, my longest run at that point had been four miles. If something bad were to happen, better to have it occur after the Boilermaker.
The starting temperature at 11:25 am was 78 degrees with little humidity and a slight breeze; clearly better than the sultry weather a week earlier.
For this run I would be wearing headphones- hey no bands or fans along my imaginary Boilermaker so I needed to bring my own music. I have Pandora and decided to listen to the Neil Young station for my 9.3 mile journey.
The run began with an absolutely blistering 16 minute version of Cowgirl in the Sand by Neil Young and Crazy Horse recorded at the Fillmore East in 1970- a great start.
The first hill three and a half miles into the run – Valley View Golf Course.
A tip, when running the Boilermaker do not look up at the hill prior to running it, keep your head down and focus what is in front of you. Looking up you will (a) be depressed you when you see the size of the hill and (b) be depressed when you see the amount of people ahead of you that are finished with the hill. You should however look backward when you have reached the crest of the hill and see the many people behind you- it’s good for your ego. However, if you look back and only see the people cleaning up the course you will surely not be happy.
As I traveled down the Parkway/ Sheppard Place Led Zeppelin told me of goin’ to California, Clapton cried for Layla, and Jagger and the Stones asked for a little shelter (my ringback tone).
Now we reach the horrible, awful, terrible bridge/ uphill that traverses from Faxton up to St.Lukes. It seems to make sense you have hospitals on either side of this obstacle. Neil came back to sing Don’t let it bring you down (another favorite) that managed to carry me up the incline.
At mile eight Bob Dylan sang about Knocking on Heaven’s Door, I certainly was thinking about visiting the afterlife but it wasn’t Heaven!
As I turned the final corner of Whitesboro to Court Street making the last final stretch of my run Neil came back
‘Old Man look at my life I’m a lot like you were…’ Such a reminder of my first year running this race in 1978 as a 24 year old, with 24 year old legs.
So I finished the race in 95 minutes clocking in a bit over a ten minute mile pace. My worst Boilermaker I have ever run in the 25+ I had previously been in- but hey, I finished.
I received my finisher’s pin from Jim the Race Director this morning.
Neil, thanks for the help; let’s do it again next year.

Boilermaker Birthday

July 7th, 2013

Next Sunday, July 14th, we will be celebrating the 36th birthday of the Boilermaker Road Race.
The vision that Earle Reed and a group of fellow runners had in the fall of 1977 was to have a race that makes a difference not only in the lives of people who run it, but also in the lives of everyone in our community. Both have certainly come true and remain at the core of the Boilermaker’s DNA.
Who would have thought what an adult the Boilermaker would grow up to be? It began as a mostly local road race and blossomed into a multi-day event drawing people from throughout the world.
And this race certainly has many, many parents who have adopted the Boilermaker as their own!
There are 14 individuals left who have been at every Boilermaker birthday party and who have run in every single one.
The final days leading up to the race tend to be a semi-organized madhouse taxing one’s patience. Just when I’m ready to explode, I try to remember a quote from Tony Robbins: “It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what these events mean.”
What do these events mean to someone like David Freeman, race director of this year’s Boilermaker shadow run in Afghanistan? He wrote me to tell me that in 24 hours, 450 troops had signed up to run. And, Freeman wrote: “They keep flowing in.”
Or the charity bib runners hitting the streets in honor or in memory of loved ones.
Or the two blind runners participating in the 15k.
And in a weird way, this Boilermaker birthday is the gift from the community to the community, igniting like the brightest birthday candle, a pride in the place we live.
It’s a gift of sold-out hotel rooms and crowded restaurants as people from around the world stream into Utica.
A gift of people deciding to take charge of their own health and achieve something few can do.
A gift of people regardless of community, color or age working together for a common goal of helping people they most often don’t even know.
Perhaps instead giving out orange slices at the end of the race we should give out cake.
Happy birthday to us!