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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!

It’s going to get a bit bumpy- but that’s OK!

May 21st, 2016

So the race is less than two months away: the crazy train is beginning to leave the station.
Like the flock of crows (also known as a murder of crows) that fly into the city in the winter, so too are the responses to emails I sent weeks/ months ago.
Funny formula-my ‘popularity’ proportionally increases as the days till the race decrease.
Then there are: Charity Bib challenges, sponsor logo changes, building improvements and repairs, operational race planning, expo preparation, on and on.
And finally there are those “interesting” runner’s questions.
I know they (whoever the heck ‘they’ are) say there is no such thing as a dumb question, but I sometimes wonder…
And, as they say in your favorite infomercial, “but there’s more!”
In two weeks, June 7th, the West Utica Public Market opens behind our building (Tuesdays from 3:30-6:30 PM). A nice mix of vendors offering nutritious food to an area clearly in need. Very excited about what I call ‘the journey’, a series of information sessions focused on health and financial wellness that will take place during market hours.
Met with the neighborhood young people who will be running the smoothie bike business (a stationary bike equipped with a blender) at the Public Market. A simply terrific opportunity for them to learn about the world of work before they have to take off their ‘training wheels’ (pun totally intended) and enter ‘the real world’.
The community/ education garden located on our property is proceeding nicely, think we will be planting after Memorial Day. A wonderful collaboration with the NY State Department of Health and Cornell Cooperative Extension.
And all of these things have begun to build a real sense of community and a bit of pride in our neck of the woods. I’ve seen it slowly growing at meetings held throughout West Utica.
So I guess there is something special about putting your head in the old vice and tightening it with your own hands!
While much of this is stuff we don’t necessarily need to do, it is in fact stuff we need to do!
Firmly strapping on the seat belt!

So What Are You Waiting For?

April 26th, 2016

As I sit in front of my computer monitor this dreary Tuesday April 26th I see we have nearly 550 runners on the Boilermaker waitlist for either the 15k or 5k races. While I’m sure some of those waiting will eventually get in, there will be hundreds who will sadly not get a bib.
Here’s what is sadder, I press the charity bib button on boilermaker.com (run for a reason) and see we still have 26 charity bibs waiting for an owner!
This is our fourth year of offering charity bibs to local not for profits- in those three previous years we have raised over $400,000.
The needs within our communities that our charity bib partners tackle are certainly diverse: from the homeless vet to the hungry family from the elderly to education- we’ve supported them all!
While $500 is a lot of money (the minimum for most of the charity bib partners) it’s not insurmountable.
You have until July 1st to get the money raised, that’s two months! And you will have the agency you are running for helping you while you are helping them.
I’ve seen some of the most creative ways to raise the money (and all of them very legal, thank you).
One thing is for sure- you’ll find out who your friends are!
So I’m hoping that we have a ‘match.com moment’, where a charity touches the heart of a wanna-be a Boilermaker runner (better yet, 26 matches)!
No doubt, the new registration system, which has made things easier for folks to sign up, has hurt charity bib demand.
I wish I could make the problems our not for profit community deals with to go away as easily.
So think about being ‘the knight in shining armor’ for someone in need.
While you might not run your best Boilermaker, I’m convinced you will run your most memorable one!