SYRACUSE -- USA Track and Field recently staged its 5-kilometer masters national championship here, which meant it was a good time for a road trip for Orchard Park's Chris Mattingly. He packed up the family and headed down the Thruway.
Mattingly ran the distance in 15 minutes, 36 seconds. That was good for a third-place overall finish in the event, which featured runners from throughout the country.
"I'll take it," Mattingly said later. "That's the highest finish I've ever had in a national event. There's a guy who ran a 15:07 to win [Dan Franek of South Portland, Maine]. I wasn't going to be in that ballpark. Since I joined the masters I've been trying to compete with those guys. So I was very happy."
Mattingly was very enthusiastic about all aspects of the event, which was a part of the annual Syracuse Festival of Races. The men and women had separate races 45 minutes apart on a course that was extremely fast, as organizers found some land near hilly Syracuse University that was for the most part flat.
"My training was pretty good, and I was prepared to run about 15:30 or in that range," Mattingly said. "There was a nice little group around 1 kilometer -- about 10 of us. I had a little bit of trepidation about getting in with those guys, but they carried me right along. When we made the turn at the halfway point, there was a horde of us. It makes it so much easier when you're not doing all the work.
"At the halfway point, I was on a 15:26 pace, and said 'Oh, oh.' I got a little nervous. . . . But I finished strong. I caught two guys on the the hill."
When it was over, Mattingly was very impressed by the depth and quality of the field, which included runners of all ages.
"It got me thinking about the 5Ks in Buffalo," he said. "We should have a big 5K like that. We have 10 guys who can run fast times. There were 20 guys who broke 16 minutes in the race. The winning time was 14:14 [by Jordan Davis of Syracuse, not a masters runner]."
The news got even better for Mattingly when he realized he had earned prize money for his finishes.
"I got $200 for third, and then I got another $200 for age-grading at 88 percent," he said. "The Genesee Valley Harriers, my team, won the national championship, so I got another 50 bucks. That will pay for the family's trip up there."
In the women's race, Amy Fakterowitz of Williamsville finished fifth in the 40-44 age-group at 19:09, while Brenda Spillman of Buffalo was right behind at 19:35. Western New York had the only two runners in the women's 70-74 division, as Helen Botti of Kenmore was followed by Edna Hyer of South Wales.
Patty Murray of Boulder, Colo. was the overall masters champion at 17:20, while Maureen McCandless of Syracuse was the overall women's winner at 16:26.
The media star of the event was undoubtedly Henry Sypniewski, 90, of Cheektowaga. Not only did he win the 90-94 division with a time of 33:46 (which broke his own national age-group record for the distance), he defeated the 80-84 age-group winner by more than 11 minutes. Sypniewski conducted several interviews before and after the race.
"You sometimes take someone [who lives in this area] that great for granted," Mattingly said.
The race had a couple of features that might be worth noticing by Western New York races. It had split times for each of the 5 kilometers. The festival also had 166 short lines on the course to mark the shortest distance for runners.
"That's a great idea," Mattingly said. "I'm amazed people don't run the tangents more. I think I learned in geometry that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. . . . Last year, they specifically made some analogy that runners could save X amount of seconds just by staying on the course."
*Ridge Walk & Run, various, Wellsville campus of Alfred State College, 9 a.m. today, (585) 593-5080.
*Chestnut Ridge Challenge, 10K, Chestnut Ridge Park, Orchard Park, 9 a.m. Saturday.
*Jack O'Lantern Fall Classic, 5K, Goat Island, Niagara Falls, 10 a.m. Saturday, 285-3421, ext. 33.
*Niagara Falls International Marathon, starts at Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 10 a.m. Oct. 26, (905) 356-9460.
*Joe's 5K, Newfane Elementary School, 10 a.m. Nov. 1, 778-4603.
*Bob Ivory Run, 5K, 845 Kenmore Ave. Town of Tonawanda, 9 a.m. Nov. 2, 270-4113.