There’s a hole right in the middle of the heart of the Buffalo Marathon this year.
John Beishline, who had been the race director of the event for the past 14 years, died last December. The race will feel a little different without Beishline and his ever-present bullhorn.
“It’s sad in a lot of ways. I miss him for all the things he did,” said Tom Donnelly, Beishline’s assistant who was promoted to race director this year. “He brought it back in 2000. He brought everyone together, and assembled a significant team. John had a good eye for talent, and that’s important.
“A lot of these committee members are like mini-race directors. They have an area of responsibility, and they are in charge. They tackle it and make it better each year. That’s a reason why we have had significant growth in recent years.”
The two men had worked well together in recent years in putting together an event that is always a huge logistical challenge to assemble. Now that partnership has ended. Donnelly says his promotion won’t affect the race very much.
“I always took it seriously. With John gone, I can’t blame anyone else – not that I ever did,” he said. “When things happened, when there were mini-successes, the first people we’d call is each other. ‘Hey, John, guess what? We just got another sponsor.’ And vice-versa. Now I look up instead.”
At least Beishline won’t be forgotten at this year’s event. For starters, a 5-kilometer run has been added to Sunday’s activities, and it has been named “The John Beishline Memorial 5K.”
“Every single bib will have his image in the background, complete with the bullhorn,” Donnelly said. “It’s a typical yet iconic picture of John. There will be signage paying tribute to him, and all of the award medals for the 5K will have his image. His wife, Joanne, will be around all weekend.”
The 5-kilometer race will begin at 6:45 a.m., which might be the earliest start for a race of that distance in Western New York history. The Marathon and Half-Marathon will start at 7 a.m.
Runners who take off on either a 26.2-mile or 13.1-mile jaunt through Buffalo will be seeing some different sights than they have in the past. Road construction on Ohio Street meant that the course had to be altered. The first 6 miles of both races essentially go from downtown to Delaware Park and back. Runners will then stay fairly close to the waterfront as they complete 13.1 miles. Marathoners then will head back to North Buffalo before working their way back to the finish line at the Convention Center.
A new policy this year: Officials reserve the right to check any bags of those entering a Marathon-related venue. On race day, runners can leave a clear plastic bag (provided by the race at registration) at a specified area on the second floor of the Convention Center, and then pick it up upon completion.
The activity actually starts on Saturday with the race expo, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the second floor of the Convention Center. A variety of vendors will be there, including a company that will be selling official race items such as shirts, glasses and cinch bags.
Among the speakers is Bart Yasso, the chief running officer at Runner’s World. He will talk at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Yasso also will stage an informal group run from the Hyatt Regency Hotel to the waterfront and back; all are invited to join him in the lobby of the Hyatt at 8 a.m.
A 26.2-yard run for children will be held at 2 p.m. The pre-race pasta dinner will be held at the St. Anthony’s Church banquet at 160 Court St. (behind City Hall) starting at 4 p.m. Reservations are available at half-hour intervals; they can be acquired at the Packet Pickup area in the Convention Center.
“We’re using seating assignments for the church, because we’ve outgrown the church,” Donnelly said. “We want to even things out, and try to keep any one time from being too heavy. Next year, we plan to move it to the Convention Center.”
The men’s field looks particularly crowded at the top. Kiplangat Tisia of Kenya, a two-time winner of the half-marathon here, won the Rochester Marathon last year in a course record of 2 hours, 19 minutes and 59 seconds. Tesfaye Assefa Duke of Ethiopia has a personal best of 2:18:22 in Duluth, Minn.
Sam Morse of the U.S. finished in 2:21:57 in Chicago last year. Geofery Kiprotich of Kenya ran a 2:24:02 in Toledo ... on April 27.
In the women’s race, Muliye Gurmu of Ethiopia is back to defend her title. She ran a 2:51:15 in 2013. Meanwhile, Woynishet Hailu Abebe of Ethiopia has a 2:38 time to her credit, and Salina Tarus of Kenya won a marathon in Puerto Rico in March with a 2:35:33.
“We’re definitely more than 20 percent ahead of last year in terms of numbers,” Donnelly said earlier in the week. “We had 205 in the 5K, 3,600 in the half, and 1,600 in the marathon. Those numbers will grow as we get closer to race day.”
For comparison’s sake, the marathon had 1,234 finishers last year, while the half-marathon had 3,059. Considering that it wasn’t a great winter for training for a marathon, Donnelly is pleased with the registration figures.
“A lot of people dropped from the full to the half in the last month, and some half-marathon runners dropped to the 5K,” Donnelly said. “You have a lot of people that can train for the half in bad weather. I’m impressed with 1,600 in the marathon.”