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New Buffalo Marathon race director stays the course

The new race director of the Buffalo Marathon hopes to follow a great tradition of leadership.

John Beishline, who gave the event its pulse back, died in December 2013. He was replaced by Tom Donnelly, who had been Beishline’s top assistant for the previous few years. Donnelly helped bring the marathon to new heights, but passed away suddenly last November.

Now it’s Greg Weber’s turn to write a new chapter in the history of the event.

“I had some very big shoes to fill,” said Weber, who was appointed as race director shortly after Donnelly’s death. “It remains my goal to see their vision come true.”

Weber had an idea of what was involved in the job, even though the amount of work – with its 70-hour weeks – is still surprising.

“Tom brought me in seven years ago, when we had 1,800 people running,” Weber said. “We were having problems with water on the course, and the volunteers weren’t happy. We created a process to fix it, and then we handed it off to someone else. Then Tom wanted me to fix the finish line. I learned more about the race that way.

“I shared Tom’s passion for the race. Tom and I used to bounce ideas off each other. We worked closely together. I was almost his assistant.”

When Donnelly died, people started calling Weber “the new race director,” even though he didn’t do any lobbying for the post. But he soon was picked for the position – and soon learned how big of a task it is.

“I have learned a ton,” Weber said. “Until we get all the way through the race, I still don’t know what I don’t know. I have a good board, and a great committee. I said I wouldn’t do it if I would lose people in the committee. We maintained the status quo.”

Weber made a call to someone who knew more than a little bit about putting on a race: Mary Wittenberg, the Western New York native who ran the New York City Marathon for several years. She had plenty of good ideas.

“Mary suggested from the get-go to get the race off this year,” Weber said. “I was the idea guy pushing the envelope. It turned out, the list of new things is about 50 or 60 items long now.”

The most obvious change in this year’s race is that it’s too late to register for any of the competitions. The marathon, half-marathon, and marathon relay are all sold out – a first in the event’s history. More than 7,000 runners are expected for the weekend. It’s easy to think that adding runners to a field in a big event like a marathon isn’t much of a problem, but it truly is.

“There are definitely limitations,” Weber said. “We ordered shirts and medals in January on projected numbers. There are physical limitations on certain sections of the course. There are limitations on the expo, limitations on registration. It gets harder and harder as the population goes up. We have to be in a position to be able to handle everything.”

Participants will notice some of those new ideas throughout the weekend. The start, for example, will go up Delaware Avenue briefly in order to create a little more breathing room for the runners in the early going. Construction has forced some other minor changes in the route.

Runners who do both Saturday morning’s 5-kilometer run and the marathon will receive a special Donnelly pin in tribute to the late race director.

Before the race, an expo will be held at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. Not only is registration there, but vendors will be on hand to display products.

Race organizers have done their best job yet of organizing speakers. The list includes Wittenberg, Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray, and Bart Yasso of Runner’s World. The traditional prerace pasta dinner has been moved to the Convention Center, and will be served from 3 to 7 p.m.

Some good runners will be here for the marathon. They may have heard that breaking an event record is now worth a bonus of $2,000 – doubled from 2014. The list includes:

• Kiplingat Tisia of Kenya, who set the event record last year by winning in 2 hours, 17 minutes and 16 seconds.

• Birhanu Dare Kemel of Ethiopia, who finished third in the Buffalo Marathon in 2014.

• Bryan Morseman of Bath, the winner of the 2014 Wineglass Marathon in Corning.

• Hirut Guangul of Ethiopia; she has a personal best marathon time of 2:34:02.

• Christa Meyer of Boston, who is moving up to the full marathon after placing second in the half-marathon here last year.

Winners of the marathon earn $2,000 each, while a victory in the half-marathon is good for $500.

The Buffalo Marathon has entered into a partnership with Team RWB, a group that is trying to enhance the lives of America’s veterans. Chapters of Team RWB will gather here to compete for bragging rights in the race. The organization is one of 10 not-for-profit organizations that will benefit from the Buffalo Marathon.

The marathon and half-marathon begin at 7 a.m. Sunday. Drivers may encounter detours and delays around the course route.

Additional details can be found at buffalomarathon.com.

email: bbailey@buffnews.com