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Running: Buffalo Marathon lands coveted speaker

Buffalo Marathon director Greg Weber is always thinking about his job - even when he's in sunny Florida.

Weber was in the Orlando area last month for the Disney distance race weekend. When he was visiting the race expo, he noticed that Jeff Galloway, one of the most influential people in running on a national basis, was speaking there.

"Jeff had a line out the door, 20-25 people deep," Weber said. "I got in line, and I introduced myself. I told him that I'd love him to come to Buffalo. He gave me his private email address.

"He was being courted by a race in Vermont for that weekend. It took about two days for us to get together. He said to send him the contract, and we were done."

Just like that, a major slot in the list of speakers for this year's marathon was filled. Galloway ran the 10,000 meters for the United States Olympic team in 1972 in Munich. He's written several books on running, and has a column in Runner's World magazine.

Galloway also has trained many runners over the years. He even worked with the late Tom Donnelly, the Buffalo Marathon race director before Weber. Galloway came to Buffalo in 1989 to watch some of his clients - only to see the best-laid plans of Donnelly and others to run fast falter because of a surprise snowstorm on that first Sunday in May.

The announcement of Galloway's appearance came earlier this week, and was greeted with enthusiasm by several local runners. Galloway also videotaped a message for the marathon's Facebook page in which he said that he was excited to be coming to this area.

"I was fortunate with Jeff that Memorial Day weekend was free for him," Weber said. "I've been talking to him for the last month on a regular basis. I think he was home for one or two days in that time. He travels a lot. It was like fate that it worked out."

Galloway and Bart Yasso are a good start for any list of speakers at a marathon expo. Yasso is entering his 30th and final year with Runner's World. He's had the title of Chief Running Officer for the magazine since 2007, and is a frequent visitor to races around the country.

"It will be four years in a row here for Bart," Weber said. "He has become a friend. He loves coming back to Buffalo. If you follow his schedule, he rarely goes to the same race in back-to-back years."

The job of marathon race director requires a lot of work and contains little glamour. The chance to meet some of the top people in sport and try to convince them to come to Buffalo is one of the best parts of the job.

"I'm always looking," Weber said. "The speaker's bureau is one of the hardest things to do. I'll get suggestions, but it's not always easy to line them up. For example, I talked to Kathrine Switzer," the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon. "She's going to be in Europe when our race takes place. This is the 50th anniversary of her Boston race. We're talking to her about coming in 2018.

"Everyone I've approached about coming here since I took over the race has been very receptive. These people have become friends. I've created a lot of contacts in this job."

While the idea of a marathon in late spring seems a little distant to many at this point in the winter, that's hardly the case for Weber. He's been worrying about this year's marathon almost since the last one ended.

"We take a week off," Weber said. "We work year-round for 15 to 20 hours a week, lining up sponsors or speakers. We try to figure out what to add to the race, what to change and improve. It's a year-round gig."

Registration for the events (full marathon, half marathon, 5-kilometer run) opened on Sept. 1. The behind-the-scenes preparation for the late May race really geared up in December, when a meeting with staff members is held to get everyone on the same page. The volunteer signup process starts in about a week.

"I'm blessed to be a part of this race," Weber said. "We want to do something for the runners and the community. It's not just a normal 5K. We're focusing on it as a community event.

"Since I've been involved, we've given thousands of dollars to groups like Girls on the Run, the Police Athletic League, and Boys on the Right Track. We've helped kids, runners and those who are less fortunate. It's not just a matter of running 13.1 or 26.2 miles."

Race calendar

* Polar Bear 5K, 1691 Lockport Olcott Road, Olcott, 10 a.m.  Sunday Feb. 26, 434-8887.

* Canisius Chilly Challenge, 5K, 1180 Delaware Ave.,  Buffalo, 10 a.m. Sunday Feb. 26, 882-0466 X262.

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