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The demise of the Praxair 10K takes local road racing another step toward blandness, the same-old same-old, vanilla ice cream or all the other ways to describe the growing trend toward 5-kilometer races.

Praxair, and Linde before the new company it spawned, put on the 10,000-meter road race for 16 years from its plant in Town of Tonawanda, sending runners off to the Sheridan Park golf course, Two-Mile Creek and Niawanda Park.

Plant manager Dennis Conroy announced the end in a one-paragraph letter last week:

"Praxair has decided not to sponsor the 10K Race for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1998. The event has been hosted by Praxair for the past (16) years and has raised over $100,000 for the MS Society. Praxair will continue to help the MS Society provide support to the 2,800 people afflicted with MS in Western New York by making a 1998 donation equivalent to its 1997 contribution from race proceeds."

Jack Noyes, the race director and a Praxair employee, said it came down to just being too much work for the number of runners who came out, 420 in 1997 according to Don Mitchell of Runtime Services. Noyes said there were nearly as many fitness walkers and relay runners as the 10K runners.

"We didn't want to reach the point where we didn't put on a quality race," Noyes said. "If we were going to do it, we wanted to go all out and do a quality job."

The race offered prize money to top winners in its early years, and has always been part of The Buffalo News Runner of the Year series, an effort to recognize quality races that go beyond the too-frequent 5Ks, the 3.1-mile favorites.

We have nothing against a 5K road race. It's a challenging distance. Just long enough to make you realize you should be ready if you plan to race, but short enough so you don't have to train for months.

But enough is enough.

Last year we listed 115 "upcoming races." Seventy-three percent, or 84 of them, were 5Ks. The other 31 ranged from one mile to the marathon.

A half-dozen of those races were 10Ks, a distance that not too long ago was one of the most popular lengths to race. Now there are five.

Road rules

A number of race directors and runners have complained in the last few years about races bunching up on some weekends, while other weekends have few. There was a time when a race director could be almost certain to have the day alone.

What's different now? Call it the free marketplace.

Years ago, The Athletics Congress, the predecessor of USA Track & Field, was the only place to go to get the $1 million insurance policy that most cities, towns and villages require before issuing race permits.

Race sanctioners, like John Beishline, the former president of the Niagara chapter of USA Track & Field, had complete control of the calender through the sanctions and those hard-to-obtain insurance policies. He tried to keep everyone happy and usually succeeded, and the result was a very defined calendar with no surprises.

Two things have happened since. First, the sanctioning moved to Rochester and is a little less close to the Buffalo scene. But the biggest, more important change is the insurance now available through the Road Runners Club of America.

If a race now hooks up with the Road Runners -- the Greater Buffalo Track Club and South Buffalo Athletic Club are just two local chapters -- there is no longer any need for a USA Track & Field sanction to get race insurance.

That makes it an impossible job for Bill Kehoe, the owner of a Rochester T-shirt shop who sanctions races in Western New York for USA Track & Field. It's an unpaid, thankless job. He knows he can no longer control the race calendar and makes no attempt to do so. If you want a race date and your forms are in order, you've got it.

"When they come in, I make sure everything is done and slap a (sanctioning) stamp on it," Kehoe said. "I can't ride herd on them."

If he says no, a race can just go to the competition. Race directors are going to have to start negotiating to avoid race gridlock.

Running long

The Honolulu Marathon has had great success in luring thousands of Japanese to run its race, but at what price?

The Dec. 14 race drew an astounding 17,000 Japanese, outnumbering the 10,400 Hawaiians, 3,300 mainland Americans and 1,190 assorted others.

How did it happen? Race director Jim Barahal has lifted the time limits and many of the Japanese participants take more than 12 hours -- 12 hours! -- to finish.

"This is a people's race," Barahal is quoted as saying in the current online edition of Road Race Management. "The roads are closed to all traffic all day and the runners can take as long as they want. They love that."

Upcoming races

Gordon's Gallop, one lap of Delaware Park, 11:45 p.m., Wed., New Year's Eve, 837-3031; Resolution Run and Wellness Walk, 5K, noon, Thurs., New Year's Day, Williamsville, 633-1635; Mr. Ed's Super Bowl Warm-up, 5K, Middleport, 11:30 a.m., Jan. 25, 433-7152.