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As she was being loaded into an ambulance last June after being struck by a car while biking, Maggie Whelehan asked the attendants to be careful: she was captain of her Chase Corporate Challenge team and she intended to run the next week.

Whelehan, who lives in LeRoy, did indeed lead her Bank of Castile team in the Rochester race. And she came back the next week to run the St. Gregory the Great Race in Amherst to stay with the leaders in the Buffalo News Runner of the Year series.

But her aching ligaments and bruised hip needed rest so she took off, as she put it -- and only a runner can appreciate this -- "for one month, five days, and 11 hours."

Whelehan has slowly come back to the point that this year's News series will come down to the final race, Thursday's Turkey Trot, to decide the winner.

Whelehan has 53 points. Leslie Jones has 54. There are 10 points at stake for first place, nine for second and so on, which makes Bridget Niland, a Buffalo attorney who has 48 points, still a contender for the title. But it looks to be a contest between Jones and Whelehan.

On paper, it's Whelehan's series to lose. She's only 26, just hitting her running prime, and as a seasoned competitor first at Penfield High School, and later for Canisius College, she knows how to win.

But races aren't won on paper as Jones, a language teacher in the East Aurora schools, has shown as the delightful surprise of this year's series. At 41, having never competed in school or the years since, Jones, of Hamburg, has cast aside her recreational jogs of the past and is discovering just how fast she is.

At the St. Greg's race in June, Jones won convincingly, a 18:45 to Whelehan's 19:13 in the 5K. But throw that one out, because Whelehan was injured from her bike crash.

The Women's Race on Mother's Day might be a better comparison. There, Whelehan ran a 18:36.1; Jones was just two seconds back in 18:38.1. In other races before her crash, Whelehan's margins of victory were not quite that close. She beat Jones at the Connors Kait Harrity Run, the Greater Buffalo Half Marathon, and the Shamrock Run.

Since returning, Whelehan has beaten Jones at the Police Chase, and in their last head-to-head match, at the Greater Buffalo Track Club's 10K. Whelehan won it in 39:08 and Jones was third in 39:50.

But Jones clings to a one-point lead from her first place at Depew-Lancaster Boy's Club 10K on July 4, a race Whelehan had to skip. So now it all comes down to Thursday. Whelehan is coming back and Jones, nursing a sore hip from the long season, is still game.

"I'll give it my best shot," Jones said of Thursday's race. "It's a tradition. I wouldn't miss it."

It may be that neither woman wins the race. A quick runner home for Thanksgiving always seems to enter the Trot at the last minute.

It's lucky for both Whelehan and Jones that last year's series winner, Amherst pharmacist Kristin Schiesswohl, is out of the running. Schiesswohl, who came back from a stress fracture this summer to run a nifty 3:07 at the Marine Corps Marathon last month, beat Whelehan at last Saturday's Charles McDougald Run at Daemen College, 18:24 to 18:32.

In the men's series, Schiesswohl's significant other, Derek White, has already wrapped up a series victory.

Turkey Trot race director Dan Loncto expects a field of 4,500 to 5,000 for Thursday's race, the biggest field since the 100th anniversary running three years ago.

Speedy Canadian

Ed Whitlock, a retired mining engineer from Milton, Ont., who comes across the border now and then to blow away the competition here, uncorked a doozy at the Columbus (Ohio) Marathon on Nov. 8.

Whitlock, at age 67, ran an incredible 2 hours, 51 minutes, 17 seconds. He finished first in his age group, but also placed 89th in a field of 3,153 runners.

Ryan Lamppa of USA Track & Field's road running information center said Whitlock's Canadian citizenship keeps him out of the record books in the States. But he said Whitlock's time would shatter the existing single-age record of 2:55:15, and is third all-time in the age group 65-69.

McDougald Fund

There were 420 runners who raised $4,000 for the Charles McDougald Scholarship Run at the 5K Daemen held for the slain police officer, who was a Daemen graduate. McDougald's widow, Sylvia, walked the race with Daemen President Martin J. Anisman.

Upcoming races

J.Y. Cameron Memorial YMCA Thanksgiving Day Run, The Turkey Trot, (final Buffalo News Runner of the Year race), 9 a.m., Thurs., 875-1283; Reindeer Run, 5K, Medaille College through Forest Lawn, 10 a.m., Dec. 5, 884-3281; Jingle Bell Run For Arthritis, 5K, ECC City Campus, 11 a.m., Dec. 5, 837-8600.

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