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TROTTERS SHOULD GET THEIR TURKEY DINNER QUICKER

Remember those long lines in the finishing chute at the Turkey Trot each Thanksgiving Day?

Forget about them.

Have you ever turned the corner from Niagara Square at the Turkey Trot, putting on that finishing kick to outrun the person in front, only to find a backup that stopped everyone dead 50 to 100 yards from the finish line?

Forget about that, too.

And have you ever been so far stuck near the back of the pack it took you five minutes or more just to get across the starting line?

Well, that's no longer a problem, either.

The Delaware YMCA Turkey Trot, after a vote by its race committee Wednesday night, will become the first race in Buffalo to use the ChampionChip.

If you haven't run an out-of-town race big enough to use this timing device, you're in for a treat. And if you have, you can stop wondering about when the chip is coming to Buffalo.

"There isn't any question it's the right decision for a race this size," race director Dan Loncto said of the Turkey Trot, which had 4,398 finishers last year and ranked as the third-largest 8-kilometer race in the country.

"The Turkey Trot is the premier race in Buffalo," Loncto said of what is also the nation's oldest continually run road race. "We didn't want someone else to be the first race to use the chip."

Now four years on the market, the ChampionChip is a small electronic transponder or radio transmitter that you tie to your shoe.

You pass over an electronic mat at the starting line, which is basically a series of antennae that pick up your signal and send it back to a computer. Another mat at the end of the race again picks up your signal.

The result is an accurate record of exactly how fast you ran from start to finish. If it takes a few minutes to get to the starting line, it doesn't matter. Your time starts at the starting line mat.

There is no back up at the finish line chute, because there is no finish line chute. They're not necessary.

I've run chip races at the Bobby Crim 10 Miler in Flint, Mich., and the Chicago Marathon and can testify to the freedom you feel coming across the finish without having to be herded into one chute or another. You finish anywhere you please in the road. It's a small thing, but at the end of a tiring race, small things matter.

There are a few precautions race directors have to take when using the ChampionChip. Those competing for the top overall spots, as well as the top masters runners, will be timed with a clock. Everyone else, including those competing in the age groups, will be chip timed.

And it will be more expensive. Each runner will pay an extra $1 to cover the additional cost.

Anne Scinta, a YMCA executive who has worked closely with the Turkey Trot, said the committee feels the chip will eliminate the primary complaint she receives about the race: the frustration at both the start and finish when people realize the clock is ticking and they're stuck behind others.

Both she and Loncto feel they can lure back runners who had felt the race was too crowded, the starting and finishing lines too congested.

"I think the Turkey Trot is a good race to do it," Ms. Scinta said of the chip, "and it's a good time, going into the new millennium."

Running numbers

A survey by the American Sports Data Institute shows there were 10.7 million frequent runners last year in the United States, defined as whose who ran 100 days or more.

That's a lot of people running about one out of every three days, but even more impressive are the demographics: the average income was $62,900. And about half the frequent runners still had average family incomes of about $50,000, compared to a national average of $30,000.

Buffalo's Chase Corporate Challenge, with its 12,000 entries in 1998, was the 36th-largest road race in the country. The largest was San Francisco's Bay to Breakers, with 53,120 runners, followed closely by Atlanta's Peachtree Road Race with 51,000.

The local Chase race was the sixth-largest 3 1/2 -mile race in the country, a category dominated by the Corporate Challenge series. Buffalo had two entries in the largest 8-kilometer races, with the Turkey Trot in second, with 4,398 finishers, and the Shamrock Run in eighth place with 2,630.

Upcoming races

Bertrand Chaffee TLC Challenge, 5K, 10:15 a.m., today, 592-2871; Father Baker 5K, 5:30 p.m., 828-9444; Robert Swift 5K Run, Tonawanda YMCA, 6 p.m., Fri., 874-5051; Findley Lake 10K, 9 a.m., Sat., 769-7538; Lebro's Fall Classic, 5K, Amherst, 10 a.m., Sat., 688-0404; Shea's 5K Run, downtown, 11:30 a.m., Sept. 19, 847-1410, ext. 127.

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