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BORDER-CROSSING RACE COULD FACE HURDLES

Anyone planning to run the Casino Niagara Marathon on Oct. 21 had to be anxious about the Peace Bridge in recent days.

Everyday life undoubtedly will become more normal in the month or so before the marathon, but will bridge traffic across the border still be delayed?

Or would customs and immigration officials on both sides simply say "No, this is not the time for a marathon?"

Nobody knows what will happen between now and then. But race officials say the marathon is still proceeding as scheduled.

And, they say, if something beyond their control does come up, they have an alternate plan to run the entire race in Canada.

This race revived the old Skylon International Course and its American start after an earlier marathon ran the entire course along Canada's scenic Niagara Parkway.

No matter where it starts, Casino Niagara will still boast having "The World's Most Famous Finish Line."

Runners come off the last turn, a nice gentle slope down and to the right, and finish at the old Ontario Hydro building at the rapids just before the Falls.

If it goes as planned, as an international race, it will start in downtown Buffalo and then go 4 1/2 miles to the Peace Bridge.

Crossing the bridge is easily one of the best parts of any marathon course.

The Peace Bridge, maligned as it might be at times, is absolutely wonderful to run across, especially during the marathon when runners have the lane to Canada all to themselves.

And while the bridge summit is the only real hill on the course, no one ever seems to notice the climb.

How could they? Runners hit that bridge and their legs seem to lighten. Everyone wants to run too fast. It's the hardest part of the race to run under control.

At some point, coming over the relatively calm Black Rock Channel, and then higher above the mighty Niagara River, they see the American and Canadian flags flying and the obvious hits them: They're running into another country.

We who live here get jaded crossing the Peace Bridge. From a car, you might not always pay attention to the moment you cross the border, but on foot it's all right there before you.

It is indeed a border crossing, and there's been a lot of serious business there lately as agents routinely check every trunk and question more closely everyone coming across.

But marathoners and those doing the first leg will have cleared Customs beforehand as part of registration, so they will breeze right through. No lines on this day.

And at five miles, at the very peak of the bridge, as runners cross into Canada, they'll run beneath the American flag. It should be interesting to witness.

Staggered start

Race director Jim Ralston staggers the start for Casino Niagara, starting with walkers at 8 a.m. The half marathon runners begin at 8:30 a.m., followed by the inline skaters marathon at 9:30 a.m. Finally, at 10 a.m., the marathon runners and those doing the first relay leg begin their race.

Because of the border crossing, this is a race that insists on pre-race deadlines. The cut-off date for registration is Oct. 8. Entries have to be in the marathon office, 5515 Stanley Ave. in Niagara Falls, Ont. by 5 p.m. on that day.

Those doing the inline marathon, the marathon, and the first relay leg have to clear U.S. and Canadian Customs and Immigration on Oct. 20 at race headquarters, the Sheraton on the Falls. Prize money this year is $25,000. All participants have to pick up their race numbers in person.

For more information call (905) 356-9460, or go to the Web site, www.niagarafallstourism.com/niagarathon.html

John Beishline, who handles traffic on this side of the border for the race, is asking for volunteers. Call him at 694-5154.

Around the circuit

The South Buffalo Athletic Club has quickly organized an impromptu run in honor of the terrorism attack victims.

On Sat., Oct. 14, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., there will be a run, or walk, at the Jack Donohue Track behind Southside Junior High School on Southside Parkway.

There are no fees, but all donations will go to the American Red Cross for its efforts in New York City. Club president Bob Laskowski is looking for donations of prizes, snacks and drinks. Call him at 822-0790 or e-mail at SBAthletic Club @aol.com.

Oops. I married off Kevin Cotter, the former Olympic Rower from the West Side Rowing Club who is training now for triathlons. He is still single.

And Mary Wittenberg, the West Seneca native who is executive vice president of the New York Road Runners Club, won the Marine Corps Marathon when she was working for a Richmond, Va. law firm, not going to law school there. She graduated from Notre Dame's law school.

Race officials for the Oct. 27 Jack O'Lantern Fall Classic, a 5K race on Goat Island that is part of the Buffalo News Runner of the Year series, said the age groups listings on the applications they printed are wrong. They've changed them to conform to the series, which has age groups up to 80-and-over for the men, and 70-and-over for the women.

Upcoming races

Linda Yalem Memorial Run, 5K (Buffalo News Runner of the Year series), UB Amherst Campus, 10 a.m., today, 645-3141 or www.student-affairs.buffalo.edu/events/; Mulligan's Brick Bar 5K for Variety's Kids, Allen Street, 6 p.m., Thurs., 517-3454 or 854-7577; Charlene D. Page Memorial 5K Run, D'Youville College, 11:30 a.m., Sat., 515-0608 or millere@dyc.edu; Great Niagara Gorge Festival, 5K, Niagara Falls, 11 a.m., Sat., 852-0688; Nickel City Duathlon (2.5 mile run/16 mile bike/2.5 mile run) and 2.5 mile road race, Beaver Island State Park, 10 a.m., Sat., 689-2493.

e-mail: mbeebe@buffnews.com

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