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Directing a marathon is probably the only thing harder than running one.

Jim Ralston, race director for the Casino Niagara Marathon, knew that even before the rain and high wind blew through last Sunday morning.

He and his race crews had already laid out and measured a new, all-Canadian course after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks made crossing the Peace Bridge too much to consider doing this year.

And then, after beautiful crisp fall weather on Friday and Saturday, race day brought doom and gloom. Ten minutes before starting time, it was raining so hard Ralston couldn't see a huge yellow crane holding a banner a few hundred feet away.

The in-line skaters were already out slipping and sliding on the course. As were the half-marathoners, who were probably glad they were going only half way.

But then, like everything else about the Casino Niagara experience this year, things worked out. The rain suddenly stopped.

It never quite turned into a nice fall day, and the rain returned for a short time, but the fact it stopped lifted everyone's spirits, including the race director's.

"I was very pleased with it," Ralston said of the day. "It was the biggest crowd at the finish line I've ever seen. There were literally thousands of people."

Jean-Paul Niyonsaba, who recently moved to Canada from Burundi, won in a relatively slow 2 hours, 24 minutes, 27 seconds. But who knows how fast the race would have gone if El Mostafa Damaoui of Morocco hadn't stepped into a pothole at five miles.

"He twisted his ankle," Ralston said. "I'll give the guy credit. He stayed with it. He said, 'Well, you (paid my way), I'll stay with it.' "

Damaoui finished in 2:29:30, just behind the first American, Kyle Fraser, of Madison, Wis., in 2:28:53.

Danuta Bartoszek of Mississauga, the 15th finisher overall, was the first woman in 2:46:40, followed by Tania Jones of Maple, Ont., in 2:48:01.

There were 1,045 finishers in the marathon, a very respectable number.

Flag Bearers

Tom Appenheimer Sr. is a pretty good runner for a guy in his 50s, but he's not quite good enough to be leading a marathon.

But there he was last Sunday, running up the Niagara Parkway, leading all runners at Casino Niagara.

He kept telling the people at the water stops that the real leaders were coming behind him.

Appenheimer was part of a group of 10 or so runners who, at the request of the marathon, made a symbolic run across the Peace Bridge, carrying American and Canadian flags from the usual starting point in Buffalo.

He and Bill Donnelly were leading the group once they cleared the bridge and started heading toward where they thought they would join the race past the 5-mile mark.

"These two Parks guys said, 'No, you're going the wrong way,' " Appenheimer said. "So we followed the roller bladers and all of a sudden we see a sign that says nine miles. Cripes, I led the race until 15 miles."

Appenheimer's best marathon time is a respectable 3:05 but after the wrong directions he was given, he ran a short course 2:54.

Running Shorts

Just before Appenheimer finished, a huge gust of wind blew up and brought down the finish-line scaffolding that photographers use for the official race shots sold to runners. The scaffolding came down on the head of Sue Tigler, who shoots for Marasports with her husband Stuart. She was taken away by ambulance, but Ralston said it turned out to be only some scratches and bruises. She was back shooting photographs of runners coming across in 4 hours.

Let's find what Barry Dunstan has been eating lately and package it. Dunstan, who just took seven minutes off his personal best marathon by running a 2:39:46 in Chicago, came back two weeks later at Casino Niagara and ran a 2:45:18.

Matt Glynn, who was holding down second place in The Buffalo News Runner of the Year series coming into the weekend, ran a 2:39:24 at last weekend's Baltimore Marathon. That's four minutes better than the former personal best he ran last year at Toronto.

The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame could not have picked a better first distance runner to induct last week or a nicer guy than Mark Finucane, the former St. Francis and East Tennessee State star who is a fire captain in Johnson City, Tenn. Now let's work on getting the next runner inducted. How about a woman this time? Nancy Mieszczak, Jennifer Colgrove Martin, Vicki Mitchell?

Upcoming Races

Niagara Association AAU Youth Cross-Country Championships, Grand Island High School, 11 a.m., today, 839-4346; Rootie's 5K, Stahl near Millersport, Amherst, 1 p.m., today, 693-2040, 688-0100; Charles McDougald 5K, Daemen College, Amherst, 11 a.m., Sat., 839-8212; Buffalo Philharmonic A.C.'s Chestnut Ridge Challenge, 10K, 9 a.m., Sat., 823-4674; UAW Local 686 Veterans Appreciation Run, 5K, Lockport, 12:30 p.m., Nov. 10, 439-2994; Hospice of Orleans County Dash for Hope and Dignity, 5K, Albion, 11 a.m., Nov. 10, 589-0809; Bob Ivory Run, 5K, St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, 9 a.m., Nov. 11, 873-3599.

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