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It took a classy move by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery to remind me how nice it was that when Jim Ralston revived the ghost of the Skylon International Marathon he returned it to its original starting line, the wonderful sweeping backyard of the gallery.

The Albright-Knox has invited runners in today's Casino Niagara International Marathon to step into the gallery to stay warm before the starting gun, a humanitarian gesture that also makes good promotional sense.

Casino Niagara attracts mostly out of towners. Only about 15 percent of the 1,000 or so runners in last year's marathon were from New York State, and a lot of those came from outside Western New York.

It's a wise move to invite these visitors into one of the most impressive spaces in the city. Marathoners who travel away from home to race fit a pretty elite demographic. They enjoy the better things in life. It might make them want to come back some day.

Obviously, the gallery's gesture is a see-how-it-goes kind of situation. If it's anything like most marathon waiting areas, most everyone will be on the marble floor stretching every which way, worrying about whether wind or rain will affect the race, wondering why people use smelly sports creams before a marathon. (Or at least I wonder that. What difference is a thin layer of ointment going to make running 26 miles and 385 yards?)

Skylon was the first marathon for a lot of us. The course holds fond memories. It doesn't matter how many you run, how jaded you might get about running that far. When you run a marathon for the first time, it's an incredible adventure.

Runners never know, no matter how hard or how many miles they run in training, whether they'll last all through a marathon until they do it.

Casino Niagara follows the old Skylon route to Canada: past the mansions of another era on Lincoln Parkway, up the broad reach of Richmond Avenue with First Presbyterian's impressive tower drawing you forward, around Symphony Circle past Kleinhan's Music Hall onto Porter Avenue, and finally over the Peace Bridge high above the Niagara River.

You blow through Canadian Customs legally, and then get ready for that long pull up the Niagara Parkway to what the race justly calls the world's most famous finish line at Niagara Falls.

The Albright-Knox to Niagara Falls. It almost makes running 26.2 miles seem like fun.

Know when to fold 'em

Did you make it to the 5K Race for Homeless Veterans a week ago Saturday in LaSalle Park? I didn't think so.

There was a grand total of 13 runners who came across the finish line. Thirteen. That's barely enough people to choose up sides for a sandlot baseball game. It's certainly not worth holding a race when 13 people show up.

It was one of three races held that same day, Oct. 16. St. Mary's School for the Deaf, which puts on a nice 5K, drew 69 finishers, and a new race, the Southtowns YMCA 5K in West Seneca, had 73 finishers.

Both of those races have to wonder about their futures when they draw so few. But 13 finishers? Why bother? There has to be a better way to draw attention to homeless veterans than that.

It might be a better course to do what an increasing number of races have done this year. Call it quits. The latest to do so is the Iron Island Patriotic 5K Express, which had been scheduled for this coming Saturday.

Race director Virginia Figura said the group failed to find a sponsor, very few applications were coming in, and the organization couldn't afford to run it on its own, so they canceled. It's never easy to pull the plug, but sometimes it makes sense.

Double trouble

Anyone who finishes an Iron Man has to be admired for pure stamina. Swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and then running 26.2 miles is not a task for the weak-willed.

So what do you say about John Pepke, a member of the Buffalo Triathlon Club and Bond Lake A.C. He did twice that. Pepke finished the Odyssey Double Iron Triathlon at Lake Anna State Park in Spotsylvania County, Va., on Oct. 8-9 in 34 hours and 19 minutes.

For the record, that was a 4.8-mile swim, 224-mile bike ride, and 52.4-mile run. There were nine finishers and Pepke was fifth.

Upcoming races

Casino Niagara Marathon, 5K, half marathon, start Albright-Knox, 10 a.m., today, (905) 356-9460,; Cadets for Vets 5K, Canisius ROTC, Forest Lawn, noon, today, 692-5733 or 888-3236; St. Augustine Center Run for Peace, 5K, Delaware Park, 2 p.m., today, 881-3700; Jack O'Lantern Fall Classic, 5K, Goat Island, Niagara Falls, 10 a.m., Sat., 282-1228, Halloween 5K, Medina, 10:45 a.m., Sat., 589-5516, ext. 227; Charles E. McDougald Memorial 5K Run, Daemen College, Amherst, 11 a.m., Sat., 839-8212; Veterans 5K, Lockport, noon, Nov. 6, 433-6747, ext. 26; Bob Ivory Run, 5K, St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, 845 Kenmore Ave., Town of Tonawanda (Buffalo News Runner of the Year race), 9 a.m., Nov. 7, 873-3599 or

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