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Beer is large part of racing culture

Can Western New York runners be separated from their beer? Not a chance.

Ask Shawna Dosser.

"One year, we took on a 5K race that was done by a corporation at Buffalo State," said Dosser, who headed the recent Eden Lacrosse 5K race. "We had a committee that was formed from members from previous years. Alcohol came up. It was a nonprofit event, and one of the mission statements said that we were not to have alcohol at any events. I told the committee that. They said, we have to have beer. I said, we can't. So we didn't.

"We held the race, and then some runners got kegs for after the race, and handed me the bill."

Dosser thought that was quite funny, and said everyone had a good time at the postrace party. The anecdote is typical. Beer is a staple in the Western New York running scene, much more so than in other locations around the continent, according to those who have run elsewhere.

All of those open taps have the potential for problems, especially in an era of increasing crackdowns on drunk driving. But a check of local race administrators and runners reveals an awareness of the possibility of incidents, and no signs of alcohol-related problems in the running community.

The discussion starts at the beginning: beer or no beer for after a race? Put Vicki Mitchell down firmly with the no beer group.

"I would easily admit I'm an extremist," said Mitchell, head men's and women's cross country coach at the University at Buffalo. "I'm working with young, impressionable athletes of high quality at UB. It's important for them to realize that there is no place for beer or alcohol in any athlete."

That's not a particularly popular viewpoint on a college campus, but Mitchell believes it's a necessary one if a runner wants to fulfill his or her potential.

"It's definitely a choice that they need to make," she said. "My serious athletes do not drink. . . . During the season, they have to resist that temptation."

Even Mitchell realizes that the typical Western New York race is not filled with elite athletes. The competitors come in all shapes, and many enjoy having a beer with friends once the run is done.

"I'm definitely for beer," said Joanie Hays of Snyder. "It's more for the social aspect. The little parties are good get-togethers."

"You've trained hard, eaten right, and run a long race. It's nice to have a little balance by having a beer after the race with friends," added Tony Garrow of North Tonawanda.

It's been drummed into athletes to rehydrate after intense physical activity. The best way to do that is with water. Anything else, according to two-time Olympian and exercise physiologist Pete Pfitzinger, will slow the recovery from a run.

However, Pfitzinger has written that if some social drinking is part of your postrace routine, you at least should have a glass of water for every glass of beer.

"Everybody knows that," Hays said. "When you're done with a race, you go with water first, hydrate, and have something to eat."

The possibility of someone -- particularly a novice runner -- abusing the offer of unlimited beer is present. Yet Jim Nowicki, race director of the Subaru Buffalo 4-Mile Chase for 25 years, has never seen any alcohol-related incidents at races.

"I've gone to a lot of races as a race director pushing the Subaru, or running in races," he said. "There have been no problems at all. I've never seen -- knock on wood -- an incident."

A majority of area races serve beer to runners. Dosser's race in Eden, which raised money for school lacrosse, was an exception.

"It came up when we were trying to set up the race in Eden," she said. "It's a school function, partially on school property, so we didn't think we should have alcohol. We probably didn't get some of the avid racers. But we were dealing with family-oriented and school activities, and we felt it was essential not to have alcohol served."

And if anything, Dosser was a bit relieved not to worry about this particular issue.

"What happens if there's an accident on the way home?" she asked. "I'd never want an event to have that responsibility. We're in a small community. The kids live in this community. You're seeing lawsuits related to alcohol."

The 4-Mile Chase has had beer at all but a couple of its 25 runnings. Nowicki has tried to make sure there are no postrace horror stories.

"In our situation, we'll pour (beer) after the race (around 6:30 p.m.) and we'll shut it off at 9 o'clock," he said. "When a keg is finished, we won't open another one. We have bouncers. There's one way into the beer area, one way out. We have warning signs up. You have to have a wrist band to get a beer."

One of the most surprising aspects of beer consumption at races is that it takes place virtually from sunrise to after sundown. The most obvious example of an early start comes in November with the Turkey Trot. The race starts at 9, the taps are open before 10.

"The Turkey Trot is a 100-year tradition," Nowicki said. "If you go into the Buffalo House (across the street from the finish line) after the race, you can't move. And that's at 11 o'clock. . . . But I don't see people getting hammered. A couple of beers, and they are on their way to Thanksgiving dinner."

It's difficult to tell how much of an attraction beer is for runners. It's often heard that beer represents an attraction for Canadian runners, since races there are not allowed to serve it in public places. (Parties staged in sponsoring restaurants get around that restriction.) However, in the recent Mississippi Mudds race, only nine of the 600 finishers were listed as from Canada.

But something is clearly at work as to why Western New York has one of the busiest racing calendars for an area its size in the country. Postrace parties are a part of the sport locally, and beer represents a part of the attraction of those parties to many.

"Beer at the postrace party is basically a tradition and a celebration," Nowicki said. "It's what makes Buffalo races stand out."

> Upcoming races

Erie Marathon, Presque Isle, Old Lake Road, Erie, Pa., 7 a.m. today, (814) 899-1033. . . . Bertrand Chaffee Hospital and Home TLC Challenge 5K Run, Chaffee Hospital, 224 E. Main St., Springville, 9 a.m. today, 592-2871. . . .People for the Steeple 5K Run, St. Anthony's R.C. Church, 160 Court St., 6:30 p.m. Friday, 662-3609. . . . Rochester Marathon '05; Frontier Field, Rochester; 8 a.m. Saturday; (585) 264-1480. . . . Habitat Run, 5K, Westminster Presbyterian Church, 724 Delaware Ave., 9 a.m. Saturday, 884-9437. . . . Shirley DePalma Memorial Wellness Run, 5K, Erie CC South Campus, 4041 Southwestern Blvd., Orchard Park, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 842-4469. . . . Lebro's Fall Classic 5K Run, Lebro's Restaurant, 30 Campbell Blvd., Getzville, 10 a.m. Saturday, 688-0404. . . . Shea's 5K Run, 646 Main St., 11:30 a.m. Sept. 18, 884-7994.

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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