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WNY is fertile ground for fledgling racers

Let's go to the mailbag and see what's inside:

I am fairly new to the area and have never raced locally. A friend and I are re-jump-starting our running and looking for information. Can you help?

Elizabeth of Lockport

It's easy to forget that people are coming and going from Western New York all the time, and they need basic information as a starting point.

Elizabeth, this is a great area for running. The participants are numerous, helpful and friendly.

>Where should I run?

If you are in Lockport, you probably have discovered the towpath, also called the Erie Canalway Trail. Runners and cyclists tell me they love it. It's 85 miles from Lockport to Palmyra on it, some of it paved and some of it hard-packed cinder. As an alternative, it doesn't take long to get out of Lockport and find some lonesome country roads.

If you are up for a drive, Niagara Falls is one obvious destination. The park system has many places to run including Goat Island; just be careful of knocking down the tourists.

Amherst has a bike trail and Clarence has a railroad trail that are extremely popular. There are several entry points, and the trails get plenty of use from bikers, runners and walkers.

In Buffalo, Delaware Park has a 1.77-mile ring road that's been a prime spot for runners for years. Since there are lights, some runners even go there at dusk. You'd think the waterfront would have more places to run -- the politicians are still working on that -- but there is a bike path that can be used.

If you like hills, Niagara County might not be a first choice. Many runners like to go to Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park, particularly on weekend mornings. It's filled with dramatic ups and downs.

>Where do I go to find a list of races?

Hopefully you've noticed that The News prints the race schedule for the next couple of weeks. Going past that, buffalorunners.com is definitely the correct online destination.

The site has all of the races for the year, so you can already make plans to take part in the Jingle Bell Run on Dec. 9. It has distance, location, phone numbers and links to applications for most races. The list also is updated quickly, in the event of changes.

>What are the best races?

That's a question that can start fist fights. We've got flat races, hilly races, ornate races, no-frills races, huge races, small races, long races, short races.

It's amazing that an area of this size can support so many events. A race is held virtually every weekend from April to November, and there are even some good ones in the winter. There is a good mix of pure running events and charity races.

The two big traditional races are the Shamrock Run in early March and the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. You might have heard that the Trot has been held every year for 110 years; no race in the world has a longer active streak. Those two draw thousands of runners and are practically family reunions for some.

The biggest race, if walkers are included, is the Corporate Challenge in June. It has 11,000 participants, so you're pretty much guaranteed to not finish last. The Buffalo News takes 12 fine races for its Runner of the Year series, but there are many others. The Lockport Y-10 10-miler is very popular, particularly by February standards. The Mud Run and the RUT Race are great for those who like to get away from the roads.

Pick a race, any race, and I'll bet you'll have fun.

>Where do I buy running shoes and apparel?

Buffalo is quite lucky to have two excellent stores that cater to runners. Fleet Feet in Buffalo and Runner's Roost in Orchard Park both have a good selection of items. The staffs know the subject inside and out and are friendly.

>Are there running clubs in the area?

Absolutely, and they all welcome virtually any type of runner.

Checkers A.C. includes some of the best area runners; its apparel is ever-present at many races. The Nickel City Road Runners, Lancaster Striders, Greater Buffalo Track Club, and South Buffalo A.C. are all popular. Since you are in Lockport, the Bond Lake A.C. might be of particular interest. It stages the RUT Race as well as regular Saturday runs at Bond Lake Park in Lewiston.

**Upcoming races

*Bemus Point 5K, Long Point State Park, Route 430, 9 a.m. today, 488-0788.

*Shoes for the Shelter 5K, Canisius College, 2001 Main St., noon today, 888-2977.

*Nancy Price Power Run, 5K, Veterans Park, Youngstown, 9:45 a.m. Saturday, 745-3606.

*Run Against Hunger, 5K, D'Youville College, 320 Porter Ave., 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 881-7786.

*Young Life 5K, Hamburg Wesleyan Church, S4999 McKinley Pkwy., Hamburg, 11 a.m. Saturday, 572-1625.

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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