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USATF brings national 15k to city

The number of national champions that were crowned in Buffalo in any sport has been a very low figure over the years.

Someone will join that exclusive club on Monday.

USA Track and Field (USATF) will hold its national masters 15K championship as part of the Fleet Feet 15K, which will be held in Buffalo starting at 8 a.m. As a result, some very good runners are coming into the area to join with a good local field and give the third annual running of the event a competitive boost.

Since this is the first championship race to be held here in 25 years (the Checkers Waterfront 10K, won by Mark Finucane, was the last), an explanation of the sanctioning organization probably is a good place to start any discussion.

"The USATF is the national governing body of road racing in the United States," said Kevin Lucas, the secretary-treasurer of the USATF's Niagara Association (which covers much of upstate New York). "The number of championships vary. Most go along the lines of the popular distances.

"For example, the 5-kilometer national championships -- not just the masters runners, but the national open championship for men and women -- will be held in Providence [R.I.] on Sept. 20."

In fact, the open 20-kilometer event will take place on Monday as well. It will be staged in New Haven, Conn.

"In the case of the masters, they are trying to grow that program," Lucas said. "In the past the masters championships have gone on the backs of the open events. . . . Now they are subdividing it. They are seeing that the masters brings a value to that event."

So how did the championship end up in Buffalo? Dan Loncto, the Fleet Feet race director, was told that races could bid for the right to host such an event.

"We thought, what have we got to lose?" he said. "It took a lot to fill out the forms. It was more complicated than I thought."

The hard work paid off, as the Fleet Feet race beat out three others. If Buffalo does a good job hosting the event this year, it could win it in years to come. Donald Lein, chairman of the masters long distance running committee, will be on hand to monitor the race.

The race will have a different look than in its first two runnings. It starts an hour earlier than before. The course is different, as it now includes a stretch along the waterfront. The starting and finishing lines have been moved to the Erie Canal Harbor area.

"The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. has really knocked us over," Loncto said. "They couldn't do enough to help us."

There is money to be made here, and not just for the masters runners. The race is open to everyone, as usual. The open divisions have $750 going to each of the two winners. Then among USATF masters, the victors will earn $500 each while age-grading champions can pick up $750 each. Other top finishers can earn money as well. But there is a catch for those in the USATF division -- they have to be members of the sanctioning body.

"That costs $30 a year. There are discounts for multiple years," Lucas said.

One of the good runners coming in for the race is Paul Aufdemberge of Redford, Mich., who won the USA Masters Half-Marathon title in February with a time of 1 hour, 8 minutes and 5 seconds.

Carl Rundell of Birmingham, Mich., has been one of the nation's top marathoners for some time. He was the masters champion in Boston in April, running the distance in 2:24:19.

Among the women, Emily Bryans of Schenectady ran the Boston marathon in 3:02:18 to finish 10th in the 40-44 age group. Suzie Schumacher of Phoenix, who just turned 40, took part in the Olympic trials in 2008, and won the Disney Half-Marathon in California in 2007.

Once again, the race will fund the donation of 300 pairs of Brooks running shoes to local high school athletes.

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Race calendar

*Fleet Feet 15K (Buffalo News Runner of the Year race), Erie Boulevard, 8 a.m. Monday, 332-3501.

*Century 5K, S4414 S. Buffalo St., Orchard Park, 10 a.m. Monday, 667-0201.

* 9/1 1 First Responders Memorial 5K, Como Park, Lancaster, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 523-2878.

*Diner Dash, 4 miles, 875 Elmwood Ave., 6:30 p.m. Friday.

*Coach Capuani Cross Country Kickoff Run, 5K, 4432 Bayview Road, Hamburg, 9 a.m. Saturday, 926-1720.

*Peach Festival 5K, 493 Center St., Lewiston, 9 a.m. Saturday, 297-5831.

*Harris Pihl Memorial 5K, Chautauqua Institution, 9 a.m. Saturday, 640-9841.

*Laughlin's Road Race, 5K, 333 Franklin St., 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 847-1200.

*Derby Fair 5K, 7431 Erie Road, Derby, 10 a.m. Saturday, 947-0945.

*Seneca Nation Fall Festival 5K, 12861 Rte. 438, Irving, 9 a.m. Sept. 13, 532-8223.

*Dash for Dad 5K, Lincoln Parkway, 10 a.m. Sept. 13, 844-5500.

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com