As the runners stood at the starting line on Pearl Street in Buffalo at the Laughlin's 5K on Sept. 12, they heard some discouraging words.
"There will be a delay in the start of the race . . ."
Something had gone wrong. Something always goes wrong. There's a ton of details involved in staging a race, and inevitably at least one of them doesn't come together smoothly.
"There's no such thing as a perfect race," said Jim Nowicki, who has run 29 Subaru 4-Mile Chases over the years. "You may come close, but there's always a glitch."
In this case, there had been a car accident on the corner of Delaware Avenue and Edward Street, near the end of the course. Police ordered the race delayed until the damage could be cleaned up.
When race directors get together, they often tell stories about what's gone wrong. Nowicki once attended a national gathering of running officials, and heard about a race that was stopped around the halfway point by police. It seems a drug raid was taking place, and the race course went right by the building in question.
Nowicki has plenty of stories to tell about his experiences. Ever wonder why there are no banners along the course at the Subaru?
"About five, six years ago, a banner went building to building on Elmwood," Nowicki said. "It was windy, and the banner became loose. I got a call, and by the time I got there a chunk of concrete had fallen and narrowly missed a table.
"I like to say that my late father was telling me something when that happened. I will never put a banner up again. When someone asks, 'Who do I call for permission to put up a banner?' I tell them this story."
Every year there are new lessons to be learned, such as what to do when some of his volunteers are late.
"I've got my water station at the Red Cross [on Delaware Avenue]," Nowicki said. "I've got a guy in charge, a friend named Andy. . . . I've got the truck loaded for him. I think it was a 6 o'clock start on a Saturday. At 5, there's no crew. It's a hot summer night, and there's no one to hand out water. So I have to juggle to form a whole new watering crew, pulling people out of registration -- a whole bunch of stuff.
"Then at 5:30, who the hell walks in but Andy and his crew. Now I have to go back to square one. I said to him, 'I'll deal with you later, you son of a gun.' "
Those who were involved in the old Skylon marathon in 1985 won't forget the time that some runners went the wrong way.
"People were running by me in Fort Erie saying they thought the race had gone off-course," Nowicki said. "Those who knew the course went the right way, but the lead vehicle went the wrong way. Thank God for Emery Fisher and Don Mitchell, who caught the mistake early."
Veteran race official John Beishline vaulted into action at that point.
"They told me to set up a second finish line 1.8 miles up the road, which I did," he said. "Runners who ran the wrong course finished there, while runners who went the other way kept going to the other finish line."
However, there was no way of checking who ran what course. Nowicki thinks a lot of runners qualified for the Boston marathon that year that never did before or since.
The list of mishaps can go on and on:
*The postrace food was late at a Cheektowaga race because the Subway deliveryman got caught up in a traffic jam caused by the race itself, and wasn't allowed to move until the last runner went by.
*The portable toilets were stolen before a race in Tonawanda.
*In Niagara County, someone forgot to bring the list of preregistered runners, so registration was done on the honor system.
*A runner in a small race in Buffalo without much traffic control got completely separated from the rest of the field. So he decided to just run toward the finish line . . . and came in third.
You just never know what you'll see on race day.
*8 in the Rough Trail Run, 8 miles, Sprague Brook Park, Glenwood, today at 10 a.m., 574-0888.
*Shea's 5K Run for the Arts, 646 Main St., today at 11:30 a.m., 553-0179.
*Runnin' With Jesus -- Oktoberfest, 5K, 2730 Transit Road, Newfane, today at noon, 6751-9176.
*Niagara Hospice Dash, 5K, Porter Town Park, Youngstown, Saturday at 10 a.m., 280-0766.
*Maggie Lee Memorial Run, 5K, Delaware Park, Saturday at 10 a.m., 883-5396.
*Lighthouse Baptist 5K, 383 Wheatfield St. North Tonawanda, Saturday at 2 p.m., 938-9208.
*Bemus Point 15K, Long Point State Park Bath House, Sept. 27 at 9 a.m., 488-0788.
*Linda Yalem Safety Run, 5K, University at Buffalo North campus, Sept. 27 at 9:30 a.m., 645-2055.