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Race directors keep their cool when the mercury climbs

The night of July 21 was not a good time to be a race director.

In a summer that will be remembered for its heat, that particular evening was the hottest. The temperature was still around 90 degrees at the dinner hour, with a humidity reading of around 70 percent. That's normal July weather for Little Rock, but not Buffalo. Even WIVB meteorologist Don Paul said on the air that night that it wasn't a night to run.

There were two races on the calendar on July 21, the Tim Frank Memorial Canal Fest Race of 4 miles in North Tonawanda, and the St. John Vianney Kickoff Run of 3 miles in Orchard Park. It's instructive to see how both races, which went on as scheduled, dealt with hot, difficult and potentially dangerous conditions.

Jeff Hardy, race director of the Canal Fest race, had the longer race so he had a little more to consider as race time approached.

"We talked about some options," he said. "I talked to Larry Dennis, the president of the Canal Fest board, and we did some 'What ifs' -- we could not do the race, shorten the race, or let it go off as planned."

There was one erroneous television news report on the afternoon of the race that it had been downgraded to 5 kilometers. Oddly, that helped push Hardy to leave the distance alone.

"At 3 or 4 in the afternoon, we started getting calls from runners saying, 'Please don't shorten the race.' We must have had 10 or 12 messages from runners like that. It really helped influence us."

In the Southtowns, meanwhile, race director Elizabeth O'Shei was pondering her next step.

"During packet pickup the night before the run, we did discuss with Rick Streeter of Leone Timing the possibility of delaying the start of the race," she said via email. "While we did not think postponing the race until Saturday morning would be practical, we felt a wait-and-see approach leading up to the race was reasonable."

Still, there was extra work to be done. Hardy was busy in the last couple of hours before the race taking extra precautions.

"At 5:30 (90 minutes before the start of the race), I met with Canal Fest emergency services," he said. "We got additional water. I went door-to-door on the course to solicit people to put their hoses out. Emergency services put more patrols on the road. We had an ambulance prepared to run. We added a mister at the start/finish line. We gave away full, cold bottles of water at the water stops on the course."

Hardy said in hindsight that he wishes he had made more water available to runners before the race. O'Shei handled that issue well.

"Prior to the race we made water available to all runners," she said. "We encouraged them to drink as much as possible prior to heading to the start line. We had four large coolers filled with water and a volunteer filling cups for the runners to drink. This was at the school where registration was taking place. We also had cases of bottled water for the runners to take and put another two or three coolers of water at the start line for runners to drink."

There were fewer runners at the starting line than in 2010, as could be expected. The Canal Fest race went from 345 finishers to 229, while the St. John Vianney race dropped from 605 to 417. Canal Fest usually does 40-50 percent of its registrations on race day, so those numbers took a hit. But only a dozen or so runners registered for that race and didn't run because of the heat or any other reason.

The runners who did show up apparently took the proper approach; most realized it was not a night for maximum speed and effort.

"This race was the hottest race that I have ever run in," said Matt Roll, who did the Canal Fest event. "Running in the race, I knew that I wasn't going to run a personal record so I just used this race as a training run."

Some of the emergency personnel in Tonawanda were predicting that as many as five members might need attention, but thankfully no major problems past wobbly legs came up. Both races made sure there was plenty of water at the finish line.

"We also rigged up two 'showers' at the finish line area for the runners," O'Shei said. "We ran a garden hose from a house across the street. We split that hose into two lines. We connected a water wand [the type used to water gardens] to each hose. They were fastened to stakes in the ground and turned on."

Good runners turned out in both races and in some cases ran faster than last year's winners in spite of the conditions. In Tonawanda, Frankie Pfeil won in 22:22 while Livia Chase was clocked in 25:51; the 2010 winners finished in 20:50 and 27:59. In Orchard Park, Brad Miller was the winner in 14:28 while Jennifer Bigham finished first in 17:10. The winning times last year over a 5-kilometer distance (3.1 miles) were 16:15 and 18:15.

On a day with no reported unhappy endings, Frank said he was confident that the 25th anniversary running of his race will be remembered.

"We sure will -- forever," he said.

> RACE CALENDAR

Stephen's Cross-Country Run, 6K, Long Point State Park, Bemus Point, 9 a.m. today, 488-0788.

Ultra 12-Mile and 4-Mile Trail Run, Holiday Valley Ski Resort, Ellicottville, 9:30 a.m. today, 574-0888.

ESB Engineering Scholarship Run, 5K, Buffalo Small Boat Harbor, 7 p.m. Wednesday, 694-5154.

Cozumel 5K, 153 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, 7 p.m. Friday, 913-7115.

Jason Raby Memorial Run, 5K, 4061 Creek Road, Youngstown, 7 p.m. Friday, 754-8281.

Erie County Fair 5K, Fairgrounds in Hamburg, 9 a.m. Saturday, 649-3900.

Cameron Run, 5K, Point Gratiot, Dunkirk, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 366-9283.

One Small Step for Prader-Willi Syndrome Run, 5K, Chestnut Ridge Park, Orchard Park, 10 a.m Aug. 14, 316-9344.

email: bbailey@buffnews.com

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