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Running by Budd Bailey: Race with a finish in The Ralph is on again

Dan Horan has a relaxed look this days, relatively speaking. Compared to last year at this time, he’s practically a man of leisure.

Horan is the race director of the 50 Yard Finish Half Marathon and 5K, which will be held on Saturday in Orchard Park. He’s had a year to get ready for the 2013 event, which is quite a contrast to the 2012 competition.

“It was about six days that we had to prepare for last year’s race,” said Horan of Eclipse Multi-Sport.

Runners probably remember — or are trying to forget — the circumstances leading up to the first running of this particular 13.1-mile race. The idea of finishing a race at the 50-yard line of Ralph Wilson Stadium struck a chord with many. However, the event was canceled by the organizer, Rapid Running, fewer than two weeks before the actual event, creating a huge mess.

Horan won’t soon forget hearing about the cancellation.

“I was in Boston, and I met a guy I used to run with,” he said. “He said, ‘Did you hear about the blowout in Buffalo on an event?’ When I got back, the texts on my phone were overwhelming. I sat down with my wife and had coffee. I told her, ‘I think we can put on this event.’ My wife said, ‘I don’t want anything to do with it.’

“But it’s about community. … Once I convinced Anne, I called the Convention and Visitors Bureau and businesses. The Bills were open to the idea of staging it. They were embarrassed, even though they weren’t involved. They were asked why they didn’t refund the money, even though they had nothing to do with it.”

Horan and a variety of local groups received the registration list from the old event director, and went to work. They talked to lawyers, and decided to put on the race.

“We worked very feverishly,” Horan said. “There were so many things on our checklist. I think I averaged about two hours of sleep a day.”

Somehow the race came off and was considered a success by the participants, particularly under the circumstances. Horan said it’s something like the gift that keeps on giving.

“We did a 5K back in May,” he said. “A gentleman came up to us and said he was able to get his money back from his credit card company. It made me feel good that people were getting returns on their money.”

The obvious question after that race was, would there be an encore? A powerful part of the last year’s coalition started the proverbial ball rolling.

“The Bills are involved with the sponsorship with the NFL’s ‘Play 60’ program,” Horan said. “I didn’t think there was a chance for another race, but they approached us. If everything is done to their specs, with their branding involved, I thought it would catapult the event.

“We’ve had meetings from September until now. It’s been a wonderful experience. I’ve learned a lot sitting with them. … They have tight specifications that they stick to. They don’t bend often, but they’ve easy to work with and know how to work with the community. … Andy Major of the Bills has been great.”

Horan also credited Dave Borodzik of Runner’s Roost in Orchard Park for his help in preparing for Round Two. The course will be a little different than last season, featuring fewer left turns. But the finish line in The Ralph will remain the same.

“It was really unique — so many people kissed the Buffalo on the 50-yard line last year,” Horan said. “I didn’t realize how long the threads of loyalty are with Bills’ fans, either locally or from out of town.”

The finish line is slated to have more of a Buffalo Bills feel, with a special finishing arch, sponsor tents, and the Buffalo Jills among the pomp and circumstance waiting for the runners. The number of entrants went past 1,000 last week, and Horan has hopes of adding a few hundred more by race day. Last year’s race, admittedly one filled with uncertainly, had 500 finishers.

It’s starting to look like this race will have some staying power after all.

“At this point, I’d like to make this a fixture, like the Shamrock Run, the Buffalo Marathon, the Corporate Challenge — events that everyone puts on their running list,” Horan said. “I want to keep it far enough from the Buffalo Marathon. I didn’t want to compete with that. It’s five weeks, so I think it’s a great compliment.”

Race calendar

• Buffalo Broadcasters Celebrity 5K Run, Central Wharf in Buffalo, 7 p.m. Wednesday, 574-2741.

• Road 2 Recovery Mental Health 5K Race, Delaware Park in Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 883-3331.

• 50 Yard Finish Half Marathon and 5K, 1 Bills Drive in Orchard Park, 7 a.m. Saturday, 830-6703.

• D&F 5K Challenge, 1170 Central Ave. in Dunkirk, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 363-6383.

• Bemus Point 10K, Long Point State Park Bath House in Bemus Point, 9 a.m. on June 30, 488-0788.