The television show “I Love Lucy” first aired on October 15, 1951, and first-run shows were presented through May 6, 1957. Reruns of those programs have been aired somewhere in the world every single day since then. That makes it the longest running program in television history, in a sense.
Therefore, when Jamestown decided to start an annual festival honoring the show’s homegrown star, Lucille Ball, it was only fitting to send visitors to the area out on a nice, long run.
That’s exactly what has happened. Several hundred runners will turn out on Oct. 11 for the third annual Lucy Town Half-Marathon.
The story on the race’s origins begins not in Jamestown, but in Cleveland.
“My wife is a runner, and she ran the Cleveland Marathon,” said Lou Deppas of the Lucy-Desi Center for Comedy. “It was her first foray into a big race. The family got there, and I was just blown away by the race. I thought it would be a great time to bring a half-marathon to Jamestown.”
There had been some talk in Jamestown of staging a “Lucy Olympics,” but research into the logistics involved showed that such a project was too big to attempt. Deppas then called Dave Reinhardt, then of the Chautauqua Striders.
“We were looking to add a half-marathon in Chautauqua County,” Reinhardt said. “We had been looking at dates and possible courses. When I was approached by Lou, I thought there was something there. I thought we could help with the mission of showing what Lucy means to Jamestown.”
Reinhardt became the race director, quickly acquired a major sponsor in Univera, and set up an out-and-back course that tries, in his words, “to get as much Lucy in there as possible.”
“It starts in downtown Jamestown, and does a one-mile loop around Brooklyn Square,” Reinhardt said. “There’s a large mural of Lucy that’s on a building by the Washington Street bridge. The course comes by the Lucy Museum and down Third Street. After the loop, the course heads out on the Lucy trail, where Lucy grew up.”
Ball’s childhood home is in Celoron near Chautauqua Lake. The street name has been changed to Lucy Lane. The course doesn’t go down that street for an interesting reason.
“We’d have to go over a railroad track to get to the house, and we thought that could create some problems,” Reinhardt said. “But you can see the house right from the course.”
Then it’s back to Jamestown with views of Chautauqua Lake for a finish by the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena. Some of the runners, who obviously still love Lucy, will be wearing blue and white dresses. They will pick up their special heart-shaped medals that feature a drawing of the actress.
“We think they are really beautiful,” Reinhardt said. “They have become quite popular and are something of a collector’s item.”
For those who think that 13.1 miles is out of their range, organizers have a 5-kilometer run slated for the morning before, on Oct. 10. Non-runners can watch both races, and attend a comedy show by Joy Behar – a woman with red hair, naturally – at Jamestown’s Reg Lenna Center for the Arts the night of Oct. 10.
The combination of running and comedy has become a good-sized tourist attraction for the area, showing once again that road races can be a surprisingly powerful economic engine.
“Over the first two years, we’ve had 1,100 runners from 32 states and several provinces in Canada,” Reinhardt said. “We get a good number of runners from Western New York, but we also get them from all over the United States. I was surprised. Every morning I check the emails for registrations, and I see one from Maryland, or one from California – all over.”
Deppas added, “The ZIP codes are mind-boggling. It’s really a fun weekend.”
• Woods Walk and Trail Run, 10K & 5K, 1974 Lilibridge Road, Portville, 8:30 a.m. Sunday, 933-0187.
• Bemus Point 15K, Long Point State Park, Bemus Point, 9 a.m. Sunday, 488-0788.
• Linda Yalem Safety Run, 5K, Alumni Arena at the University at Buffalo, 9:30 a.m. Sunday, 645-2731.
• Step Up for Kids 5K, 91 Frisbee Road, Cassadaga, 10 a.m. Sunday, 338-9844.
• Flight 3407 Memorial 5K Race, 1 Town Place, Clarence, 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
• Maggie Lee Memorial for Epilepsy Awareness, 5K, 2 Nottingham Terrace, Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 883-5396.
• Ryan Purcell Memorial, 4 miles, 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 713-5654.
• Niagara PAL Cops & Kids Run, 6 miles, 4455 Porter Road, Niagara Falls, 10 a.m. Saturday, 286-7038.
• Chowder Challenge 5K, Pine Woods Park, North Tonawanda, 11 a.m. Saturday, 523-3958.
• Knights-Kaderli Memorial 5K, 6 E. Shelby Road, Medina, 11 a.m. Saturday, 998-0977.
• Olivia’s 5K Wish Run, Evangola State Park, Irving, 11 a.m. Oct. 4, 934-7499.
• Vietnam Vets 5K, 433 Locust St., Lockport, 11 a.m. Oct. 4, 998-5777.