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Budd Bailey’s Running: Runner of Year Beyer conquered various distances

John Beyer has a lesson to teach when it comes to athletics: If at first you don’t succeed, try something different.

A decision that Beyer made way back at the start of high school is still paying dividends. He easily captured the men’s title as The Buffalo News’ Runner of the Year for 2015. Jennifer Boerner won the women’s championship.

Beyer, now 31, got involved in running when he was a freshman at St. Joe’s. It literally was the only fall sport that would take him.

“I was a basketball player with no incentive to do much in the fall, but I figured I should do something,” he said. “I tried out for the golf team as a freshman, and got cut. I tried out for volleyball, and got cut. I said, I’ve got to find a sport.”

Cross country was next on the list, and he didn’t get cut. In fact, he was an unexpected success.

“The first race I ran, I took the lead,” Beyer said. “It was at Grand Island. A guy passed me with 200 meters to go, but I passed him in the last 20 meters to win. I felt like I wanted to throw up when I finished. I didn’t know if I could keep it up.”

He could, thanks in part of a great relationship with a legendary coach at St. Joe’s, the late Mike Diggins.

“I still selfishly consider myself part of the St. Joe’s program,” Beyer said. “Mike was my first coach. I lived in West Seneca growing up. He could give me a ride and drop me off close to my parents’ house. It was a special relationship. He was a great coach.”

The former Marauder has stayed in touch with many of the people who ran with him in high school. When it came to college, Beyer stayed close to home at Canisius College even when his running career took an unexpected twist.

“It was a tough pill to swallow,” he said. “I thought I was walking into a great situation at Canisius. Then they cut out track four weeks into my time there. I spent my freshman year trying to find a school to transfer to.

“But then I realized I was there for academics, and I wasn’t going to be the next Meb Keflezighi.”

Beyer still had a good cross country career at Canisius. But then came graduation and a job that sent him out of town more or less constantly. It’s tough to run regularly on that sort of schedule, and he only did it once a week or so.

That traveling lifestyle didn’t appeal to Beyer after a while, especially as his three children arrived to occupy his time. He switched jobs and then returned to running. Soon he joined with top local runners such as Chris Walters and David Keenan for some early morning runs.

“They are people who are interested in making each other better as runners,” Beyer said. “They’ve really been contributors to my success.”

That’s why he’s out the door at 5 a.m. It’s the only time of day he can get in a 90-minute uninterrupted workout.

“There’s one person on the bike,” he said about running before dawn. “She’s pretty serious. If you get in her path, she’ll let you know it. There are a few others, but it’s pretty quiet now that it’s dark when we start.”

What makes Beyer a worthy champion is that he was good at so many distances. He won five races in the series, ranging from a 5-kilometer run to a half-marathon.

His secret was that he was training to run marathons, and the other races fit his workout schedule, but he had little luck in marathons.

“It has been the demon of the year,” he said. “I ran it in Ottawa, and I wasn’t in shape. I wasn’t going to accept that, and it didn’t work. I also tried the Fallsview race. I had the wind in my face, and I had a sciatic nerve issue.

“I kind of went out and ran every day and did 10-12 miles. I sharpened in the summer. Honestly, I didn’t think about the series specifically until then. I realized I was in a good position to win. It’s fun to do all those races. … We have a lot of good events in Buffalo. It’s nice to have them here.”

Race calendar

• Habitat for Humanity Christmas 4-Mile Run, Niagara Gorge Discovery Center in Niagara Falls, 10 a.m. on Saturday, 478-9354.

• Freezer 5K, 49 Illinois St. in Buffalo, 11 a.m. on Dec. 13.

• Caroler 5K, 206 Main St. in East Aurora, 10 a.m. on Dec. 19, 830-6713.