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Budd Bailey’s Running: Why the Chilly Challenge is now a 10 a.m. start

The Chilly Challenge’s organizers received a phone call from the Buffalo Police Department in late January, and the message was simple: The event, staged by Canisius High School, could move its starting time of the annual event from 12 noon to 10 a.m., or the race could be cancelled.

In hindsight, it’s almost surprising that the Challenge started at noon for as long as it did. Hardly any other races that use city streets are held at that hour.

“What they said was that the neighborhood has changed over the years,” said George Chernowski, who has been one of the race’s organizers for around a quarter of a century. “When we started the race 37 years ago, businesses weren’t open on Sunday. You could go up Elmwood Ave., and everything would be closed. Now, so many businesses are open on Sunday.

“I guess I can understand it, as much as I hate to admit it.”

Therefore, the Chilly Challenge will stage its first 10 a.m. start on Feb. 28. The earlier starting time means the race will be held in the midst of less traffic and thus be safer, and no one is against that idea. Still, the runners might be surprised at the ripple effects caused by a change in the starting time.

The first was that the event’s staff had been busy for a few months getting an early start on publicity in order to boost attendance.

“All of the races last winter were down about 25 percent because it was a brutal winter,” Chernowski said. “We made the decision to advertise the race early. We had the race applications done early; we had them at the Turkey Trot and at all the December and January races.”

The plan worked, as 115 runners had registered a month in advance. Therefore, 115 people had to be tracked down, one way or another, to make sure they wouldn’t show up at the wrong time. “We have not had any requests for refunds,” Chernowski said. “I have a fear that a couple of people will show up late. I’m sure we’ll get a few refund requests, but I’m hoping it won’t be a problem.”

A lesser concern is the day’s race schedule. The organizers can simply change the times by a couple of hours on the timeline of planned events, but there are still a couple of complications.

“One of the things we had to change is the Mass before the race, which will now start at 8:45,” Chernowski said. “The runners will still have time to go to Mass and do a warmup.”

Thirty-seven years is an impressive run for any race, and the Chilly Challenge has survived bigger obstacles to become one of the oldest such events in the area. The most obvious one came at the start, when someone proposed a road race in Buffalo in February.

Chernowski is used to hearing a newcomer question the sanity of putting on such a race what with the possibility of bad winter weather.

“Every year, there’s somebody that says that,” he said. “I’m sure some runners put it down on their calendars right after the Turkey Trot, as they start to get ready for the Shamrock Run. But in the early days, we got that feedback a lot: ‘Are you crazy?’”

Once the organizers got past that obstacle, they came up with the name “Chilly Challenge.” It didn’t take long to come up with the idea to serve chili after the event.

The site for registration and postrace party went from the auditorium to the new gymnasium when the athletic facility was completed a few years ago. The race was one of the first in the area to use on-line registration, thanks to one of the school volunteers.

There will be other changes going forward. Chernowski just hopes that this change will have some positive effects too.

“Realistically, with the race at noon, it takes up the whole day,” he said. “If you stay around for chili and the awards ceremony, you’re not done until 2. We should be done by noon so people will have the whole afternoon free.

“Maybe there’s a good side to this.”

Race calendar

• Lockport Y-10, 19 East Ave. in Lockport, 10 & 5 miles, 10 a.m. Saturday (was rescheduled), 434-8887.

• The Superkiss 5K, 257 Franklin St., Buffalo, 11 a.m. on Feb. 21 (was rescheduled), 830-6713.

• Sprague Brook Scramble Snowshoe Race, 2.5 or 5 miles XC, Sprague Brook Park, Glenwood, 10 a.m. Saturday.

• Ice Man 2-Miler, Delaware Park, Buffalo, 10 a.m. on Feb. 27.

• Heart and Soul Run, 701 Seneca St. in Buffalo, 8 a.m. on Feb. 27 (was rescheduled), 440-7507.

• Polar Bear 5K, 1691 Lockport Olcott Road, Olcott, 10 a.m. on Feb. 28, 434-8887.

• Canisius Chilly Challenge, 5K, 1180 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, 10 a.m. on Feb. 28, 882-0466 x262.