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Budd Bailey’s Running: Mother’s Day works out perfectly for Elephant Run

When the Elephant Run began nine years ago, organizers made a very unconventional choice for a date: Mother’s Day.

You’d think most people would have had something better to do on this particular day, and no one would turn out. But it turned out that picking a day for a race with the heart instead of the head has worked out just fine.

The parents of the late Marcena Lozano, Kevin and Lori, were starting a race to raise money for a scholarship fund to honor their child.

“Kevin used to run, and he remembered a Mother’s Day race,” race director Lori Lozano said. “It stopped, so we thought maybe there was a void. Then I thought, what better way for me to spend Mother’s Day? There are a lot of tough days when you lose a child. It gave us a place to throw our grief. It’s been so helpful.”

Now the race approaches its 10th annual running in the area around the Delaware Park casino, and it’s carved out a nice little niche for itself in one of the busiest racing months of the year.

“I have to give a little credit to Bonnie MacIver,” Lozano said. “I met her at a grief support group. We were talking about ways to honor Marcena’s memory, and she mentioned that she worked on the Lindsay’s Legacy Run. We started thinking about it, and it decided it would be a fun thing to do. We had no clue as to what we were doing.”

One of the first problems of organizing a race for Mother’s Day is securing enough volunteers to make it work. Lozano has tried an old-fashioned technique.

“We’ve used nagging, pleading and begging,” she said. “If we didn’t need 100 volunteers, it would make it better. But everyone loves the venue. It’s beautiful. It’s perfect. We considered moving the race to where you wouldn’t need so many traffic folks, but I like showing off the beautiful neighborhood.”

Some extra traffic volunteers are needed for this race compared to the usual 5-kilometer run, because it’s a four-mile event. The idea was to make it a little bit more of a challenge for the runners.

“A lot of people don’t realize they signed up to run four miles,” Lozano said. “They wonder where the finish line is.”

Then there’s the postrace party, which has about the only breakfast buffet on the year’s race calendar. Many people help make that possible.

“A woman has a little crew in the kitchen, and she runs a tight ship,” Lozano said. “She has a lot of family members come in to help. We haven’t managed to get a lot of food donations, and we buy a lot of stuff. But some friends came to the rescue. We have a lot of people baking to add to the brunch.”

It didn’t take Lozano long to start worrying about how the weather might be. Experience finally taught her there’s not much she can do about it.

“We did have a hailstorm once,” she said. “It started pouring and turned to hail. The people at the starting line were drenched. Then when we got ready to start, the rain stopped and the sun came out. The rest of the day was fine.”

Once the race starts, Lozano starts getting nervous. She won’t rest until the last runner comes home safely. Then and only then, she can figure out what went wrong during the day - because something always does.

“We laugh every year about that,” Lozano said. “There are always crazy things that weren’t in our plan - problems with the shirt design or venue or something. We’re always prepared to go to Plan B, C, or D. It used to rattle us. Now it’s to be expected.”

The best news about the race is that the Scholarship Fund has awarded more than $150,000 over the past nine years to organ transplant recipients.

“When Marcena graduated from City Honors, she had endured so much to get there,” Lozano said. “No one was as excited as she was; we gave her a long hug. Somebody needs to acknowledge these kids for their tenacity.

“We hear from students and parents. They are so grateful that we have acknowledged their success.”

That sort of feedback makes a decade of hard work every spring worth it.

“Ten years - it’s amazing,” Lozano said. “It’s been a wonderful experience. The support and praise and love that we’ve received through this event, watching it evolve, what it’s become to people - it’s been so rewarding.”

Race calendar

• Elephant Run, 4 miles, Delaware Park Casino, 9:30 a.m. Sunday, 836-7045.

• Knox Trail Run, 5.1 miles, Knox Farm State Park, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, 652-8727.

• Crouse 5K Challenge, 100 Legion Dr. in Gowanda, 6 p.m. Friday, 860-8782.

• Bully Free 5K, 71 Lorraine Ave. in Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 816-4809.

• Kelly Tough 12K, Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, 9 a.m. Saturday, 667-1200 x206.

• Holland Tulip Festival 5K, Holland Speedway in Holland, 9 a.m. Saturday, 537-2264.

• Jennifer Jones Memorial 5K, Como Lake Park in Lancaster, 10 a.m. Saturday.

• Beat the Train Down Main, 10K, NFTA University Station in Buffalo, 8 a.m. on May 15, 830-6703.

• Miles for Smiles 5K Run, Moore Park in Westfield, 2 p.m. on May 15, 362-2151.