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Running: New directors tweak Falls marathon

Remember the line about being careful what you wish for, because it might come true?

Say hello to Diane Chesla.

"Ever since I started directing races 10 years ago, I always had dreams of going bigger," she said.

Chesla has fulfilled that dream. She's the co-race director of the Niagara Falls International Marathon, which will go from Buffalo to Niagara Falls, Ont. on Oct. 30.

By any definition, it's a job that has complications. The race weekend includes a full marathon, a half-marathon, a 10-kilometer run and a 5-kilometer race. And that doesn't include the expo and other events.

Chesla says she's ready for the challenge.

"I had a road race for six years, and that was about 1,000 people," she said, referring to the Chocolate Run in St. Catharines. "It's all about logistics, whether it's small or large. In this case, we're accommodating more people. The international part of the marathon is an added aspect."

What's more, she has help. Her husband, Henri Ragetlie, is  co-race director.

"We both had our own races to run, and I called it slave labor for the other person," Chesla said. "This is our first big endeavor together. ... We share the duties."

The Niagara Falls Marathon hasn't received a great deal of attention in recent years, at least on the American side of the border. The growth of the Buffalo Marathon has played a part in that, but perhaps the Niagara Falls event needs to sell itself a little better.

After all, it has a great staging area at the start in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, a pretty course along the Niagara River, and the most spectacular setting for a finish line imaginable in the Falls themselves. In terms of history, the course has been used for a race since 1976, when the Skylon Marathon debuted. It twice hosted U.S. Olympic marathon trials.

Chesla has some ideas on how to change the way the current race is staged.

"We're dealing with a decline in people's interest in organized races," she said. "One of the challenges is to focus on the experience. You only have a handful of elites, and you can't do it just for them. We need an entertaining program.

"A lot of people find it tedious to run that far, so we'll have bands on the course. We've also developed an acting program where characters have escaped from the wax museums. They'll be on the course for high fives and selfies. We've got some other small additions, like working with the timing company to have more timing mats. Those results will go live on line as people cross them."

Chesla also has made an effort to step up efforts to promote the race on social media.

"I think this race needed to match the changes in the racing industry," she said. "It's Facebook, it's Twitter, it's Instagram - the presence was never big. That's where the core of the market it. ... We've done a slight rebranding, emphasizing the Falls. We did a little bit of research, and there are a million things to do in Niagara Falls. Why not go with that?"

The results have been promising. Last year, the four races combined to host about 3,300 runners. As of late this week, the total was 4,100 - with the limit of 4,800 within reach. As a comparison, the 2016 Buffalo Marathon had 1,436 finishers, while the 2015 Niagara Falls Marathon had 721.

The international aspect to this race is something of an attraction and an inconvenience at the same time. It's one of a handful of marathons that takes place in two countries - there's one based in Maine that goes to Quebec, and another from Detroit to Ontario. In the post-9/11 era, that can cause problems.

"It is a unique process," Chesla said. "You have to have a passport. There are some special circumstances where those with a visa may not be able to cross the border in a certain period of time."

That can affect some elite runners, who often come from African countries to race in North America. Chesla plans to spend more time in the coming year on trying to work on that problem.

The lives of Chesla and Ragetlie certainly will be turned upside-down for the next several days as they work on the race. Chesla points out that they are accustomed to a little chaos.

"We're doing a complete renovation to our house" in St. Catharines, she said. "We stopped two weeks ago, and we've been working full-time on the race since then."

Wait for it

The annual 5-kilometer race at St. Mary's School for the Deaf has been a fixture on the race calendar for years, but it's missing this fall. Organizers wanted to spread the word that the race will be held in May 2017 (pending approval from the City of Buffalo) in an effort to encourage more student participation.

Race calendar

* Casey Cougar Country 5K, 105 Casey Road, East Amherst, 1 p.m. Sunday Oct. 23, 481-5767.

* BOO Bash & Dash 5K, 391 Washington St., Buffalo, 7:30 p.m. Friday Oct. 28, 830-6703.

* Strider Glider Quarter Marathon, Westwood Park, Lancaster, 9 a.m. Saturday Oct. 29, 713-6102.

* Jack O'Lantern Fall Classic 5K, Whirlpool State Park, Niagara Falls, 10 a.m. on Saturday Oct. 29, 282-1228.

* Miles for Michael, 5K, Delaware Park in Buffalo, 10 a.m. on Saturday Oct. 29, 432-8564.

* EVL Halloween Half Marathon and 5K, Monroe St. in Ellicottville, 11 a.m. Saturday Oct. 29, 499-2300.

* BuffaloRunners Chestnut Ridge Challenge 10, Chestnut Ridge Park Casino,  Orchard Park, 9 a.m.  Sunday Oct. 30, 649-1530.

* Niagara Falls International Marathon, various, 9 a.m. Sunday Oct. 30, 855-969-5515.

* Treat or Treat Trot, 5K, 2900 South Park Ave., Lackawanna, 10 a.m. Sunday Oct. 30.

* Lewiston Porter Halloween Dash, 5K, 4061 Creed Road,  Youngstown, 11:30 a.m. Sunday Oct. 30, 998-5777.


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