Last year, it came down to the Turkey Trot. It was last race in the Buffalo News Runner of the Year series and Kim Vona just couldn't catch her friend and fellow runner Jennifer Boerner.
She finished second overall to Boerner and the brush with the series title convinced her to devote her 2017 to chasing the Runner of the Year crown.
Meanwhile Dylan Lowry had just moved to Buffalo for graduate school. The former Division I runner at the University at Albany became friends with runners pursing the coveted series title. And so he decided to go all in this year.
Vona and Lowry accomplished their missions, taking home women's and men's Buffalo News Runner of the Year titles.
Lowry finished with 71 points (thanks to five first-place finishes) and ahead of Jay List of Amherst, who had 43 points.
Vona finished with 104 points with seven race wins, ahead of second-place Mary Lawrence (Boston), who had 45 points.
"This year my only goal was to win the series," said Vona, who ran at Niagara and currently works as a community relations specialist at Batavia Downs and teaches spinning at LA Fitness. "I ran all but one race. I’m not the fastest in the area. I've just been healthy and consistent all year long to earn enough points to pull away early on in the year. The series is just so challenging."
The series includes 11 races of various distances – Shamrock Run 8K, Shoes for the Shelter 5K, GBTC Half Marathon, St. Gregory the Great Race 5K, Depew-Lancaster Boys and Girls Club 10K, Subaru Buffalo 4-Mile Chase, Ronald McDonald House 5K, Checker's Mueller Mile, Linda Yalem Safety Run 5K, Strider Glider Quarter Marathon, and the YMCA Turkey Trot 8K.
Vona set personal records in every event but the 5K this year.
"The three races I was super proud of this year were the Grand Island half marathon, the Depew-Lancaster 10K and then the Mueller Mile," said Vona, a native of Angola and graduate of Lake Shore. "Those were PRs for me and I wouldn't have gotten there without a ton of competition. Those are three distances out of my comfort zone. That's why this series is so challenging.
"I look at the other women who have won the series in the past – Aileen Hoak, Allison Carr. Those are local runners I've looked up to since I was younger and just getting into the road race scene. To have a chance at winning the series, it's just about love for Buffalo. I'm from Buffalo and wanted to challenge for that title just like all the other women I've seen win that series."
While Vona grew up watching the competition for the Buffalo News Runner of the Year, Lowry was brand new to the 716.
Lowry grew up in Cornwell, near West Point. He went to Albany for his undergraduate work and to run for the Great Danes, then came to the University of Buffalo in August 2016 for his year-and-a-half master's program in nutrition.
He had been running with Pete Gratien and saw on Facebook he won the 2016 series.
"I was like, 'What is that?'" Lowry said. "Around the time of the Shamrock race I decided to jump in."
He jumped in while training for the Buffalo Marathon, his first marathon, attempting to finish in the money at that event to help with graduate school costs. And while the Buffalo Marathon is not part of the Runner of the Year series, it is one of his best running stories from 2017.
"A big part why I run is that I'm a poor grad school student and many races around here give out cash prizes," Lowry said. "I saw at the marathon the prize money for fifth place was $600. I saw the time from years before and based on how I was training, I predicted I could be top 5. I went in with that goal.
"I found myself in fifth place from the get-go through Mile 1. Once I was halfway, I realized I was going way faster than my goal pace, but it felt way too good so I kept pushing. Around Mile 17, all of a sudden I got a calf strain in my right calf. I stopped to try and stretch it a bit. Tried running again. I kept having to walk and run, walk and run. That wall hits you around the same point. I went from maintaining a 5:35 pace to dropping down to a 6:30 pace the last nine miles.
"I knew that everyone was counting on me to finish the race. Everyone was supporting me to do well in my first marathon and around Mile 20-21, I had a really bad time mentally. I wanted to drop out pretty bad. I kept looking back and didn't see anyone behind me. I thought, 'I just gotta keep running until someone catches me.' I could still bring it home and make that paycheck."
And make that paycheck he did, finishing fifth in 2:35:55.
Lowry completed his degree this week and is moving to Charlotte, N.C., where he will use his nutrition degree to work with runners and triathletes in that area.
But he's sad to see his time in Buffalo come to an end.
"I wanted to stay here, but the job market was limited for me," Lowry said. "I'll be missing Buffalo and the running community here. I really fell in love with it. It's been really great experience being here for this year. I just grew to have so much appreciation for the city and how tight-knit this community was. If you can survive running in Buffalo winters, you can survive anything."
The top 10 overall and age group winners for 2017 are listed below. If you are one of the winners please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your mailing address to receive your certificate. And congratulations!
1. Kim Vona (Angola)
2. Mary Lawrence (Boston)
3. Amy Fakterowitz (Williamsville)
4. Marguerite Lim-aranduque (East Aurora)
5. Alexandra Duggan (East Amherst)
6. Jennifer Boerner (Ithaca)
7. Maura Tyrrell (Buffalo)
T-8. Jenny Delsignore (Tonawanda)
T-8. Caitlin Donohue (Buffalo)
T-8. Kara Foster (Edinboro)
T-8. Jillian Kosinski (Buffalo)
T-8. Monicah Ngige (Lansing)
1. Dylan Lowry (Buffalo)
2. Jay List (Amherst)
3. Brian McNerney (Springville)
4. Jim Park (Buffalo)
5. David Keenan (Buffalo)
6. Thomas Williams (Buffalo)
7. Joe Silliman (West Seneca)
8. Chad Maloy (Boston)
9. John Schnitter (Dansville)
10. Jake Schmitz (Lancaster)
1. Kim Vona (Angola)
2. Brittany Mueller (Lancaster)
T-3. Kerry Caher (East Aurora)
T-3. Rachael Cardinal (Depew)
T-3. Jenny Delsignore (Tonawanda)
T-3. Victoria Mikulec (Buffalo)
T-3. Kerry Mills (Basom)
T-3. Monicah Ngige (Lansing)
1. Kim Vona (Angola)
2. Alexandra Duggan (East Amherst)
T-3. Ellen Brody (East Aurora)
T-3. Alexandra Cadicamo (New York)
T-3. Jill Cutspec (Williamsville)
T-3. Kelli Dimon (North Tonawanda)
T-3. Kara Foster (Edinboro)
T-3. Allie Kieffer (Buffalo)
T-3. Kimber Mills (Basom)
1. Jennifer Boerner (Ithaca)
2. Maura Tyrrell (Buffalo)
T-3. Caitlin Donohue (Buffalo)
T-3. Jillian Kosinski (Buffalo)
1. Mary Lawrence (Boston)
2. Marguerite Lim-aranduque (East Aurora)
T-3. Juli Hergenroder (Orchard Park)
T-3. Carrie Wert (Buffalo)
1. Beth Depasquale (Lancaster)
2. Debra Vertoske (Lancaster)
3. Rhiannon Riederer (Lancaster)
1. Amy Fakterowitz (Williamsville)
2. Melissa Genovese (Getzville)
3.Kathy Reynolds (Amherst)
1. Beth Skorka-Zola (East Amherst)
2. Ann Marie Gannon (Hamburg)
3. Joni Maxick-Jason (East Amherst)
1. Nancy Legierski (Amherst)
2. MaryJo Tomasik (Orchard Park)
3. Susan Stanko (Grand Island)
1. Brigitte Soltiz (Alden)
2. Debra Stachura (West Seneca)
3. Elaine Lorenzi (Alden)
1. Noreen McAllister (Hamburg)
2. Elaine McGrath (Newfane)
3. Barbara Sauer (Buffalo)
1. Mary Ben (Orchard Park)
2. Mac Mackenzie (Jamestown)
3. Judy Mowery (Fredonia)
1. Fran Rowe (Niagara Falls)
2. Christa Maier (Williamsville)
T-3. Becky Holt (Knoxville, TN)
T-3. Sister Murray (Lackawanna)
1. Edna Hyer (South Wales)
2. Edye Radice (Buffalo)
3. Marcia Illig (Kenmore)
T-1. Georgia Pooley (Buffalo)
T-1. Shirley Hurtubise (Rockledge, Fla.)
T-1. Josh Behuniak (Buffalo)
T-1. Brian McNerney (Springville)
3. Jake Schmitz (Lancaster)
1. Dylan Lowry (Buffalo)
T-2. John Schnitter (Dansville)
T-2. Zachary Tomasik (Orchard Park)
1. Thomas Williams (Buffalo)
2. Chris Muldoon (Amherst)
T-3. Erik Bohen (Buffalo)
T-3. Chagg Chaffee (Amherst)
T-3. Mike Deren (Louisville, Ky.)
T-3. Julius Koskei (Maineville, Ohio)
T-3. Chuck Laderer (Williamsville)
T-3. Matt Schieber (West Seneca)
T-3. Brian Stewart (Buffalo)
1. John Feroleto (Buffalo)
2. Mike Kushion (Elma)
3. David Keenan (Buffalo)
1. Jay List (Amherst)
2. Joe Silliman (West Seneca)
3. Matthew Dore (Buffalo)
1. Trey Gardner (Buffalo)
2. Jonathan Lane (Buffalo)
3. Bob Pomerhn (Buffalo)
1. Jim Park (Buffalo)
2. Glenn Laderer (North Tonawanda)
3. Jim Figler (Hamburg)
1. Paul Noe (East Amherst)
2. Ronald Prabucki (Lockport)
3. Sam Legierski (Amherst)
1. David Macvittie (Buffalo)
2. Terry Sweeney (Alden)
3. Joe Campbell (Silver Creek)
1. Donald Spencer (Castile)
2. Barry Latner (Lockport)
T-3. George McMenemy (Burlington, Ontario)
T-3. Ted Paget (Niagara Falls)
1. Tony Gingello (Rochester)
2. Larry Ammon (Orchard Park)
3. Dennis Sears (Orchard Park)
1. Michael Williams, Sr. (West Valley)
2. Jerry Bergman (East Amherst)
3. Bill Steffenhagen (Franklinville)
1. Don Wood (Hamburg)
2. Philip Reynolds (Williamsville)
T-3. Hap Holway (Tonawanda)
T-3. Jack Matheson (Niagara Falls)
T-3. Richard Pedler (St. Catharines, Ontario)
T-3. Russell Peters (Niagara Falls)
1. Jerry Rivard (Amherst)
2. David Willett (Niagara-On-the-Lake, Ontario)
3. Ted Sullivan (Williamsville)
1. Kumar Bahuleyan (Buffalo)
Saturday, Dec. 23
- Holiday 5K at Fort Niagara, Sold Out
Sunday, Dec. 31
- New Year's Eve 5K, noon, Fort Niagara State Park, Lewiston
Monday, Jan. 1
- iRun WNY 5K New Year's Classic, noon, Fort Niagara State Park, Lewiston