This year is the fortieth anniversary of the nation’s oldest “major” 15K road race, the Stockade-athon, started by the Schenectady Parks Department in 1976. The Stockade-athon is one of those races that owe its origins and initial popularity to the United States’ first running boom that took place during the mid-1970s, but you might not be aware of just how cool and accessible its history is. One quick example: for those of you who participated in the course previews the past several weeks, the man who kept you from getting lost (he was on a bike the first week and was driving the Fleet Feet van last Saturday) was Mark Mindel, three-time winner of the Stockade-athon (1976, 1977, 1979) and one of the original course designers (with Chris Carroll).
The Stockade-athon came into being at a remarkable time for road racing in the United States. 1976 was the year that the New York City Marathon burst from the confines of Manhattan’s Central Park and incorporated a citywide route encompassing all five boroughs. Atlanta’s Peachtree road race, sponsored for the first time by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution began its rise to the United States’ largest 10K (over 60,000 participants in 2011). Frank Shorter –– who will be helping to celebrate the Fortieth Anniversary of the Stockade-athon –– won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympic Marathon to go along with his gold from the 1972 Munich games. There was no doubt that running was experiencing a boom, nationally and locally.
People who had never before shown much interest in exercise began actively looking for new personal challenges during a confusing economic and political time. Many found themselves inspired by Shorter’s Olympic win – much of the 1972 Olympic marathon was televised – as well as the emergence of the charismatic Bill Rodgers, who won the Boston Marathon for the first time in 1975. Rodgers would turn out to be (and still is) a running evangelist who easily convinced people through his easy-going enthusiasm that running was simply a fun thing to do. James Fixx’s runaway best seller, The Complete Book of Running, published in 1977, confirmed this and emphasized that road running was a sport that could be taken up by anyone regardless of past experience or physical fitness. He also reassured new runners through easy-to-understand training advice. Runners such as Shorter and Rodgers, supported by commentators like Fixx built an inclusive and welcoming sports culture that would help running’s popularity grow among like-minded participants.
Women also gravitated to running. Prior to Title IX, girls faced limited opportunities and underfunded programs in high schools, leading to a collective disenfranchisement in athletics as adults. Early female pioneers in road racing pushed back against sexist stereotypes and tapped into women’s growing dissatisfaction with dead-end domesticity. In doing so, they inspired previously nonathletic women to join the running ranks. Early road racers such as Nina Kuscsik (first official women’s winner of the Boston Marathon, 1972) and Miki Gorman (winner, Boston Marathon 1974, 1977: winner, NYC Marathon 1976, 1977) demonstrated that women could compete – hard!
The Stockade-athon has had more than its share of fantastic runners and if you have participated in past Stockade-athons, there’s a good chance that you have already shared the course with some of them. An early notable figure, Barry Brown, won the 1980 Stockade-athon and was a racing circuit fixture during the 1970s and early 1980s. Brown was an anchor of the legendary Gainesville-based Florida Track Club that also counted Frank Shorter as a member. When Brown tragically took his own life in 1993, Shorter recalled that the catalyst for the FTC was Brown: “During workouts we would go at each other's throat. But afterward you turned it off and had a great time together. And the guy at the center of it all was Barry Brown.” Brown was a world-class steeplechaser for Providence College in the 1960s and ran on several national teams. In the 1980s, he almost single-handedly drove the popularity of masters running by rewriting the record books. He set the U.S. master’s mark of 2:15:15 at the Twin Cities Marathon in 1984 and ran a 46:21 at the Stockade-athon 15K the same year to set another master’s record.
Another celebrated running figure identified with the Stockade-athon is Jerry Lawson. The first time Lawson won the Stockade-athon in 1986, he was a little-known runner from upstate New York. In 1992, Lawson won his third Stockade-athon in a still-standing course record time of 44:39. By 1997, Lawson would be the holder of the official USATF marathon record of 2:09:35. (I know, you’re probably wondering what happened to Alberto Salazar’s 2:08:52 at Boston in 1982, or Bob Kempainen’s 2:08:47 in 1994. That’s a long, convoluted story for another blog…)
If you have run the Stockade-athon in the past few years, you ran it with a man who may be the best marathoner on the planet: Ed Whitlock. Whitlock, who makes frequent trips to the Stockade-athon from his home base in Canada, is an astonishing masters’ runner. At 73, Whitlock ran a marathon in 2:54:48. According to the newly released age-graded tables, this works out to a time of 2:00:19 – very close to the elusive two-hour marathon. Over the years, Whitlock has run a whole host of formidable times at the Stockade-athon, including 1:00:29 at age 75 in 2006, which translated into an age-graded 99.59, and a 1:07:05 in 2011 at the age of 80, which was age-graded to 99.40.
As you were trying to chase down Ed Whitlock, you may also have competed against some 15K world record holders. Local legend Anny Stockman started running at the age of 45 and has regularly set single-age world records at the Stockade-athon. These include a 90:23 at the age of 74 in 2006, as well as a 1:54:16 at the age of 79 in 2011, among many other USATF single and age-group records. Another woman who set single-age USATF records at a fantastic clip during the late 1990s and early 2000s was Margret Betz of Conklin, New York, who set an impressive seven national masters age records at the 15K distance.
Suffice to say, that the Stockade-athon attracts national-class runners, local elites, and local age-group warriors, in addition to those who are looking for a personal challenge or like getting outdoors for some fun on a cool November weekend. Ultimately, this is the great thing about the Stockade-athon 15K: it’s a celebration of running that has its roots in the beginning of the running boom and appeals to runners of all skill levels and abilities. This year (like last year) the race will be utilizing a new course that has received accolades from most runners: getting some of the worst hills out of the way early and offering a lovely long downhill finish in front of City Hall. It’s a great race at a beautiful time of year in upstate New York. Register now and spend some time with record holders, running royalty, and your friends and neighbors.
As a reminder, Frank Shorter will help to celebrate the Fortieth Anniversary of the Stockade-athon. In addition to being the guest speaker at the Stockade-athon banquet on the evening of November 5, Shorter will also make visits to Fleet Feet Malta on Friday, November 6, as well as during race packet pickup at Fleet Feet Albany on Saturday, November 7. Rumor has it that Shorter will also be running the race. This will be his first time. So, if you want to say that you ran in a race with an Olympic champion, now is your chance. Online registration continues through this Wednesday and last chance registration is available Friday evening at the Schenectady YMCA from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. There is no day-of race registration so do it soon (http://www.stockadeathon.com).