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Kopac's Corner

Dutchess County Classic 2002 - Dead Skunks in the Middle of the Road

by Bob Kopac

September 15, 2002--the 24th running of the Dutchess County Classic Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5K! The Classic is not a city marathon. In a city, would you have kids (baby goats, not children) coming over to the fence to check out the runners? Would you see wild turkeys (the birds, not the drink), crossing the road? Would you have the country atmosphere of dead skunks in the middle of the road?

Too much "atmosphere", I can attest. After I shoveled a skunk off the course, the residue on the shovel filled my car with more "atmosphere" than I wanted. As I drove around the course with the fragrance, I encountered yet another big, fat, freshly killed skunk in the road. I thought, "Once is enough!" Because the skunk was in the opposite lane from where runners should be, I figured the skunk's aroma would encourage the contestants to run facing traffic. Now all traffic directors will want dead skunks for their races!

In spite of the skunks, the 3 Classic races attracted 970 registrants on a hot, muggy, and rainy day. Vincent Tennariello traveled from Basking Ridge, New Jersey to win the men's marathon in a time of 2:54:45, while Stacy Juckett reverse-commuted from New York City to win the women's marathon in 3:30:40.

The locals were not going to be shut out, however. Mid-Hudson Road Runner (MHRRC) member and Olympic Marathon Trial qualifier Mike Slinskey dominated the men's half marathon with a time of 1:10:05, beating the second-place finisher by over 3 minutes. Pam Dezago of Rhinebeck, NY won the women's race in 1:28:09. The men's 5K winner in 15:39 was MHRRC member Chris Collins, who recently returned from living and running in France.

Since I would be driving the lead car for the half marathon, I asked MHRRC member Marisa Hanson if I could take her photo; I needed a shot of the 1st place 5K female. In spite of that pressure, Marisa won the women's 5K for a record 9th time, finishing in 17:29.

The half marathon started out as a duel but then quickly becoming a one-man show. At the first half-mile, 3 runners broke away from the pack. Then Mike Slinskey made his move at mile 3 and never looked back.

While driving the lead car, I chatted with Mike. When I told Mike at mile 5 that there was no one behind him, Mike said, "It's my course."

On a 1/3-mile straightaway around mile 8, Mike asked me if I could see any other runner. I glanced in my rear-view mirror. There was no one in sight. I said to Mike that it must be boring racing alone. He said, "It's hard to keep a good pace when running by myself."

At a water stop at mile 12, Mike encountered 2 Elvis impersonators. My walkie-talkie suddenly emitted Rock n' Roll, as a volunteer broadcast the music. Another volunteer radioed that there were no Elvis impersonators at his location. I replied, "Now everyone will want Elvis impersonators!"

Less than 1 mile from the finish, it started to rain hard on Mike, proving that it rains on the elites and the mid-pack runners alike. Elsewhere on the course, it only drizzled. The only evidence some traffic control volunteers had of the heavy rain was the sound of the marathoners' squishy shoes as they came around again.

The marathon course is a double loop. I waited for the lead marathoner, Vince Tennariello, who started the second loop at 1:27. Vince has to be the most polite marathoner I have ever met. He smiled and thanked every single volunteer. He even smiled when there was no one around. When I photographed him from the lead car, he thanked me. Vince never even cut the tangents on the S-curves and always ran on the left side of the road facing traffic. He was so polite, he didn't even mention the dead skunk in the road as we passed it.

Similar to Mike Slinskey's performance, Vince was far ahead of the 2nd place runner. Since he was running by himself, I drove alongside and interviewed him for this article. When I asked him why he came up to run the Classic, he said, "It's really the timing of this race. It fits in extremely well. My goal is to run the Mystic Places Marathon up in Connecticut, and this race is 6 weeks before that. It made for a very, very good opportunity to come up and run a long run."

After the marathon, Vince said, "I'll come back to the Classic. It's really wonderful. The traffic volunteers were just fantastic-especially the lead car!" (Laughs) It made it go a little faster. It was really wonderful. The people were wonderful-and that includes comparisons to Boston and New York. I really mean that-extremely friendly, just caring...very, very helpful. It made it a lot easier and certainly much more enjoyable."

So join us on Sunday, September 21, 2003, for the 25th Dutchess County Classic and experience country "atmosphere"!