Kopacs at NY Marathon finish line
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Kopac's Corner

A Mighty Wind -- the 2004 Albany Corporate Challenge

by Bob Kopac

What problems would bedevil Mark French, new director of the 2004 Albany GHI Corporate Challenge, especially since he would be away on business until the night before the race? Expecting snafus, at noon on race day I met Mark, his sister Eileen, announcer Dave Oja, and Hudson-Mohawk Road Runners Club president and Director of Operations Jim Gilmer. "Any problems?" "No." End of meeting. WHAT? They were not being very cooperative for this article! Added to the fact that most of the 18 race sub-directors were seasoned HMRRC race directors given authority to make decisions on their own, I just might have to cause some problems on my own.

This year the band Jerkwater Ruckus would provide the music. The Albany Corporate Challenge had never had live music before on the offhand chance the musicians might sing something objectionable. Since I was looking for problems, I requested Country Joe McDonald's fish cheer, but no such luck.

As it was a self-scoring race, what if cheaters wrote down "creative" finishing times? No, the race officials videotape the top finishers and the time clock. What about ringers? Unlike a race in, say, New York City, everyone knows who the top runners are in the Hudson River region. An unexpectedly high finish by an unknown runner would be investigated immediately by officials and by fellow suspicious--and intensely competitive--runners, as had happened the previous year.

Mark informed me that a couple of race subcontractors were joyriding in a golf cart in the underground parking garage and ran into a parked vehicle, attracting the attention of the state police. However, since the race officials were not responsible for the subcontractors, he asked if that counted. No, not really, as long as it wasn't my car.

Would volunteers react irritably to repetitive questions? There was a bowl of M&Ms at the registration table. Whenever a runner asked a question that had an obvious answer, the volunteers were allowed to eat the M&Ms. Of course, that would cause the obvious problem of massive weight gain.

Whenever I approached volunteers with my tape recorder and asked about problems, they reacted as if I were searching for WMDs. Perhaps it was my interviewing style: "What do you know, and when did you know it?" Debbie Beach took pity on me and said there was a problem with the radio frequencies. She could communicate only on one channel, and other volunteers could only communicate on another channel. All calls had to be routed through Tony Pazzola who passed along the messages--a communication relay race.

Commiserating with my predicament, GHI Communications Director John Demers said he once ran a race at Daytona Beach that had been delayed for 45 minutes because high tide and a full moon caused the course to be flooded. Hmmm, perhaps the Hudson River might overflow its banks? Hey, that's the answer! No, not biblical floods, but biblical winds. Mark's team could control many things, but they could not control the weather.

Strong gusts blew through the Empire State Plaza, knocking over the Insport merchandise racks and sending a cart of running shoes towards the reflecting pools. Although the volunteer tents were anchored by heavy weights, the middle poles repeatedly raised up before slamming back into the ground. Too bad I didn't have any walnuts needing to be cracked! Meanwhile, corporate race T-shirts that were displayed on the side of the stage whipped around and around a clothesline, until volunteers used the universal fixer--duct tape--to anchor down the bottom of the shirts.

Over at the finish line, volunteers struggled against the wind to raise the GHI banner, which was acting as a giant sail. As GHI public relations representative Melissa Lessar and I looked up at the gyrating banner, I suggested that perhaps it might be prudent to stand upwind of the banner. Then, with less than 5 minutes before the first runner was to arrive at the finish line, Mark gave the order to take down the potentially dangerous banner. Fortunately, the wind made taking down the banner a much faster job.

What is the best way to get finish line tape to break as the lead runner crosses? Melissa had designed a breakaway tape using Velcro. Now the sponsor's logo would be displayed prominently in the finish line photos as the tape separated. Except--the person responsible for bringing the tape to the race left it at the office! Doh! A last-second substitution was yellow "Caution Do Not Cross" tape. But what if lead runner Tom Dalton heeded the words on the tape?

With 4339 pre-registered runners, the largest race ever in the Albany region, there was bound to be a problem during the race. A runner fell near the finish line, injuring his shoulder. Instead of the ambulance driver circling around the Plaza, he drove onto the course and became stuck in the large crowd of runners. Perhaps he wanted to get a T-shirt for crossing the finish line?

Overall, the 2004 GHI Corporate Challenge went very smoothly. Thank goodness (at least for me) there was the wind. Perhaps my next article will be from a Midwest race during tornado season!