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Kopac's Corner

19 Years of Directing Rhinebeck, NY's Mad Dash

by Bob Kopac

Labor Day 2006 was the running of the perennial Mad Dash in Rhinebeck, NY, a very popular race in the Hudson Valley. This was the final year as race director for Al Grigull, who is stepping down after co-directing or directing the Mad Dash for 19 years. Although Laura Grigull officially retired as co-race director last year, she again worked the race this year--so much for retirement. I had a chance to talk with Al and Laura after the race.

Bob: How did you get started as director?

Al: Prior to Laura and my getting involved, they had a Mad Dash for 2 or 3 years, then they had a hiatus for 2 years because they did not have a race director. I was a runner, and I moved to Rhinebeck. I asked Frank Sheehan, a fellow in our church [the Church of the Messiah] who was a runner also, why they didn't have the Mad Dash anymore? He said because they could not get a race director. I suggested, Maybe you could start it up again. He said, How about you and I starting it up again? I had never directed a race; I didn't know anything about it. He said we have some great people who could help us. Laura was one of the first ones, also Ann Warman. So we did get started. The first year we had around 300 runners. Frank Sheehan and Marlene did the scoring; it was the card system.

Laura: The cards were in columns by age groups: first one in, first on the board in the right age group.

Al: Just a little bit after that race, Frank Sheehan called me one day and said, Guess what? Im moving to Melbourne, Florida. He had just retired. Laura and you are going to be co-directors of the Mad Dash.

Laura: I was running with Frank. He said, Oh, by the way, I put your name on all the applications. It stopped me dead in my tracks. You did WHAT?! Ever since, I have had all the mail for the Mad Dash. The man who first had it, Bill Donnelly, he owned Forerunner, which was a sporting goods store in Rhinebeck. When that went out of business, he stopped running the Mad Dash.

Bob: Have you always had the 5K and 10K?

Al: Yes. We didn't have the Mini Dash [children's races] until 10 years ago. That was my invention.

Laura: Frank Sheehan wanted the proceeds to go to the church. We had to ask permission to keep using the name the Mad Dash and the logo of the hairy legs. The logo was designed by Mike, I cant think of his last name. At that time he owned a bar in Rhinebeck. So he said sure, so we took the logo, and we still have the hairy legs. Everybody seems to like the logo, except one year one person asked, When are you going to get rid of those awful shirts? I think the only person who has all the T-shirts is Joe Panni.

Bob: What are the interesting things that have happened at your race?

Laura: Maybe when Ann Warman asked me to sweep the chestnuts off the street so people wouldn't slip. Marty Horan met Nannette Gross at a Mad Dash. A year later they got married. Two years later, Marty won an award, either first in his age group or else overall. He came up to get the trophy, and he took the microphone from Al, and my heart sank. I thought he was going to complain. Instead he said, We just love this race. I met my wife at this race. Two years later, here we are back again. He picks up this toddler, a little girl, and says, We named her for the Mad Dash. This is Madeline. Two years ago, when Maddie was 13, they came back, and they all ran the 5K together. They are in Gaithersburg, Maryland now, so it was a big trip for them to come back. Our Mini-Dashers have produced new Mini-Dashers. Doesn't that make you feel old? [Laughs]

Bob: I enjoyed talking with Bernie Stahl [the former editor of the Onteora Runners Club newsletter]. The day of the Mad Dash was his 79th birthday. He said, I don't feel a day over 78.

Laura: Two other people had a birthday that day. I wrote Happy Birthday on their race packets.

It is with such small, hometown touches that the Mad Dash has become endearing to the local running community. The weather was kind to those who had birthdays and to Al Grigull in his final year as race director. Although Hurricane Ernesto had dumped rain the days before the race, on race day the weather was cool and cloudy -- perfect running conditions. The 5K participants lined up at 8:30 AM. 25-year-old hometown runner Jason Grady won in a time 16:31, followed by Ian Ellis of Red Hook, NY in 16:50 and Klaus Schmidt of Tivoli, NY in 17:09. The top females were 17-year-old Hallie Schwab of Stone Ridge, NY in 19:52, followed by hometown runners Erica Ruge in 20:32 and Pam White in 21:01.

The 10K participants, starting at 9 AM (set up so fast runners could run both the 5K and 10K), enjoyed a scenic course, especially when running on River Road past several Dutchess County farms. The winner, 17-year-old Mike Brocks of Staatsburg, NY who finished in 34:23, had his own cheering section of fellow cross-country running teammates named the Brocks Unlimited Fan Club. They held up signs such as Brocks is my hero and Brocks is sexy. Mike was followed by Adam Doherty of LaGrangeville, NY in 35:22 and Mike Halstead of Stone Ridge, NY in 36:26. On the distaff side, nationally known masters runner Marisa Hanson of Pleasant Valley, NY won in 36:38; she finished seventh overall. Marisa was followed by Conni Grace of Poughquag, NY in 38:16 and Connie Seigh of Pleasant Valley, NY in 39:22.

Then it was time for the 10 AM Mini Dash, a series of childrens races. All of the children had determined looks on their faces, and all finished and received ribbons. Afterwards at the awards ceremony, Tom Casey received the June Grigull Memorial Award. This award, named after Al Grigulls first wife who had died of cancer in 2000, each year goes to a runner who has been involved with running and volunteering. Tom has been a long-time volunteer and leader in the Onteora Runners Club.

At the awards ceremony, Al and Laura justifiably were recognized for their leadership and contributions to the Mad Dash. Thanks to their efforts, the Mad Dash has created fond memories throughout the years for many race participants and their children a timeless legacy.