by Lonnie Halusic
Last year Albany Running Exchange brought us back to racing with the inaugural Upstate Classic 5k, 13.1, and 26.2 at the Altamont Fairgrounds. The courses were set on beautiful country roads with the Helderberg Mountains as the backdrop. In addition, all were held on the same day, offering runners a safe event to showcase fall training, but also the hope that someday we would all be able to gather and race again normally. ARE meticulously planned every detail to ensure safety precautions for runners, volunteers, and spectators. Although the day in November 2020 was a very chilly one, the race went off without a hitch and the day ended with runners happily sporting their beautiful medals and race day swag.
On that day I ran the half marathon. Although my fall running was a bit spotty, I was eager to race and see friends. I knew the course would be slightly challenging with some hilly sections but ARE promised a beautiful run and they certainly delivered. The highlight was running past Indian Ladder Farms and having spectators and patrons come out to cheer us on.
After the Upstate Classic in November 2020, I was sure that other running organizations would follow ARE’s lead and hold their annual races with safety precautions like ARE. Some did, some cancelled, and some held virtual races instead. I raced a few “live” events and even did a 70.3 triathlon in Massachusetts. I felt confident that safe racing could continue, and as the year has gone on, more and more races are “back to normal.” Runners are happy!!! I decided that I need to have some big events on the bucket list to rev up my motivation, so in July I signed up for the Disney Dopey Challenge in January 2022, which is four consecutive days of racing: day 1 a 5K, day 2 a 10K, day 3 a 13.1, and day 4 a 26.2. That earns you a cool medal for your effort, along with great runs. Most “Dopey” training plans suggest running a marathon in the later phase of training. I knew instantly that the Upstate Classic Marathon would be the perfect event and timing, so I was happy to see its return for a second year when ARE made the announcement. The marathon would be two loops of the half marathon course, with double the hills! I knew it would be a perfect training opportunity and I happily started to prepare for it with lots of hill training! This year the half marathon and marathon were held together on Sunday, November 14. The weather on race day was absolutely perfect running weather and runners eagerly gathered for the event. This year felt more like “normal” racing with fewer restrictions, but still many precautions were there to keep everyone safe. I happily ran the first half of the marathon with many half marathon runners, but when the half marathon runners finished there were far fewer people on the course. I knew the second half of the marathon would be good mental training. The runners, spectators, volunteers, and even the people who lived along the course were amazingly supportive. I also really took in the beauty of this area and the Helderberg Mountains surrounding the course. The hills on the second loop were tough and I will hold bragging rights for getting through them. The course has a little of everything and the best part is the downhill for a mile or so on the way back to the fairgrounds.
As I entered the fairgrounds for my finish, there weren’t too many spectators, but I was greeted to Josh Merlis yelling my name over the loudspeaker. Josh and ARE always have a great way to connect with runners so you feel like family. It was a great way to finish a great race. The medal and shirt this year were awesome as well. I ended up being first in my age group so I won a cool “Upstate Classic” hat too.
So, here’s hoping that racing is back and all of our races this year are live events. As you begin to map out your 2022 year, be sure to plan on the Upstate Classic 5k, 13.1 or 26.2 for mid-November. Remember to do your hill training and plan a stop at Indian Ladder Farms after your race and enjoy the glory of the Helderbergs, the accomplishment of achieving running goals, and reveling in another magnificent ARE race.