by Benita Zahn
I can remember a time when you had to make a choice as to where you were going to run on New Year's Eve. 25 years ago, Albany launched a 5k in conjunction with First Night celebrations. It was a party! Runners dressed up. There were fireworks over Academy Park and running through Washington Park and through the chaser lights that were part of the Price Chopper/Market 32 Capital Holiday Lights in Washington Park display was like being in a wonderland. For those unaccustomed to running in Washington Park I suspect the festivities took the struggle out of the hills. Even when the race was moved up a few weeks because First Night ended, the merriment of that race endured. By then the name changed to St. Peter's Cardiac and Vascular Center Albany Last Run 5k. Races need sponsors! But make no mistake, the yeoman's work was done by the Albany Police Athletic League.
Some 30 miles north you could toe the line at Skidmore College for a First Night 5k through the campus and along the streets of Saratoga. While festive, it didn't approach the enthusiasm of the Albany run. Perhaps it was because this was a tougher course. It was dark, when there was snow underfoot it could be heart stopping and that final hill back up to campus- argh. But there was pizza afterwards and you could use the showers in the gymnasium to prep for a party afterwards.
Fast forward to 2022 and neither race is taking place. After 25 years the lights in Washington Park have not only gone dark, but they’ve also been moved out. Neighbors decried the traffic the display brought and the disruption to their lives. Without the light there is no way the race could take place, Alay Medina, Director of the City of Albany Office of Cultural Affairs explained. The last year of the race, 2021 was a sellout - 1900 registered, 1434 finished. Quite the rebound from 2020 when Covid cancelled the event. To replace the run Albany now hosts the Trick or Trot. It took place on October 29 and covered the same course as the Albany Last Run 5k. Medina told me about 450 registered and they're hoping the field doubles next year. It could happen as the first year the First Night race was held there were 467 finishers. But that run was unique. I know. I ran it. It was exhilarating. Magical. Fireworks exploding overhead. I'd never run in the dark, let alone with so many other runners, many adorned with bells and elves’ hats and flashing lights, like Rudolph's nose. The first woman to cross the line that year was the indomitable Amy Herold. Anthony Guiliano won the race 5 times. Shaun Donegan won two times.
When the Albany race moved to earlier in December, I often ran both that and the Saratoga 5k. But the crowd got too big for the narrow roads on the Skidmore Campus for me to feel comfortable. Perhaps others felt as I did. That race is now being held on New Year's Day. I did call the chamber to get “the full story.” They must still be recovering from Thanksgiving because, as of this writing, no one returned my call. In any event, if you want to run on New Year's Eve this year, mark your own course, grab some friends, don some lights and make your own merriment. After all, your feet don't know the difference if there's a swag bag involved. They just know you got out there and covered the distance, making room for the fabulous food of the season.
About Dr. Benita Zahn
Benita is a certified Health and Wellness Coach working with clients at Capital Cardiology Associates. Benita spent more than 40 years as a health reporter and news anchor at WNYT in Albany, NY. She covered issues such as wellness, treatment breakthroughs, aging, nutrition, and the latest health care trends. Benita’s work has taken her around the world and across the USA. She continues to produce and host “Health Beat” a digital health interview program that posts every Monday and Thursday on wnyt.com and can be heard on the station’s podcast. Benita is a contributor to the weekly “Live Smart” page in the Times Union, the HMRRC Pacesetter and the new magazine 55+LIVING. Benita also created and co-hosts the podcast EVERYTHING THEATER.